Saturday, 6 January 2018


This article was originally published in the Dundee Courier on 6th January 2018.

McMAFIA: New Year’s Day and Tuesday, BBC One


DERRY GIRLS: Thursday, Channel 4

A monumental bore of global proportions, McMAFIA is a turgid crime drama which proves that it’s possible to surf a wave of hype while wearing concrete boots.

Two years ago, the BBC scored a direct hit with the similarly expensive The Night Manager. The only chance McMafia has of emulating that success is if millions of viewers suddenly develop an inexplicable urge to watch one-dimensional gangsters discussing investment funds and business mergers.

The non-fiction book it’s based on claims that organised crime accounts for roughly 15% of the world’s GDP. A potentially ripe source of drama, but McMafia fails to deliver on its promise. There are no characters to care about. It’s utterly soulless, a slowly meandering iceberg.

James Norton, an otherwise versatile actor, looks hopelessly lost in the underwritten central role of a successful British-born investment banker who can’t escape from his Russian family’s mafia connections. Like young Michael Corleone from The Godfather, he wants to stay legit, but they keep pulling him back in. That’s where comparisons with The Godfather end.

Norton wanders through an interminable procession of ham-fisted scenes stolen from countless other gangster dramas. The uninvolving narrative flits between Mumbai, London, Tel Aviv, Moscow - everyone’s talking ‘bout Pop Muzik! – in a doomed attempt to conjure a sense of epic scale. It makes most of Daniel Craig’s Bond films look exciting by comparison.

Slow-burning dramas only work when they’re fuelled by atmosphere, intrigue, tension and emotion, all of which are conspicuously absent from this frozen turkey.

Occasionally, a jolt of violent action will occur. These moments don’t succeed as shocking flashpoints breaking a spell of finely-tuned suspense, they’re just a cattle-prod used to keep us awake. McMafia is an empty bottle of expensive vodka. What a way to bring in the New Year.

Does Kay Mellor ever sleep? She seems to average at least two hit dramas per year. Her most recent series, Love, Lies and Records, ended just before Christmas. Now she’s back with GIRLFRIENDS, in which Phyllis Logan, Miranda Richardson and Zoe Wanamaker star as three life-long pals in their late fifties.

Mellor tackles her driving theme of age discrimination with typical compassion and humour. When Linda (Logan) loses her beloved husband in mysterious circumstances, she finds herself alone for the first time in 30 years. Gail (Wanamaker) is recently divorced, and no longer feels desirable. Sue (Richardson) is the glamorous features editor of a bridal magazine – she’s never been married – who fears growing old and dying alone.

They’ve been forced to feel irrelevant by a society that discards women when they reach a certain age. Older men are allowed the luxury of becoming distinguished. Older women become invisible. Girlfriends is a cry of anger and frustration in the covert guise of a populist drama. It’s far more important than McMafia.

So is DERRY GIRLS, a very funny, smart and charming new sitcom about a misfit gang of Catholic teenagers in the Troubles-torn Northern Ireland of the mid-1990s.

These kids aren’t defined by their bleak backdrop and religious upbringing, it’s just part of their everyday lives. They struggle with the same growing pains as everyone else. Adolescence is universal, regardless of theological or political context.

Written by Lisa McGee, this semi-autobiographical farce fizzes with cheerful profanities and affectionate observations. Her engaging characters are vividly performed by an excellent cast. The unforced period detail is commendably accurate. The tone – darkness swaddled in warmth - is perfectly pitched. Derry Girls is a delight.

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