Review: Derry girls

Our review

Derry Girls opens to a scene of domestic banality, housed in 17th century brick, and narrated by a haunting Irish accent against patriotic music. The voice belongs to Orla McCool, whose narration rivals that of Morgan Freeman, David Attenborough and Jeremy Irons, as she sets the scene in 1990s Ireland.

Just like in the films of Morgan Freeman, we peel back the layers of the narrator’s description to find centuries of warfare, feuds and age-old questions – Ireland vs England, parent vs child and teenager vs the world.

Our permanently grimacing heroine, Erin Quinn, sets the tone of the series by threatening to divorce her embarrassing parents while the TV announces that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) are bombing a bridge.

While the IRA wage guerrilla warfare against the English occupation of Ireland, Erin and her friends are engaged in a similarly high stakes battle – getting through their teenage years unscathed.

The show is set in a divided Derry “or Londonderry, depending on your persuasion.” We are introduced to Erin and her vacant cousin Orla. We also meet neurotic Clare Devlin, wannabe bad girl Michelle Mallon and “that wee English fellow” James Maguire whose only crime is being Michelle’s mousy English cousin.

Screen writer, Lisa McGee has left nothing out and her raw script turns the Derry girls into three-dimensional characters who provide a new insight into the life of a teenage girl. Not only are the one-liners fantastic but they’re also well delivered and refreshingly genuine. Everything – even the facial expressions - has been exaggerated and overacted to recreate the constant melodrama of existing as a fifteen-year-old girl. None of the girls (or guy) are truly likeable characters which makes them all the more exciting to watch (coming from someone who went to an all-girls Catholic school, it takes you back).

The people surrounding the gang are equally well played. There’s Erin’s crotchety Granda Joe, her Da Gerry, loopy Aunt Sarah and no-nonsense Mammy.

“Of course, you have a trust fund, the account number is 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1,” Erin’s mammy says while rolling her eyes and folding the washing.

A personal favourite is headmistress Sister Michael, whose dry acidity goes straight past sarcasm and may actually cause physical harm.

“I think we’ve all just lost a bit of respect for you Clare,” Sister Michael says after Clare breaks down and grasses on her friends.

She also has an uncanny ability to read the audience’s minds and say exactly what we’re all thinking. It’s no surprise that fans are calling for a Sister Michael spin-off.  

The girls are constantly in trouble or making things worse for themselves. Whether it’s being caught misbehaving in detention while their 98-year-old supervisor has unknowingly passed away of a heart attack or lying about a miraculous vision from Mary that turns out to be dog urine.

Throughout these mishaps are quiet reminders of the civil war being waged on their behalf and the oppressive occupation of the British. To be English is the worst crime imaginable which is why the ever-suffering James is forced to attend a girl’s school as there are fears for his safety at the local boy’s institute. Soldiers with machine guns are present on school buses and city checkpoints, bridges are being blown up and Orangemen are marching in parades heavily rooted in racism.

Director Michael Lennox and Lisa McGee work these struggles in perfectly to mirror the issues in the girls’ lives. Their ongoing personal conflicts are expertly interwoven with the conflicts ripping apart Ireland as well as the issues we face today. The group learns important lessons about acceptance, unity and refugees that show the progressiveness of younger generations. Many of these lessons are sorely needed in the Derry community, as well as being timely reminders for today’s society.  

Final verdict: 5/5

Directed by

Michael Lennox

Starring

Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Dylan Llewellyn, Nicola Coughlan, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Tara Lynne O’Neill, Tommy Tiernan, Kathy Kiera Clarke, Ian McElhinney, Leah O’Rourke, Anthony Boyle and Siobhan McSweeney

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