Sharon Horgan’s previous Irish-set comedy was the ill-fated Women on the Verge. That series briefly ghosted around the RTÉ schedules in 2018, then evaporated without trace. Horgan is on firmer territory with Bad Sisters (Apple TV+, streaming from today), a sort of Celtic Little Women that spools forth like Maeve Binchy collaborating with Truman Capote.
The cast is a quartet of Irish actors (plus one Briton) at the top of their game. They are the Garvey sisters: sensible Eva (Horgan), short-fused Bibi (Sarah Greene), philandering Ursula (Eva Birthistle), deadpan Becka (Eve Hewson) and downtrodden Grace (Anne-Marie Duff). The one stomping all over Grace’s dignity is her loathsome husband, John-Paul Williams, portrayed wonderfully, if broadly, by the Danish actor Claes Bang as a condescending Englishman.
He’s a toxic twerp who micromanages his wife and their 12-year-old daughter, mocks Eva’s inability to have children and sneers when Becka brings home a nonwhite boyfriend at Christmas. In other words, just the sort of odious creep who, in a comedy-thriller, would end up being bumped off with extreme prejudice.
Bad Sisters, adapted from the Belgian series Clan, is Horgan’s debut offering under her first-look deal with Apple. The story is split across timelines. It begins with John-Paul’s funeral, where Grace tries to be sad and her sisters attempt to not look guilty. But then we flash back six months, to witness John-Paul’s weaponised caddishness as it whips Eva and her sisters into a murderous rage.
With the monster finally gone, the Garveys are ready to turn over a new leaf. Or at least they would be were it not for pesky insurance-agent half-brothers Thomas and Matthew Claffin (Brian Gleeson and Daryl McCormack), who smell a rat — and are keen not to have to pay out for John-Paul’s demise. If they can prove he was killed, they keep the cash. And with that the game is afoot.
The excitement unfolds against the backdrop of coastal Dublin. (Much of the filming took place in Malahide.) In the international press, Bad Sisters has been likened to Nicole Kidman’s Big Little Lies, in which a circle of lunching ladies with to-die-for sea views likewise conspire to rid the world of a toxic spouse. There are also echoes of the recent Conversations with Friends. Monkstown had its moment in the sun in Hulu’s adaptation of the Sally Rooney novel. And that was on the back of Matt Damon becoming Dalkey’s most famous lockdown resident. Now it is Malahide’s turn to shine. Who knew the Dart line went all the way to Hollywood?
Bad Sisters gets that crucial family chemistry just right. Horgan and Aisling Bea never entirely convinced as sisters in Bea’s This Way Up. But Horgan vibes wonderfully with her on-screen siblings here — they sound Irish rather than like Irish people performing an exaggerated version of themselves for a UK audience.
Streaming has largely ignored Ireland — how many Netflix shows are set here? — and it is to Horgan’s credit that she seems determined to do something about this. More importantly, Bad Sisters is dastardly, witty and bingeable — a sibling thriller that twists the knife with aplomb.