Kerry director Gerard Barrett has been making a name for himself for quite some time, with his critically acclaimed flick Pilgrim Hill earning him the Rising Star IFTA Award at the tender age of 26. Not content with that, he later went on to make Glassland starring Jack Reynor and Toni Collette, and will soon be making his mark stateside with upcoming flick Brain on Fire, starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
Smalltown, however, marks the young director's first foray into television, and the three-part drama finished up last night on TV3. Starring Pat Shortt and what marks a breakout role for actor Charlie Kelly, it followed the story of Conor (Kelly), who is urged to leave his rural home by his father (Shortt) and mother (Pauline O'Driscoll) to head for pastures new in London, however he must return later down the line when his mother gets sick. It follows his struggle to re-adapt to his home town and the changes that have taken place while he's been away, both in the town and in his relationships with the people in it, and how he's found himself suddenly faced with the impending and untimely death of his mother.
While there's no doubt those that watched it were hooked, Smalltown seems to have come and gone without much fuss, which is a pity as it's undoubtedly the most compelling Irish drama we've had in quite some time. The magic with Smalltown came from the fantastic cast as well as the writing of Barrett, who made it feel as real as if your own family was going through it. There are no over-dramatic performances; the raw heartbreak of it came sometimes in moments without any dialogue at all.
For those that haven't seen Lenny Abrahamson 2007's flick Garage, you may have made the mistake of considering comedian Pat Shortt a one-trick pony, but don't be fooled. Shortt's performance in Smalltown has proven yet again he has far more range than he is often given credit for, and the subtle nuances he brought to the character of Tom made him as familiar as if he was your own lovable yet typically emotionally inept Irish dad.
In fact the incredible realism of Smalltown is something that Barrett has always excelled in, conveying the everyday idiosyncrasies of Irish life without exaggeration or pointedness. From the all too familiar family dynamic we saw in the opening episode, to the heartbreaking way they dealt with the mother's death. Last night's episode saw the family say a final goodbye to her in their home, and for anybody who has ever had to deal with this kind of personal tragedy, they will know just how gut-wrenchingly accurate the scene was. It was one of the most poignant and devastating moments we've ever had on Irish television, bar none. The funeral that followed, the endless tea, the community rallying around - all scenes many will sadly know too well, with Barrett shining a very personal light on death - an aspect of life we mark so well in Ireland but rarely talk about.
Yes, we know, we are making this sound very depressing, but Barrett wasn't cruel enough to leave us in our grief. The final scenes with the two sons and Tom talking together in the sitting room managed to leave things on an uplifting note, as Tom found the words to tell his sons that he'll love them double the amount now, and they joked, 'ah you're grand too dad'.
Smalltown proved that we don't always need a good drama to be filled with crime or grit or violence, that sometimes the most powerful of television can just be watching three men plod into the kitchen together to make a cup of tea in the aftermath of losing the most important woman in their lives, and know they were somehow going to find a way to be okay.