Coming-of-Age Comedy Meets the Troubles of Northern Ireland
Streaming on Netflix | 2018 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons
Why I Watched: When this popped up on Netflix a while back, I had just booked tickets to Ireland. It was perfect timing! I was hungry for all things Irish, and Derry Girls fit the bill.
You Might Also Like: Leap Year (on Starz), a true guilty pleasure for me, will surely scratch your Ireland itch. (It did mine! Tess and I had a movie night with it a few weeks ago. It was Very Important Preparation™ for my Ireland trip.) Amy Adams and Matthew Goode flirting as they road trip across the Irish countryside? Yes, please! It's such a good-bad movie, and I've watched it more times than I care to admit. Brooklyn, another good Ireland movie (and Liz's absolute favorite) is on Amazon Prime. Starring Saoirse Ronan, the story is about a young immigrant to the United States, as she navigates chosing between her new and old homelands. And, if you want a little historical context for Derry Girls, check out the book Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. It's riveting! And it tells stories of young women who took a very different path during the Troubles than the Derry Girls.
Hello from the Emerald Isle! That's right, your girl is in Ireland right now, and feeling pretty stinking excited about it. (A little personal update, because why not: My husband Emmanuel graduated from Air Force pilot training last week and our sixth wedding anniversary is coming up—we're celebrating both this week!)
My last (and only other) trip to Europe didn't go so well. I was 20 and over the moon about a short Maymester in Italy. But all the anticipation and excitement in the world couldn't subdue the parasite or whatever I picked up in Venice on the first day. I was sick as a dog for the duration and had to opt out of many of the tours and experiences we had planned. What I remember most about that trip (other than my misery) is the literature I read in preparation and the excitement I felt visiting the places I'd read about. I knew that's something I wanted to replicate for this trip, but with limited time to plan, I went for TV and movies instead of time-consuming books.
Derry Girls was at the top of my list, and I'm so glad it was! With short seasons (six, thirty-minute episodes each), it's a quick watch—and a really fun one! Four teenage girlfriends are growing up Catholic in 1990s Derry, Northern Ireland, and it's not easy. They've got all the usual stuff going on: trying to fit in at school, looking for love, studying for exams. But on top of that, these kooky, lively friends are living in a divided land, and the threat of disruption or even violence is a constant backdrop to their daily lives. The Catholics (also typically nationalists) are an oppressed minority, yet the girls and their families carry on like it's business as usual—because it is.
The Troubles of Northern Ireland began in the late 1960s and continued officially until the late 1990s—so, for all of the girls' lives, and most of their parents'. One of the things I love about the show is that it makes light of the situation without minimizing it. Neighbors are tied up and robbed, there are roadblocks and protests, armed soldiers mull about, but the people of Derry are no strangers to these things. (If recent events are any indication, their trouble is hardly over for good, sadly.) Life goes on, and we see that the girls are thriving even if their situation is a little more precarious than the average teenager's. We see that the Troubles of the country are secondary—or at least equal—to the regular old troubles of growing up.
Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Orla (Louisa Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), and Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) are outspoken, quick-witted, bold, kind, and loyal. They're vulgar and sometimes rude, but those qualities are balanced by their sensitivity and good humor, making them impossible to dislike even in their most selfish moments. And, while they certainly don't intend to get into trouble, they get into an awful lot of it. Watching them try to get out of it is a riot—even more so because they sometimes drag their parents and other reluctant participants into their antics. The girls are hilarious, and so are their families, whose jokes are often at the expense of Michelle's British cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn). The insults are crushing, yet you don't feel cruel laughing at them: James seems more bewildered and exasperated by the constant barrage of casual insults than hurt or offended by them.
You'll want to turn on subtitles for at least the first few episodes until you get used to the heavy accents. Even with subtitles, you'll probably miss every third word, but I promise you'll take in enough of the dialogue to fall for the show as hard as I did. If you need more convincing, and you're the kind of person who appreciates "official" validation, the first season is 100% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and season two (which just aired and hasn't yet made it to Netflix) is close with 96%. Wowza!
There's so much I haven't said about Derry Girls because there just isn't time! I hope you'll trust me on this one and head over to Netflix pronto. Pro tip: Take a steaming bag of fish and chips along with you. Goodness knows I've enjoyed my fair share of them this week.
Happy Streaming! Grace