I tuned in to the much-trailed Channel 4 comedy drama, Derry Girls, last night. It is, I suspect, the finest first episode of a comedy show I have seen since Catastrophe.
The show is set in a girl’s convent school in Derry, in the 1990s, at the height of the troubles. I suspect I’m always going to be a fairly difficult audience member to win over when it comes to anything set in that particular part of the world because of my fundamental issues with Northern Ireland and its backward policies on abortion and gay marriage, but I was utterly entranced.
The joy about this piece is that the troubles rumble along in the background as more of a nuisance than the huge trauma that most of us in Britain probably imagine they must have been. I’m sure we all tend to forget that young Northern Irish people simply had to get on with living through that era. They went to school, had crushes on older boys and dealt with bullying, hard-core, humourless nuns as best they could.
It’s beautifully, and atmospherically shot, and the writing, by Lisa McGee, feels fresh and incredibly witty. There are some absolutely killer one-liners, many of which come from the school’s acerbic head teacher. There’s a wonderful little repeated device which occasionally happens where we’re led to believe we’re hearing the voiceover of the central character but it turns out to be her cousin who has got hold of her diary and is reading sections out to anyone who will listen!
The four main girls are naughty, but deeply likeable characters, exquisitely acted. They defend each other in a world where adults are, largely, imbecilic, over-religious dinosaurs. The show’s lead, Saoirse Jackson, is an absolute diamond with deeply funny bones who genuinely lights up the screen.
Dropped in amongst the Irish girls, like a pig in a slaughter house, is a young English boy called James, who appears to be the product of his mother going over to London for an abortion but changing her mind and bringing him up instead. She has now returned to Derry with her son, but there are such fears for the safety of an English boy at the local school for lads that he’s been sent to the girls’ school where no one can understand what he’s saying, and there’s nowhere for him to go to the loo!
This is a fresh, funny, fabulous show, which I urge you all to watch.