The Graha Norton novel comes to ITV.
I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of cosy crime. I understand the appeal and can fully appreciate the umbrella of crime drama shelters a broad range of different types of crime drama, all with their things to say and depict.
But I had low-ish expectations of this ITV four-parter, adapted from the novel by Graham Norton.
Norton, a beloved comic and chatshow host, recently took to writing crime novels, but again this element left me a bit wary – never trust a celebrity who takes to writing novels. Sounds harsh, but it’s always a truism that celebs don’t often make for the best novelists.
However, I’m here to tell you that Holding – despite my reservations – was actually pretty good and an enjoyable, sensitively-handled watch.
It’s set in the sleepy, West Cork village of Duneen, fringed as it is by beautiful, lush countryside and invitingly deserted coves and beaches. So far, so cosy.
Duneen itself is populated by a ragtag of quirky characters – the grumpy housekeeper Mrs Meeney, the gossipy Mrs O’Driscoll and the trio of Ross sisters on the farm. And then there’s PJ Collins (Conleth Hill), a pudgy, timid gardaí who has a compulsion of shovelling crisps and white bread into his mouth when he’s stressed.
Thankfully for him, Duneen doesn’t provide too much stress. It’s bustling but is a small town and everything is as it should be – quiet, peaceful and days that melt into the next.
However, when human remains are discovered during building on a local farm things change. That’s when both the town’s and PJ’s slumber are rudely interrupted. With some Cork, city-based detectives sent in to assist PJ – who’s clearly terrified of this development and out of his depth – it’s quickly determined that the body could well be that of Tommy Burke, who disappeared from the area 20 years ago.
From the moment Burke’s name is mentioned, it stirs up a whole heap of buried memories for two women in particular – Bríd Riorden (Siobhán McSweeney), who Burke left at the alter, and his lover, Evelyn Ross (Charlene McKenna).
As the plot, which gets a bit convoluted as the episodes tick by, develops there’s the ‘small town, big secrets’ trope, something that we’ve seen time and time again in many crime dramas.
But what makes Holding work so well is not the depth of the plot, it’s the genuinely fine performances from the ensemble cast, and a willingness to revel in the richness of character. And that’s down to good writing (yes you, Graham Norton). The real boon of Holding is that it never feels like a pastiche or a Father Ted-style lampooning of Irish small-town communities.
While the humour is there it’s never in your face, more gentle quirkiness rather than ‘to be sure’ caricatures. All the characters have lived lives, have made mistakes and have fallen in love when they shouldn’t have. And now they’re having to deal with the consequences of their actions.
There’s a lot to like here, mostly in the richness of characterisation and depth of performance. Every time I see Charlene McKenna she gets better and better (Peaky Blinders, Bloodlands etc), and here she’s full of spirit, recklessness but also vulnerability. Siobhan McSweeney, too, is excellent as is Brenda Fricker, who delivers an acting masterclass when she reveals her own devastating secret.
And there’s Conleth Hill, who as the main character PJ is loveable and someone you almost write off – he’s content to be in the background but is waging his own private war against his own demons. It’s a skilful performance from Hill.
Holding is not perfect by any means. Some characters feel superfluous and do not work at all (see DI Linus Dunne), and it does jump around a little bit. But overall Holding is a quirky, enjoyable cosy crime drama populated by characters you’d quite like to see again.
After series one’s success, I wouldn’t bet against ITV taking another trip to Duneen in the near future.
Holding is now available to stream in the UK on ITV Hub