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16 October 2019

BBC One’s Dublin Murders is riddled with clichés

Abandon hope all ye who approach this sagging sofa.

By Rachel Cooke

At this point in the autumn (early), the Brexit negotiations (late) and, above all, my life (middle-of), the last thing I need is yet another police procedural. The thought of watching the BBC’s new series, Dublin Murders, made me feel bleakly weary, and not only because its title seems to be sorely in need of a definite article. Adapted from two novels by Tana French, I could already imagine the chiaroscuro interiors, the bad sandwiches, the meaningful silences, the sardonic cop-to-cop chat. Add to this the fact that its writer is Sarah Phelps, whose hammy Christmas interpretations of Agatha Christie are not my cup of tea at all and, well… abandon hope all ye who approach this sagging sofa.

I’d love to be able to tell you that the weariness dissipated; that moments later, I was like some electrified ferret, staring down a rabbit. But alas, it did not lift, not even when our two young detectives walked calmly into a dark wood where, on an ancient altar, there lay the body of a young girl. Forget the chills: the clichés were piling up faster than the washing. A hero with a secret. A heroine with a boyfriend she is too busy to see. A spooky tramp. A suspiciously aggressive archaeologist (that one’s straight out of Christie, surely). An old-school police superintendent who will persist in crossing the politically correct line drawn up by his HR department (“I’ll staple your penis to the wall,” he yelled at some hapless officer whose performance he had deemed below par). And then, as predicted, there were the rubbish sandwiches: Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene), the aforementioned heroine, likes both red and brown sauce on hers, though at least the butties in question were eaten outdoors, rather than in some stinking car with steamed up windows and emergency Polos in its glove compartment.

It seems more than a bit preposterous to me that a detective – in this case, Maddox’s partner, Rob Reilly (Killian Scott) – would find himself investigating the murder of a child in the very same wood in which, in the 1980s, two of his school friends disappeared, never to be seen again (he was, we’ve learned in a series of flashbacks, with them at the time, and utterly traumatised – a situation his parents “fixed” by sending him to a posh boarding school in England, hence his English accent). Why doesn’t he mention this? Can’t he be excused? Dispatched to the archives to examine old evidence, we saw him pressing the little custard yellow sweater he wore on that fateful day to his face, the better to… what? Relive the memories? The psychology was so far off here, I almost laughed.

On the plus side, the performances are good. Conleth Hill, revered by me for having starred as Elsie in Peter Kay’s Car Share, seems determined to make the most of his role as Superintendent O’Kelly. If an actor must wear comedy glasses and shout about penises being stapled to walls, then let it be one of his calibre – though even he struggled with the sexism-by-numbers tit joke his character had to fire unthinkingly at Maddox (anyone would think the series was set in 1975, not the Celtic Tiger Ireland of the mid-2000s).

I also like Killian Scott’s performance, even if it does somewhat over rely on his character’s addiction to nicotine. His manner, capable and droll, is so attractive it more than makes up for what we might call his lack of charisma (no wonder Maddox is apt to make cow eyes at him). His boarding school doesn’t fully explain his weirdly posh voice, but it does make sense of the smooth way he moves through both Dublin council estates and Garda HQ alike. There is something entitled about him – a confidence acquired so long ago, he no longer notices that it isn’t quite native – and it takes its effect on those around him. Suspects answer his questions. Women cannot be cross with him for long. You might call him the crushed ice in this smoky cocktail of myth and murder, of old Ireland and new. But whether he’s enough to keep you watching for eight episodes is another matter. Dublin Murders might not be one for the craic addicts, but I find it hoary nevertheless. I feel, somehow, that I’ve seen it all before. 

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This article appears in the 16 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s forever war