'Ballykissangel: The Complete Collection'
(Stephen Tompkkinson, Derula Kirwan, et al / 15-Disc DVD / NR / 2007 / BBC Video)
Overview: The complete collection of this beloved drama is finally here! Ballykissangel has become a huge international success since first hitting UK television screens in 1995, and continues to win over millions of fans from across the world. This collection includes every episode of this ever-popular BBC series, full of Irish charm, quirky characters, strange shenanigans and tales of friendship, rivalry and love.
DVD Verdict: This drama set in a small town in Ireland is less significant for its substance than for the days-gone-by nostalgia feel of it. It is a wonderfully simple program; a sort of Andy Griffith Show foundation enlivened by modernity. As the series begins we come to know an attractive pub owner who has vague qualms with the religion into which she was born. In time she begins to respect the new priest in town as he jockeys with his older generational priest-supervisor.
Through this prism we can see what we want of Ireland's more recent development. The program encourages us to take sides between the traditionalist (sometimes selfish) church of the past, and a more lively (but less absolute) version of it, as evinced by this young priest from afar who stirs up this town a bit. It's not at all a religious program, mind you; just an overly unrepresentative portrayal of idyllic Ireland in which you cannot fail to include religion. Full disclosure: I like this show, but I also have Irish blood.
I say this because this really is a program which appeals to a particular sort of individual; to one who either has Irish blood and/or for those whom Ireland has some draw. Ireland has an inherent appeal to many such people from around the world. Even if you have never visited it, can you not right now visualize vast green fields and rolling hills bordered by stone walls, snugly cozy pubs filled with glasses of Guinness raised, and smiling faces? Of course, I'm exaggerating here, but you must grant that Ireland is a far more attractive place than many others, at least in a theoretical quality-of-life sort of way. It's thought of as the sort of place where stress is not as prevalent as where one finds oneself; having a bygone character to it (notwithstanding this not to be as true in actuality, but like in many other things, imagination often persists over reality).
If you are familiar with Garrison Keillor's public radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion" (Saturdays at 6 pm across the USA), Ballykissangel is to Ireland what the fictional town of "Lake Woebegone" is to the American heartland. I recommend both. Both evince what a part of us long for (if you are a nostalgic sort of person, regardless of your age--even a 25 year old can long for previous eras) and even though such may not suit us, it does make us inclined to enjoy programs like "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Ballykissangel".
This show though, like a brain, has two lobes of sorts, with the dividing line between the first 3 seasons (26 episodes) and the 2 seasons following them (24 episodes); with season 6 (an abbreviated season of 8 episodes) pretty much standing alone. (And whether you will enjoy season six comes down to the sort of person you are; whether you relish variety or prefer the TV shows, musical artists, actresses you like to be recognizably the same over their runs, careers. The answer to that will determine whether you easily accept the loss of 3 huge cast members---one of whom passed away in real life necessitating major changes---with 3 other supporting players moving on as well---that series six tries to recover from, and thus is not especially representative of the proceeding years of this still welcoming program to watch, but at one and the same time, just not the same anymore absent the fulcrum (raison d'Ítre even) of the whole program.)
Season four, in this sense, is not just the fourth year of this program, but really is just the first of several attempts to digest huge cast changes. Bit players Liam & Donal who did their job well as hapless hired hands to the focal character of the show (Brian Quigley) have had their roles upped several fold during this year. Thus we see them dredge for gold balls in one of the water hazard's at Quigley's golf course. One of them mysteriously (with no explanation) becomes the guardian of a "pet" bear; a bear, who obviously then wreaks a bit of havoc. New faces are also introduced. The town has a new priest (who brings his sister), a new farmer (with his teenage daughter), and the old farmer's presence is complicated by the arrival of his nephew (also a young adult who predictably catches the eye of the new gal in town).
In short, a lot is new herein & it takes a bit to absorb all of it since all 5 newcomers are introduced en masse. 3 of these, incidentally, are flat-out successful in the roles and add much to providing much needed ballast after the 3rd season lost the program's 2 central characters. Father Aidan, as the new understudy to Father Mac, helps to re-center the plot and his sister provides much needed liveliness. Change in series 5 is represented by the arrival of a new police Guard to town, and the character is a winning one---a woman this time, going by the name of Frankie, but she's attractive and capable in the role; but also rather more of a "tough guy" than Guard Egan (though also likable) ever was during the first 4 years.
Ambrose Egan's widow, the aforementioned Niamh (who interestingly too, was Father Aidan actor Don Wycherley's real-life sister-in-law, providing an extra dose of natural emotion in this warm-hearted program & who can be seen in the fine Irish drama by the title of "The Hanging Gale" with the fabulous Michael Kitchen starring) is the star of this season. Tony Doyle, who plays her father Brian Quigley remains the character around whom the show really revolves; or his schemes, doings, etc. are responsible for many happenings in this series, as per the norm with previous seasons of BallyK.
After having viewed this series several times I am almost tempted to suggest newcomers to the series to start with season 4 and then "flashback," in effect, to the first 3 seasons so as to end with the most dramatic episodes of the entire series (which are the last 2 of season 3).
P.S. In case you're in the Dublin area one day, do take the time to visit the "set" of Ballykissangel, which isn't one at all actually; but rather is an one-street town (called Avoca) that was occasionally commandeered for filming. It's not that far from Dublin, where you can have a glass of stout in Fitzgerald's Bar ; and/or visit BallyK's church, as you walk into "the program," so to speak, that you have enjoyably watched from afar. (And, if you haven't seen it yet, do treat yourself to seeing Assumpta's Leo in the very Irish and funny film "Waking Ned Devine".) Cheers! This is a Standard Presentation (4:3) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
On the Ballykissangel Trail: 60 Minutes of Behind-The-Scenes Footage, On-Set Secrets and Interviews with the Stars
Behind-The-scenes: A 20 Minute Look at The Making-of Ballykissangel
Summer Holiday in Avoca: A Tour of the Town where the Series was filmed, hosted by Eamon Holmes
Daily Live: Interview with Victoria Smurfit
Cast Filmographies (Series 1-6)