Did we like it?
A classic Sunday evening 8pm drama in every sense of the world, following the bloodline of Ballykissangel, Where The Heart Is and Born And Bred, with tales that explore the conflict between family loyalty and the evils of money, glorious rural vistas, a jaunty, pastoral soundtrack and a script so predictable that after just one episode you can play out the rest of the series in your head.
What was good about it?
• British TV viewers are absolute suckers for the beautiful Irish countryside, and as a consequence it’s heavily overdosed in Rough Diamond. Every single chance to capture a shot through the gently swaying trees was taken.
• The rustic ambience was further bolstered when little lost boy Jonah wandered agog through the long, verdant grassland that surrounds Aidan’s stables, and later when Jonah was knocked from the frisky colt Rough Diamond by a low tree branch he lay in a deserted green field on his back senselessly laughing, which evokes teenage memories for everyone who hasn’t spent their whole lives trapped within urban confines.
• Rather than the first episode giving birth to the characters to grow into the viewers’ consciousness, they emerge fully-formed from the Sunday evening stereotype factory. But for this sort of drama, it’s a ploy that works pretty well as we don’t expect to see Raskolnikov or Madame Bovary running a decrepit stables in rural Ireland.
• Conor Mullen as Aidan Doherty has a roguish charm, but is also weighed down over his father’s death, for which he partly blames himself over his gambling addiction. He also has a lost love in local vet Yolanda, who is now married to his arch-rival, the dastardly Charlie Carrick, who he is about to sell up to.
• However, when he discovers he has a son, Jonah, and a promising new colt, Rough Diamond, he changes his mind and decides to persist with training horses. If you gained sustenance from traditional Sunday tea-time dramas instead of food and drink, these are the sort of plot devices you’d be stockpiling in anticipation of a nuclear winter.
• The clear, if somewhat comical, delineation between the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Aidan is a paradigm of goodness, as he rides horses instead of driving cars, trains horses through “gut instinct” and passion using soil to get a better grip on Rough Diamond’s reins, rather than Charlie’s new trainer, Hooper, who uses all manner of sanitised science to coach the mounts.
• Charlie, meanwhile, is podgy, dresses in soullessly bland suits that look like they cost thousands but are worth tuppence, has a young trophy wife, and ferries himself around in a sparkling 4×4 monstrosity – which are rapidly replacing cloven hooves and devil horns as emblems of malevolence both on TV and real life. And in rejecting Charlie’s final offer to buy his stables, Aidan sent him packing with: “Take your contracts, your pens, your handmade shoes and fancy car and get off my land!”
• Yolanda’s disturbing erotic equine caresses on the hindquarters of Rough Diamond, and the hilarious sight of the little boy patting Aidan’s horse with unnatural nervous, timidity while he went into the bookies to give Jonah his betting slip back (that had fallen from Jonah’s pocket to expediently tell Aidan where his son had gone after falling from Rough Diamond).
What was bad about it?
• The trying Irish-themed music that at times seemed to be either summoning up the televisual hellspawn of Ballykissangel from the deepest abyssal depths of evil with the floral, florid, quaint melodies last seen crudely etched into the gurning face of Chris De Burgh, or was the soft choral music you can imagine is used in TV plays to accompany people with terminal illnesses wading into the lapping Atlantic waves off Ireland’s west coast to drown themselves, while leprechauns hugging pots of gold look on.
• The exhausting predictability of the script. Jonah was obviously Aidan’s son from the moment he ambled on to the screen, but it wasn’t, as Sheridan claimed “his eyes” that gave him away. It was more the need for a catalyst for Aidan to abandon his sale to Charlie and to endeavour to train new winners.
• What’s more, novice rider Jonah is also conveniently the right height and build to be a jockey, and Aidan was impressed at his inherent talent at riding, “You’re saying you got as far as Wealands Woods without a saddle?” In the last episode of the series, Jonah will ride Rough Diamond to victory (or a very close second if there’s to be a second series).
• And Sheridan, Charlie and Yolanda’s daughter, is the same age as Jonah – cue inevitable fractious romance causing clashes between all and sundry; especially between Yolanda and Aidan who still share an evident mutual attraction.
• Very much his father’s son, Jonah despite being about 15, is already addicted to gambling like his old man. In the bookies, we were sure that Sunday drama stalwart Tony Haygarth appeared behind Jonah as he watched the big race on TV. If it was him, expect him to be in the role of shrewd old sage handing out wisdom on the ills of gambling to ensure that Jonah doesn’t follow his father’s self-destructive path.