Graham Norton’s Holding is a satisfying murder mystery – but it’s a crime against Cork accents

TV review: Did Charlene McKenna base her accent on Roy Keane’s Mick McCarthy tirade?

When international television descends on small town Ireland, the results have historically landed between toe-curling and trauma-inducing. From Ballykissangel to Wild Mountain Thyme via Leap Year and EastEnders spin-off Redwater, overseas directors and producers have a track record in reducing the country to a bonfire of begorrahs.

There is a little of that in Holding, adapted by director Kathy Burke and writers Dominic Treadwell-Collins and Karen Cogan from Graham Norton's 2016 bestseller. The series debuts this week on ITV, ahead of its arrival in the near future to Virgin Media One.

In short it’s about an eccentric Garda investigating a cold-case murder in a fictional west Cork village (represented on screen by Drimoleague and Castletownshend).

Some decide to boldly go with the Cork accents. The results are by turns amusing and threatening to the viewers' sanity

Quirkiness is an occasional stumbling block as we enter a rustic milieu populated by nosy neighbours, incompetent cops and a couple having a forbidden tryst in an ambulance. Happily, though,the central mystery is satisfyingly crunchy.


Tommy Burke vanished more than 20 years ago and is presumed to have hotfooted it out of town. However, when building work on his old farm uncovers the remains of a male dead for some time, suspicion inevitably falls on those who knew him.

These include the bride he left at the altar (Derry Girls’ Siobhán McSweeney) – today a dissatisfied cake-maker in denial about her alcoholism – and three unmarried sisters played by Helen Behan, Amy Conroy and Charlene McKenna.

Another potential suspect is PJ's bustling housekeeper, depicted with gimlet-eyed fervour by Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker, who was persuaded to come out of retirement to take the part.

Holding unfolds like Agatha Christie meets Father Ted. We are introduced to Conleth Hill’s Sergeant PJ Collins as he dozes after a comfort-eating binge. Later he is called on to intervene in a dispute between townsfolk over the acceptable colour-scheme of a building on the main street. It comes as a surprise that nobody asks him to rescue a cat from up a tree.

Hill's character is clearly from somewhere in Ulster, saving us from having to hear him attempt a west Cork accent. Alas, others decide to boldly go with the Cork accents. The results are by turns amusing and threatening to the viewers' sanity – especially if you're from Cork. As a frustrated townie, Charlene McKenna appears to be drawing on a mood board where the only mood is "Roy Keane shouting at Mick McCarthy".

And Pauline McLynn, portraying an archetypal busybody, sounds like her Father Ted character Mrs Doyle possessed by the feuding spirits of Cha and Miah. “We’re meant to be colourful Cork,” she says early on – a sentence no Cork person has uttered in recorded history.

Anyone seeking a sense of the real west Cork is better off with a true-crime podcast

A sense of place is a crucial component of the modern TV thriller, from Broadchurch to True Detective. And west Cork certainly has a singular ambience. On the edge of Europe, yet populated by a cosmopolitan rainbow of hippyish ex-pats, deadpan locals and Cork city chattering classes, this is a psychological microclimate onto itself.

One which has had its dark side held up to the light in the many documentaries and podcasts about the murder in 1996 of Sophie Toscan Du Plantier in Schull.

Holding, for better or worse, doesn’t go over-board trying to drill into the west Cork psychosphere and could plausibly be set anywhere in Ireland. Anyone seeking a sense of the real west Cork is better off with a true-crime podcast or a long weekend in Bantry.

But that isn’t an unforgivable misstep. As slow-burn whodunnit, the four-parter is off to an often compelling start. With so much else going on, does it matter if Holding’s zest for the west isn’t the best?