Kate Winslet is riveting in Mare of Easttown. Her Irish pronunciation not so much

TV: This murder mystery is a Springsteen song repurposed as high-calibre procedural

Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan

Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan

 

Mare of Easttown, Kate Winslet’s new prestige series (Sky Atlantic, Monday), is a murder mystery in which the body of a young woman is discovered horribly battered, with a haunted expression frozen across her face. And it is set in a small town, on the twilit fringes of the United States we recognise from Hollywood. If you’ve seen Twin Peaks, The Killing or True Detective, deja vu may have already kicked in.

But this slow-moving drama aspires to be more than merely a “dead girl” thriller. It is possible, even, that it aspires to be an anti-dead-girl thriller and that the central murder is simply window dressing to lure us in by making us think it’s something we’ve seen before.

But Mare of Easttown, for better or worse, is like nothing we have seen before. It’s a study in poverty, despair and substance abuse, and a portrait of a US the modern world has left behind. The collars are blue, the picket fences broken, the residents raw-eyed, hope-free and stalked by the shadow of opioid addiction. Far from a spiritual successor to True Detective, it’s a Bruce Springsteen song repurposed as a high-calibre procedural show.

Winslet, who has reportedly mastered a geographically specific south Pennsylvania accent, is of course riveting. Her character – the eponymous Mare Sheehan – is a study in hollowed-out middle age. Her teenage daughter can’t stop rolling her eyes at her; her ex-husband has moved on and is living his best life; Mare long ago lost any enthusiasm for her job as a midranking detective.

One small warning. As her surname hints, Mare is “Eye-rish”. She drinks Jameson, there’s a priest in the extended family, her daughter is named Siobhán. Winslet attempts very, very ardently to pronounce Siobhán correctly, but, a bit like a well-intentioned tourist trying to saying Donegal, doesn’t quite stick the landing. Every time she says it she seems to give up halfway through, and what comes out is closer to “Shiv-unnnn”.

Synthetic Paddyisms aside, Mare of Easttown is earnest in its portrayal of intergenerational misery. Like all the residents of Easttown, Mare lives in a state of perpetual financial embarrassment – humiliation, even – as we see in an early scene in which she goes shopping for an aquarium tank for her grandson but blanches when the store owner tries to flog her a $99 model.

If this sounds more glum than fun, then that is presumably as intended. After the success of the glossy and silly The Undoing last year, HBO has swerved in the opposite direction. That show was all about Nicole Kidman wearing a coat that cost more than your house and Hugh Grant constantly twirling his invisible moustache.

Mare of Easttown, by contrast, is so serious it occasionally strays into po-facedness. Life in the small towns caught in the crosshairs of the opioid epidemic is nasty, brutish and seemingly brimming with anguished Irish-Americans – and goodness does Mare of Easttown want you to know all about it.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.