Kat and Alfie: Redwater review – the EastEnders spin-off still smells of soap

An intriguing and ambitious offshoot, if not quite the combination of Broadchurch and The Wicker Man promised by star Shane Richie

Summer, 1994, and something bad is happening at sea, off the coast of County Waterford. A boat has turned over, a woman and some children are clinging to it. A man arrives in another boat; yay, they’re saved! But he can’t get his boat close enough. Come on, you idiot, stop shining your torch at them, nudge up closer, throw a rope, do something. But by the time he gets his act together, the woman and one of the kids, known as Mouse, have gone. Three saved, two lost. And one pre-credits sequence, of Kat and Alfie: Redwater (BBC1).

Yep, that’s Kat and Alfie Moon, off EastEnders (Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie). They have spun off, across the Irish Sea (and/or the Celtic Sea). Oh dear, remember what happened last time EastEnders went to Ireland? Make that Oirland, a backwards place, populated by drunken O’stereotypes. Let’s hope it doesn’t go back there again.

But this isn’t just EastEnders in Ireland; it has spun off but stands alone, a six-part (for now) drama, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t really know who Kat and Alfie are. They have swapped Walford for Waterford because Kat is looking for the son who was taken away when she had him, aged 14. Alfie, meanwhile, has got something going on inside his head; he’s having visions.

So, they arrive in a taxi that has to be pushed up the final hill (you’ll know that about Ireland if you’ve been, you have to push your own taxi). There’s a spring festival going on in town.

“What’s this all about, ol’ druid ceremony or something?” asks Alfie.

“Typical Irishman, eh?” laughs Kat, when she’s told the the owner of the house they’re renting is always in the pub. (Actually Peter is the landlord.)

Yeah, but that’s the characters; it’s them doing the negative stereotyping, not the show. Hmmm. What about the pint of Guinness that has to be downed in one before the fun run; the title sequence (very green, a little bit mystical, insular); the poetry in the pub; or the whole town in the pub? Well, it is spring festival. Maybe it’s not actually offensive this time, but I was surprised to learn this was a British–Irish co-production because it does look like a typical Englishman’s idea of Ireland.

Anyway, Kat is eying up every man in his 30s, wondering if they are her long lost son. She quickly decides it’s this Andrew, who is part of a big farming family, headed by suspicious matriarch Agnes (Fionnula Flanagan) and her husband Lance (Ian McElhinney), who swims in the sea every morning and gallops about the place on the Lloyds Bank horse. Wyatt Earp, Kat calls him. Or could the boy/man she’s looking for be Dermott, the young, unlikely priest, son of Peter the landlord? Both families have cupboards full of skeletons, ghosts and dark secrets. Both families have connections to the boat tragedy. Dermott was one of the surviving kids; the woman who drowned was his mother … Or was she? Was it even an accident?

It’s certainly intriguing. And ambitious, and cinematic. “Broadchurch meets The Wicker Man” is how Richie has described it. Which is a little harsh, on Broadchurch, and The Wicker Man (assuming he was talking about the original). Wallace and Richie are part of the issue. It doesn’t matter where it is, as soon as they rock up, Alfie offers to put the kettle on and Kat says, “Bit mad ’ere innit”, and you’re thinking one thing: EastEnders. It may only be six episodes but everything else – performance, lack of subtlety, a focus on the emotional, melodrama, cliches, even the pub – smells of soap. Nothing wrong with that, I always enjoy EastEnders when I get involved, but I’m not so keen on pretension. Kat and Alfie thinks it’s Broadchurch meets The Wicker Man, but really it’s EastEnders somewhere else. Waterforders.

Oh, and I have a little continuity moan as well. The sea when Lance goes in for his dip: quite choppy. Then, when Father Dermott goes in to join him, it’s a mill pond …

Oh! Not to join him, but to drown him! Two maritime tragedies in one episode, and it seems the first wasn’t entirely accidental. What have Kat and Alfie got involved with? And what is Dermott’s problem with orange juice? It’s unordered deliveries of the stuff, rather than finding out the truth about how he came into the world, that seem to trigger the rages. Keep that priest away from the freshly squeezed, or someone else is going to get killed.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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