TV review Clean Break: Wexford never looked so grim

Can RTE plug the Love/Hate hole in its schedules with Billy Roche’s Wexford crime drama? The first episode showed plenty of promise

 

Clean Break, the latest big budget RTE drama, retains the gritty action that has proved so popular with Love/Hate, but has transported the grim action to Wexford town. There are no secrets unknown and no places to hide in the small coastal town.

Frank Mallon (Adam Fergus) is putting a brave face on his hard times: his local car dealership is struggling, his wife is on the Isle of Man (allegedly), and his daughter Corrina (Kelly Thornton) is a bit of a tearaway – not that he seems in any hurry to discipline her.

With the banks closing in, whipped on by loathsome manager Desmond (Aidan McArdle), he hits on a plan so good it can only go wrong – organise the tiger kidnapping of Des’s wife (Frank’s old flame Annette, played by Simone Kirby) and their adopted daughter Jenny (Amybeth McNulty), with the help of local hard chaw Noel (Ned Dennehy): “She’s only adopted,” Noel tells Frank by way of reassurance, “it’s not the same.”

Things go from bad to worse when Jenny recognises one of the kidnappers is Danny Dempsey (Damien Moloney) – a former Olympic boxer, now working in Frank’s dealership, and also seeing Frank’s daughter on the sly. Will Noel ruthlessly get his house in order, and deal with the situation? Why does Des, with his wife and daughter kidnapped, have the chilly, barely upset demeanour of a man whose day has gone a little awry? And who was the body thrown in the river in the opening of the episode?

There is much to like in Billy Roche’s writing, particularly when it’s gifted to some of the stronger actors in its ensemble. He might have few lines, but Aaron Monaghan as Ed, the local casino boss and loan shark, is terrific: he’s got the sleveen swagger of a man with money and muscle. Even flicking his sleeves out looks like a statement of intent. As Frank, Adam Fergus does a fine job of keeping face, while the cracks in his world turn it to ruins. And Ned Dennehy’s Noel is poised with lethal charm:  “The masterplan wha?,” he cracks when Frank outlines the operation. “All you need now is a couple of gringos.”

Wexford itself looks bleak and suffocating; ambition and hope are in short supply in the autumnal tones of Anna Valdez Hanks’s photography and Gillies McKinnon’s direction. And there is something menacing in the everyday emptiness of much of what we see. A few clichés creep in, there is the odd anachronism, and at times Roche’s script feels a touch overcooked: Des is just a bit too oleaginous in his new role as “lord of the manor”; Frank asks Danny if he’s “ever been inside” when a Google search would have told him that in seconds. But this is good, subtle television, with a gripping cliffhanger at the end. If Roche is willing to be as cold hearted in his writing as some of this characters, it could make for a very bold series for RTE. 

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