TV Review: I can't fall in love with Sky's The Lovers

Love blossoms at the Duke of York
Love blossoms at the Duke of York

The Lovers, Sky Atlantic and Now TV 

Belfast features again in mainstream television drama and instinctively I wanted to like it. 

As if to counterbalance Blue Lights, The Lovers is set in loyalist east Belfast. 

We know this because when Janet opens her door, a loyalist band parade is going down the narrow, terraced street. 

But the mood isn’t Belfast sectarianism, it’s romance as The Lovers asks us to root for an unlikely relationship between Janet (suicidal shop worker whose husband has just left her) and Seamus O’Hannigan, a London TV presenter. 

Seamus (Johnny Flynn) is an unlikely politics expert whose new show is to be broadcast from Belfast to meet a quota for content from the regions. 

His mother is Irish, so Seamus is deemed to be the perfect candidate. 

With the status of a mini celebrity in Islington, Seamus is obviously self-obsessed.   

When he meets his new producer, he thinks she’s a fan looking for a selfie and he’s tragically convinced that everyone in Belfast recognises him. 

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He meets Janet (Roisin Gallagher) in a moment which could only happen in a TV show.

Janet works at Turley's supermarket
Janet works at Turley's supermarket

Janet, minus husband and unhappy in her dead-end job, is sitting against a wall in her backyard with a sawn-off shotgun under her chin.

She’s already left a flippant suicide note in the kitchen: “Boo f***ing hoo.” 

Meanwhile, Seamus has upset some local youths with glib comments about the Troubles in a piece to camera, and is running through the terraced streets pursued by a mob.

He scrambles over the wall into her back yard, thereby disturbing her plans and also saving himself from extreme violence. 

The first encounter of Janet and Seamus saves both their lives
The first encounter of Janet and Seamus saves both their lives

A connection has been made and Seamus declares that they have saved each other’s lives. 

He can’t get a taxi home, spends the night on the couch and it’s clear that this romcom will centre on the anticipation of their hook-up. 

There are many rocks in the road – Seamus is in a relationship, texted misunderstandings and awkward encounters. 

But we know that they’ll get there in the end, whether openly or clandestinely. 

As usual, there’s some fun to be had in spotting the locations.  The Cathedral Quarter gets top billing, with the Duke of York, the Merchant Hotel and Bert’s Jazz Bar all featuring. 

Unfortunately, however, The Lovers is missing the com from the romcom. 

Drama often requires viewers to suspend belief for a while, but there is a limit. 

The brilliant Young Offenders, for example, is a ridiculous representation of life in a tough Cork estate, but the power of the characters carries the drama. 

This is where The Lovers struggles. 

Despite an excellent performance from Roisin Gallagher, Janet doesn’t seem depressed at all and one of the opening gags about killing her husband during a sex game is entirely unconvincing.  Meanwhile, Seamus doesn’t seem like any television politics presenter you’ve ever seen. 


Rugby World Cup, UTV and RTE

It might matter less to us given that Ireland’s Call isn’t universally loved, but all now accept that France has butched the national anthems at the Rugby World Cup. 

Organisers have tried to respond to complaints with some changes, but it remains a pig’s breakfast. 

The pre-match ritual (whether anthem or haka) is essential in building emotion in advance of a highly confrontational sport and it’s a shame for the TV viewer not to hear the traditional, muscular call to arms. 

French crowds, who have packed out every pool match so far, have responded with full-throated versions of La Marseillaise but it’s a shame to miss proper renditions of Land of my Fathers and the Italian and Argentinian anthems.