'The Dry' review: New off-kilter Irish comedy is a Britbox hit

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Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV
Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV

Brandishing off-kilter character comedy with a distinctly Irish edge, new Britbox original The Dry launches on Thursday, 5 May.

Drawing on elements of Graham Linehan’s Father Ted, with a smattering of Martin McDonagh, this gently abrasive drama from playwright Nancy Harris is beguilingly honest. Focusing solely on the Sheridan family, this caustic dramedy begins at an airport arrivals lounge, where Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) is stranded at a baggage carousel.

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Happy families are greeting their loved ones home to roost, left and right; It's a snapshot of tradition which flies in the face of everything that follows, as other members of the Sheridan are offered an introduction.

Tom Sheridan (Ciaran Hinds) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV
Tom Sheridan (Ciaran Hinds) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV

Tom (Ciaran Hinds) and Bernie (Pom Boyd) are the parents waiting to welcome her home when she finally arrives. Disregarded, detached and bringing the unwanted weight of past transgressions with her, Shiv is overshadowed by a corpse. Stone cold and in situ, her grandmother is the main talking point within this sideshow circus of a family gathering.

Her sister Caroline (Siobhan Cullen), younger brother Ant (Adam Richardson) and ex-boyfriend Jack (Moe Dunford) all get their moment in this relative carnage, neatly establishing character dynamics in the process. Writer Nancy Harris is careful to avoid stereotypes in her depiction of this family in the opening episode, while Roisin Gallagher quietly dominates.

Indifference seems to be a defining factor in the way this family works, while Harris draws a lot of humour from provincial attitudes to Shiv’s return. Her need to remain sober in the face of a family who thrive on excess, is where The Dry finds its own dramatic home. A place where takeaways are more exciting than home cooked meals, while any chance to undermine or deride each other stands in for emotional connection.

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The Dry also feels like a gentle redemption story peppered with moments of farce, while infidelity and self-interest play an equally strong role in shaping story. Everyone in this family looks to be dealing with their own sense of doubt and indecision. Whether it relates to the lack of desire in long term relationships or uncertainty in career choices, every Sheridan is dealing with something different.

Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV
Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV

Much of the ambience which influences mood throughout comes from composer Sarah Lynch. With a combination of original pieces and orchestration she gives voice to the internal struggles Shiv is facing, which go unnoticed by a family in disarray. Similar to the subtle use of Damien Rice in Mike Nichols’ Closer, a savage dissection of infidelity shaped around two couples; Lynch’s score does much the same thing.

It slowly diminishes the hard edges of this drama and softens these characters into something more recognisable. So much so, that their backbiting, sniping and petty behavioural quirks become almost endearing. Not only adding a richness to the drama which occasionally evolves into poignancy, but giving The Dry a relatable quality which only makes it better.

In truth, this series soon expands beyond the Sheridan family unit to embrace a wider community, where personal prejudice and past misdemeanours cause their own problems. That is when The Dry seeks to look more closely at alcoholism and its impact on others. Her depiction of support groups populated by professional drinkers hammering home the point Nancy Harris is trying to make.

Bernie Sheridan (Pom Boyd) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV
Bernie Sheridan (Pom Boyd) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV

Prescription painkillers and tailor-made cigarettes are no less detrimental than drinking, yet some might say their marketing is slightly better. There are no support groups for either, yet they still profit from those with addictive personalities. Peer pressure, social conformity and celebrities have all played their part in making these choices cool over the years, yet there are only a handful of detractors who have chosen to educate others through entertainment.

Jason Reitman did it with Thank You For Smoking, Mike Figgis followed suit in Leaving Las Vegas, while Hulu tackled the topic most recently with Dopesick. Nancy Harris tackles it with pitch black humour and dysfunctional families, looking to illuminate through comedy and pathos. That The Dry manages to hit home on an emotional level without using a sledgehammer approach in the process, says much about what she has achieved here.

SiobhanCullen (Caroline Sheridan) and Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV
Siobhan Cullen (Caroline Sheridan) and Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) in The Dry (c) Element Pictures / Screen Ireland / ITV

Her ability to conjure character without drifting into archetype or succumbing to tradition, is something which sets this Britbox original apart from others of its ilk. By bringing together such a diverse set of dysfunctional family members, yet allowing them to retain their humanity, Nancy Harris has created something truly inspiring.

With an eclectic ensemble cast on blistering form, The Dry is worth every moment of emotional investment audiences can spare.

Not only seeking to entertainment those who choose to tune in, but hopefully giving them something to ponder when the credits roll.

The Dry is streaming on Britbox now.

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