Smother review – The thriller à la Maeve Binchy is completely addicting | TV & radio
SMother (Alibi), a new thriller set in County Clare by novelist and TV screenwriter Kate O’Riordan, reminds me – and I have some higher compliments – of Maeve Binchy’s work, if she had been already turned to thrillers. He has a seemingly effortless mastery of a large number of characters, a pervasive warm intelligence, and promotes the overall wonderful feeling of being held for the entire duration in a very secure pair of hands. Like Binchy, he is also fully addicting.
It opens with an altercation atop a cliff that ends with a dead man on the beach below. Then, as is currently all the rage on TV, we return earlier in the night, as successful businessman Denis (Stuart Graham) hosts his wife Val’s (Dervla Kirwan) 50th birthday party. . Their three daughters are there – Jenny (Niamh Walsh), a heavily pregnant single doctor who works eternally for the approval of daddy, Anna (Gemma-Leah Devereux), who is in the final stages of a custody battle with the ex-wife of her husband Rory for the latter’s two sons, and Grace (Seána Kerslake), the youngest frail, struggling with mental illness and currently without medication.
Other friends and family are in attendance, including Grace’s best friend Cathy (Ayoola Smart) – who has to tell her that she is now dating Grace’s beloved ex Joe (Éanna Hardwicke) – and Joe himself, who is now a police officer. detective. Then there is Denis’s brother, Frank (Conor Mullen); Carl (Thomas Levin) – who has what appears to be a recognized affair with Val; Val’s best friend, Alannah, whose icy welcome from Val tells us long before it’s been confirmed that she slept with Denis; and Elaine (Justine Mitchell), Rory’s ex-wife, who appears as a specter at the party but turns out to be the least of everyone’s worries.
Denis decides to make a birthday speech revealing that he and Val are divorcing and that Val is sleeping with her young lover, Carl. Grace – already shaken by the discovery of Joe and Cathy’s couple – quickly collapses and everyone is frightened. Including Val, with Carl. Denis gives her a friendly handshake and warns the “fucking gobshite” that Val will run home once “she finds out about you.”
If this all sounds a bit too much, it isn’t. It is rhythmic and nicely cut. The speech itself shows precisely what kind of man Denis is: a light, gentle, relentless monster, the center of his own universe, whom he intends to order exactly as he likes it. The guy who fills you with nameless terror every time you meet them in real life, as you do too often; it is perfectly evoked by Graham.
Denis, as you might have guessed, is the one who ends up stepping over the cliff later that moving night. One night in which, Val finds out, a disturbed Grace took a walk, found out that Joe and Cathy were not only dating but were engaged and expecting a child, found out that her father was selling his coffee over her head and ended up at Frank’s house after several hours without an account.
Meanwhile, we learn that Rory is an unstable man – and Elaine spots him on the older boy’s backhand, which puts kibosh on her plans to sign custody papers. An assortment of other seeds of suspicion, revelation and red herrings are scattered across the hour and (as I have looked to the future) flourish on subsequent fertile and generously watered episodes. As Val tries to piece together what happened, to protect or exonerate Grace, more secrets come to light and suspects are added and removed. But everything remains, crucially, within the limits of the possible. It’s possible that things fall apart late – I haven’t had a chance to watch all six episodes yet – but the potential sprawl is so under control I’d be surprised if it doesn’t stay convincing until the end. – especially since he is helped by good performances, in particular from Kirwan, who has never been so good.
The only misstep so far is to open up with the altercation. Few new dramas seem able to resist the temptation to start this way, but in fact, in many cases – including and especially here – holding it back would have created another layer of tension. It takes trust, of course, not to grab your audience’s attention, even cheaply, in the first few minutes. But if ever a series were to have it, this is it.