Grip­ping new TV drama set in Wick­low en­joys bril­liant open­ing

THE OPEN­ING EPISODE OF VIR­GIN ONE’S GRITTY NEW CRIME SE­RIES SET IN BRAY LEAVES VIEW­ERS WANT­ING MORE, WRITES MARY FOG­A­RTY

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

THE first episode of ‘Dark­lands’ aired last Mon­day night on Vir­gin One, with Bray one of the stars of the new drama, and look­ing spec­tac­u­lar on-screen.

While recog­nis­ing most of the lo­ca­tions was some­thing of a dis­trac­tion, the open­ing episode left view­ers want­ing to know more, and root­ing for its young pro­tag­o­nist from ‘The Hill’, Damien Dunne.

Sweep­ing wide shots of Bray Head and the seafront showed Bray in its best light, even with some of the se­ries ex­plor­ing the darker sides of life.

The first scenes in­tro­duced us to as­pir­ing MMA star Damien, who is keep­ing is head down and train­ing hard. His brother Wes­ley, on the other hand, is in­volved with a gang, much to the cha­grin of their fa­ther.

Within mo­ments of the open­ing cred­its, Damien’s lit­tle sis­ter is point­ing a gun at him, the weapon left ly­ing around by a care­less Wes.

‘What es­sen­tially hap­pens to Damien is, he is on this tra­jec­tory to be­come a pro­fes­sional fighter, which is an ab­so­lute dream, but he keeps get­ting drawn down an­other path,’ said ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ruth Coady.

Some of the other char­ac­ters we met in the first episode in­clude gang boss Bernie, her brother Butsy, and tough-as­nails Donna, who is one of the younger gang mem­bers and a friend of Damien’s.

Damien, mean­while, en­ters Romeo-and-Juliet ter­ri­tory, as he dates Ni­cola, the sis­ter of mem­bers of a ri­val gang and an as­pir­ing artist, as much full of hope and prom­ise as her boyfriend.

We sus­pect the star-crossed lovers will face much ad­ver­sity be­fore the end of season one of Dark­lands.

‘One of the in­ter­est­ing things about this show is it is full of a lot of new faces,’ said Coady, who has high hopes for the lead­ing man.

Dane Whyte O’Hara, who plays the main char­ac­ter, is an MMA fighter, but has never acted be­fore. ‘We think Dane is ex­tra­or­di­nary,’ said Ms Coady. ‘We went through an enor­mous and rig­or­ous cast­ing process all over the coun­try. Dane is the uni­corn we thought we would never find. I think he’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be a huge star.’

Damien’s jour­ney will be the spine of the show. It’s an emo­tional and hope­ful jour­ney, nav­i­gat­ing the road he finds him­self on. He has to be­come a man, make de­ci­sions, and do things he doesn’t want to do.

Writ­ers Mark O’Con­nor and Adam Coates wanted to make a show about kids in cir­cum­stances where they lose control over what they get to do.

The pro­gramme was in part in­spired by an ex­pe­ri­ence that Adam Coates had.

His brother was Shane Coates, who was the leader of the Westies gang. Shane was miss­ing for two years be­fore be­ing found dead in 2006.

‘Be­cause we have gone so far from that story in terms of char­ac­ter and de­tail, it’s not based on that,’ said Coady.

Thom­mas Kane-Byrne, who plays Butsy, couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent in tem­per­a­ment to

the man he por­trays on-screen. Friendly, chatty, and with a voice about an oc­tave higher than that of his al­tar-ego, the actor uses voice ex­er­cises and pos­ture as part of his tool-kit to get into char­ac­ter. He’s there­fore as con­vinc­ing a bad guy as they come.

On Mon­day night, we saw him at the cen­tre of a gang op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing the ship­ment of heroin to Ire­land, via the har­bour in Bray.

‘Butsy is this re­ally am­bi­tious, volatile young “ca­reer man”, for want of a bet­ter phrase. It might be il­le­gal, but it’s still a ca­reer to him,’ said Thom­mas. ‘There are two feud­ing sides on the Bray patch. He is not con­tent and wants it all.

‘He’s a king ping, but the only time his sta­tus dwin­dles is when his sis­ter Bernie is around. She is re­ally the king pin.

‘The whole story is be­ing told through the eyes of a 16-yearold boy, yet this is a pre­dom­i­nantly adult world – it’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing and fresh.’

Thom­mas is a na­tive of Sean McDer­mott Street in Dublin’s north in­ner city. ‘There’s ac­tu­ally not a lot of gang ac­tiv­ity vis­i­ble in Dublin 1,’ he said. ‘There’s a great deal of sen­sa­tion­al­ism in the me­dia.’

He said that re­sources for young peo­ple in the city are phe­nom­e­nal, with ev­ery­thing from youth clubs to stage schools.

‘Chil­dren on the out­skirts maybe don’t have as much.

‘We have to stop us­ing words like car­tel and start say­ing fam­ily, stop say­ing mon­ster and start say­ing man,’ he said, ‘and re­alise an en­tire fam­ily hasn’t com­mit­ted a crime, a per­son has. Sen­sa­tion­al­ism is mak­ing peo­ple easy to kill and eas­ier to for­get.’

With just one episode in, Dark­lands ap­pears to have avoided ex­ces­sive sen­sa­tion­al­ism thus far. While some char­ac­ters are in­deed in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, oth­ers are not, and try­ing to pave their way in life. The set­ting be­ing Bray sim­ply in­di­cates that this could ac­tu­ally hap­pen any­where, not just in big cities.

Lorna Meade was one of the char­ac­ters to make a brief ap­pear­ance, and a big im­pres­sion, in Mon­day night’s Dark­lands.

Al­though not on-screen for as long as oth­ers, Lorna prac­ti­cally stole the show. She is one of Butsy’s gang mem­bers.

‘She’s bad from the start,’ said Lorna. ‘If they step out of line, I def­i­nitely say some­thing. They’re all a lit­tle bit scared of me, I’d be the one telling them what to do.’

Donna is no gang­ster’s moll, she is full-on gang­ster, and throws the punches to prove it.

She is very much top of the peck­ing or­der among the younger mem­bers of the group. ‘I was glad when I saw the script that I’m not wheel­ing a buggy or some­thing,’ said Lorna. Un­like Damien, who is try­ing to stay away from a life of crime, Lorna has no such mis­giv­ings.

‘She’s def­i­nitely the boss,’ said Ryan Burke, who plays Damien’s best friend Keith Sheri­dan. Keith is an as­pir­ing gang­ster and some­thing of a devil on Damien’s shoul­der.

While the script doesn’t name the es­tates, much of the ac­tion is set in Fas­saroe and Old­court, with other scenes shot at the har­bour, Strand Road, and other lo­ca­tions. Our first sight of Bernie is at New­cas­tle Air­field, where she has landed in a small air­craft with a Liver­pudlian sup­plier set to make her rich.

A most im­pres­sive fight scene was filmed out­side Bray, at the Sal­lynog­gin Inn, and there will be some scenes in the com­ing weeks which were filmed in the Fish­ing Club.

The ac­cents are cer­tainly more Dublin than Bray, and the gang’s ap­proach to col­lect­ing drugs at the har­bour was pretty con­spic­u­ous. But let’s agree to sus­pend dis­be­lief, and sit back and en­joy as the story un­folds over the com­ing weeks.

DAMIEN IS ON THIS TRA­JEC­TORY TO BE­COME A PRO­FES­SIONAL FIGHTER BUT HE KEEPS GET­TING DRAWN DOWN AN­OTHER PATH BUTSY IS THIS RE­ALLY AM­BI­TIOUS, VOLATILE YOUNG ‘CA­REER’ MAN, FOR WANT OF A BET­TER PHRASE. IT MIGHT BE IL­LE­GAL, BUT IT’S STILL A CA­REER TO HIM... HE WANTS IT ALL

Thom­mas Kane-Byrne as Butsy.

Ju­dith Roddy as Bernie.

Dane Whyte O’Hara as Damien Dunne in Dark­lands.

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