Waiting Review – A Charming Adaptation of Graham Norton’s Novel | Drama
OWhen chat show host Graham Norton published his first novel, Holding, in 2016, the critical consensus was, in essence, “Ooh – that’s pretty good!” The same goes for its (ITV) TV adaptation of the same name, a four-part compact by Dominic Treadwell-Collins and Karen Cogan, directed by Kathy Burke (yes, that Kathy Burke, on her first TV outing, after 20 years of successfully directing theatrical productions entertaining us on screen).
Burke says she agreed to break her rule not to take on TV projects when she realized she had read Norton’s book a year ago and could still remember the names of all the characters. I find this ridiculously comforting, perhaps because of the relentless gloom of the rest of the world.
Holding is ostensibly a murder mystery. Human remains are discovered in a small, quiet village in West Cork, Ireland, while local builders demolish a farmhouse that belonged to the Burke family. It seems the villagers – including the bride abandoned at the altar by Tommy, the son of the house, as well as the woman he saw off to the side – now have an answer as to how, if not precisely why, he disappeared on her wedding eve 20 years ago.
What it’s really about, of course, is the effect of discovery on the villagers and the gradual excavation of the locals’ tangled stories and relationships – with Tommy, with each other and even with Ireland. herself. Treadwell-Collins and Cogan updated references to the country to include some of the incremental changes to its laws, while acknowledging that individual attitudes, especially beyond cities, can take time to catch up.
When Florence (Amy Conroy) and her girlfriend – Susan (Eleanor Tiernan), a teacher who left her husband – announce that they are moving to San Francisco, Florence’s sister Evelyn (whose selfishness is a defining characteristic) asks to know why, now that “Ireland is the gayest place to be”. But Florence yearns for a place where she, Susan and Susan’s 17-year-old son, Stephen (Sky Yang), won’t be welcomed by “Little Gay Family!” by pub regulars, but kindly served. The lures of emigration are heightened when she discovers that Evelyn (Charlene McKenna) is fucking Stephen. Evelyn, who was next to Tommy, is really thoughtless work.
Tommy’s former fiancée – in the eyes of some villagers, forever fiancée – Bríd (Siobhán McSweeney, reminding us of her dramatic chops after two glorious runs playing Sister Michael in Derry Girls), is a secret alcoholic. Or, at least, as secretive an alcoholic as you can get in rural Ireland. Everyone knows it, but sometimes they refrain from mentioning it. There are hints that she knows more about Tommy’s disappearance than she let on. Maybe her calmly resentful husband and nonchalantly cruel mother are too.
There is nothing wildly innovative here. The local garda, PJ (Conleth Hill), is a slow man who took up a position in the village a few years ago, perhaps withdrawn from life in general or more specific grief, and soon finds himself at the disposal of a much younger and cheeky detective (Clinton Liberty), who comes from Dublin to investigate. Detective Dunne outrages the locals to a degree they certainly appreciate, with his disrespect for the mass and an exhumation of the bodies of the Burke parents to glean DNA to compare with the remains.
There’s a village nosy by the name of Mrs. O’Driscoll (Pauline McLynn, playing a naturalistic version of her Father Ted’s Mrs. Doyle), who adds life and vigor to proceedings wherever she goes, and a valiant housekeeper, Mrs. Meaney (Brenda Fricker), who is almost guaranteed to be the repository of all the secrets of the village since time immemorial (and a plot engine as effective as her potato scone making).
Nevertheless, he perfectly avoids clichés and Oirishness. He has an authentic charm, that is to say, he is imbued with spirit, warmth and compassion. Maybe because it’s a drama centered on middle-aged people and older – the mistakes they’ve made, the things they’ve hidden in their lives, and the distortion that’s happened around of them – it feels real and has an undercurrent of melancholy, if not outright sadness. There is an absolutely wonderful sex scene in Episode 2 that sums up exactly what I mean and makes it a hidden gem.