When I finished watching the first episode of Holding (ITV), which is based on Graham Norton’s first novel, I went back and saw it again. Not because I liked it – even if I did – but because I’d spent the first half hour trying to figure out what was going on.
It took me a while, for example, to establish that the three women who lived in the big house were sisters and not related to the other woman who lived with her mother. And that Evelyn of the Big House (Charlene McKenna of Bloodlands and Peaky Blinders) and Brid (Siobhán McSweeney of Derry Girls and The Great Pottery Throwdown) with the mother had once been in a relationship with the same man, who clearly had not a guy because you would be hard pressed to find two women who are less alike.
As for why the local bobby was eating his sandwiches in a house about to be demolished, meaning he was easily on the spot when the aforementioned man’s bones were discovered buried in the garden? Look for me. And was the boy who slept with Evelyn in an abandoned ambulance really wearing a school tie, meaning this woman who hits 40 is sleeping with a schoolboy?
That’s what can happen when adapting a novel for TV, because introducing a cast of characters to the page is easier to do. But when I finally figured out who was who and what was what, I found it all quite charming.
Norton’s finest creation is PJ Collins, the “blown” cop whose job usually consists of nothing more exciting than arguing over paint colors. Collins, played by Conleth Hill, is a sweet but solitary comfort eater, staying with an owner (Brenda Fricker, gorgeous as always) who provides him with huge full Irish breakfasts. Just watching her fry sausages in half a pound of butter was enough to make me think about the rate of heart disease in Ireland.
There’s eccentricity here – the opening scene is Fricker riding through town on a scooter, and Father Ted’s Pauline McLynn composes comedy as a city snooper – but Norton is also keen to show that modern life has hit this corner of West Cork. There’s racial diversity, a queer woman planning her escape to San Francisco, and a bit of salty language. Along with director Kathy Burke, Norton makes sure we don’t stray too far down the fantasy road.