The Lovers: Meet-cute? Check. Simmering romantic tension? Check. Authentically Irish? Check again

Television: This romantic comedy starring Róisín Gallagher aims to do for Belfast what Love, Actually did for picture-postcard London

Belfast is fast becoming Ireland’s television powerhouse. It was, obviously, the home for Game of Thrones. But it has gone on to serve as backdrop to Blue Lights, the PSNI drama widely regarded as one of 2023′s best cop shows. And, of course the city’s aura is bound up in Line of Duty, filmed extensively in Belfast and absorbing some of its singular spirit.

It’s a stereotype to say a city becomes a character in a particular movie or series. But stereotypes, of a sort, are top of the agenda of David Ireland’s The Lovers (Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 9pm). This romantic comedy aims to do for the Northern Ireland capital what Love, Actually did for picture-postcard London.

Ireland, who is better known as a playwright, piles on the cliches. But he makes them fresh and sometimes delightful. Róisín Gallagher plays Janet, a woman in her late 30s stuck in a dead-end job and wrestling depressive thoughts. She crosses paths, out of the blue, with buccaneering Brit Seamus (Johnny Flynn), a younger Andrew Marr type over from London to make a spot of “regional” telly.

Actually, Seamus isn’t all as British as he might initially appear. He’s got the accent: he says “Ireland” without coming within whistling distance of a letter “r”. But his family background is in Belfast and he is dealing with unresolved issues around his Irishness.


The Lovers doesn’t soft-soap Belfast. It’s a city with its share of antisocial behaviour. Janet and Seamus initially cross paths when she shelters him from a rampaging mob of teenagers.

At the same time, it never stoops to “Troubles porn”. This is Belfast as it is, not as outsiders might perceive it. (Ireland grew up in Sandy Row and supports Linfield FC.) Most importantly, its portrayal of love flowering one text message at a time is a fantastic showcase for Gallagher, who is fast becoming a star (she’s back shortly for season two of The Dry), and Flynn, who could do with a hit after playing David Bowie in the disappointing biopic Stardust.

To enjoy The Lovers you will have to enjoy romcoms – so it’s not for everybody. But it ticks all the boxes for those who appreciate meet-cutes, simmering romantic tension and emotional conflict (Seamus has a posh girlfriend back in London). To the Irish viewer, it pays the ultimate compliment of making you forget there is anything Irish about it at all.