When I started the first disc of BBC Video's three disc set, Ballykissangel: Series Five, I felt that to really enjoy this Irish television drama, I was going to need some background information. So after about ten minutes on the net, I was up to speed on the many characters and the backstories, and ready to start over. Of course, fans of the popular series are already clued in and waiting for this fifth season on DVD, but I was totally new to it (I had only heard it mentioned in context to Collin Farrell, who co-stars here). If you're new to Ballykissangel as well, don't let that stop you from picking it up here at this late point in the series, and enjoying what I found to be a charming, heartfelt TV drama.
Set in the small Irish mountain town of Ballykissangel (or in Irish, Baile Coisc Aingil -- The Town on the Shore of the Angel), the various plots of Ballykissangel: Series Five revolve around the town regulars and their romantic, dramatic and comedic adventures. Some of the more prominent storylines for this season include Niamh Egan (Tina Kelleghar), the daughter of pub owner and town bigwig Brian Quigley (Tony Doyle), her affair with Sean Dillon (Lorcan Cranitch) and the disastrous effect that has on her marriage to town garda (police officer) Ambrose Egan (Peter Hanly); beautiful Orla O'Connell (Victoria Smurfit), sister of town priest Father Aiden O'Connell (Don Wycherley), and her efforts to set up an independent life in a small farm house, while managing a relationship with kind boatsman Conor Devlin (Owen Teale); Oonagh Dooley (Marion O'Dwyer) taking over the reigns as manager of Brian Quigley's pub, conveniently forgetting to tell Brian her husband is ex-prisoner Paul Dooley (Owen Roe), Brian's sworn enemy; the various comedic misadventures of layabouts and scammers Liam Coghlan (Joe Savino) and Donal Docherty (Frankie McCafferty), and of course, watching over all in Ballykissangel, Father O'Connell and Father MacAnally (Niall Toibin).
After reading some of the Ballykissangel fan sites on the net, a common thread among regular viewers seems to be a preference for the first three seasons of the show, which featured other cast members, in particular Stephen Tompkinson as Father Peter Clifford and Dervla Kerwin as Assumpta Fitzgerald, who used to own the local pub. Having not seen those episodes, I can only go by what's here in Ballykissangel: Series Five, and although I may not fully grasp all the resonances of the characters and their situations that regular viewers will, this season of episodes is extremely well executed and very entertaining. Beautifully shot on location in Ireland, and featuring an engaging cast of actors that were totally unfamiliar to me (which just lent all the more realism to their efforts), Ballykissangel: Series Five is a lyrical, beautifully modulated drama that switches tone quite easily among its various plot lines. While the stories' main linchpin is frequently the Catholic Church and Father Aiden, in no way is Ballykissangel: Series Five what I would call an overtly "religious" show. That aspect of the show is treated as matter-of-factly as the town's other focal point -- the pub -- and it doesn't limit the broader appeal of the show.
As with any series like this, the plotlines have to be good, but it's largely up to the actors to make the characters not only believable but likeable, so we'll keep coming back, and they certainly did that for me while I was watching Ballykissangel: Series Five. I particularly enjoyed the emotional, strong Tina Kelleghar as Niamh, the quietly authoritative Tony Doyle as Brian Quigley (who I understand, sadly, passed away at the end of filming this season), the prickly independence of knockout Victoria Smurfit as Orla, and Lorcan Cranitch as the thoughtful, romantic Sean. A special mention must be made for Joe Savino and Frankie McCafferty as the town idiots, Liam and Donal. They have excellent timing together, and put some nice spins on their line readings that really boosts the scenes they appear in (the first episode of this season, where they go hot air ballooning, is constantly buoyed by their amusing repartee).
It can be difficult to get into the flow of a TV series if you're new to it, and it's been on for awhile, but I had no such problem with Ballykissangel: Series Five. Its charming, distinctly "Irish" tone, coupled with solid script writing, compelling acting, and a gorgeous production, really sold me. I'm a confirmed "BallyK" fan now, and I'll be going back to start the series over from the beginning -- and for someone who watches a tremendous amount of TV and movies, and who has seen it all, that's saying something.
Here are the twelve, one hour episodes of Ballykissangel: Series Five:
Two Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The day after the bonfire, Niamh approaches Ambrose, only to find that he has gone missing.
Hello and Farewell
Life is in transition for Niamh, and the tension only increases between her and Dillion.
Catch of the Day
A crate of expensive caviar is found floating in the sea, and Orla and Conor go on their first date.
Emma decides to leave home, upsetting Danny, Conor and Orla in the process.
It is Kieran's birthday and Imelda, Ambrose's mother, has come to stay.
Ex-prisoner Paul Dooley's family are moving to Ballykissangel -- home of his old enemy, Brian Quigley.
Brendan is up for headmaster of Ballykissangel National School, but so is Brother Dominic, a teetotaling Christian who is mad on hurling.
A Few Dollars More
Uncle Minto returns, and Conor finally senses that something is wrong when Orla claims to need her own space.
Paul finds himself redecorating the school gym when he gets involved in Uncle Minto's business.
With a Song in My Heart
Father Aidan is auditioning for the church choir but it's looking bleak, until the young Mairead enchants him with her beautiful voice.
Frankie has organized a raft-racing event, which leads to Aiden being confronted by Mairead's mother.
Arrivals and Depatures
Preparations are made for celebration, but not before Father Aidan is asked by Frankie to help with a tricky case involving the Toomeys.
The 1.78:1, enhanced for 16x9 TVs, widescreen video image for Ballykissangel: Series Five is beautifully clear and sharp, with gorgeous colors and no transfer issues.
The English 2.0 stereo soundtrack is clear and strong, and best of all, close-captioning is available if you have trouble with some of the accents (which you won't).
There are text biographies on the cast members for Ballykissangel: Series Five
I had a delightful time visiting Ballykissangel: Series Five, despite the fact that I was coming in towards the end of the series. Sharply drawn characters, solid scripts, and a gorgeous production mark this Irish BBC series as a real keeper. Definitely buy Ballykissangel: Series Five if you're a fan, and if you're new to it, I highly recommend it.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.