• Dane Whyte O’Hara stars as aspiring MMA fighter Damien Dunne in Darklands. (SBS)Source: SBS
What pulls an ambitious young teenager to the wrong side of the tracks? Irish drama ‘Darklands’ proves blood is thicker than water.
Kate Myers

15 May 2020 - 1:01 PM  UPDATED 15 May 2020 - 1:01 PM

When 16-year-old Damien Dunne (Dane Whyte O’Hara) sets his sights on becoming a professional MMA fighter, it feels like a one-way ticket out of small-town poverty. He’s a responsible kid, determined to achieve his goal and secure a better future for himself and his family. Despite his best efforts, Damien begins to realise that those closest to him present the greatest barrier to his potential success.

Six-part drama series Darklands navigates suburban gang crime, centred on rival gangs The Hill Crew and The Keegans. Caught up in the chaos is Wesley (Damian Gildea), the antithesis of his younger brother, who has resorted to a life of drugs and deception in a desperate attempt to break the cycle that sees his family struggle to make ends meet. Though Damien is determined to keep his fighting strictly in the cage and distance himself from the gang culture that consumes those around him, the nearness of Wes’ dark world, not to mention his secret relationship with Nicola Keegan, make it an unavoidable reality.

The sudden disappearance of his brother following a botched drug deal, and subsequent befriending by Wes’ best mate and fellow gang member Butsy (Thomas Kane-Byrne), finally force Damien into the life he has so far resisted, driven by his determination to uncover the truth. With the feud between the two gangs reignited by the return of senior members Bernie (Judith Roddy)and Goose (Darren Healy), it’s a volatile environment that threatens to throw the aspiring star fighter off-course.

The series sees a number of break out performances from young Irish actors, including O’Hara’s lead role as protagonist Damien, Gildea taking on the mysterious Wes, and Aisling Kearns as the feisty and ambitious Nicola.

Filmed and set in the coastal town of Bray, County Wicklow, the story and characters have a strong foundation in reality, with co-writer and actor Adam Coates inspired by the impact of gang membership on his own family.

Adam’s brother Shane Coates was a leader of the infamous Westies gang, who controlled the heroin trade in west Dublin during the 1990s and early 2000s. The impact of this experience, and his brother’s eventual kidnap and murder, give an authenticity to Coates’ writing, unapologetic in its depiction of the harsh realities of gang crime, particularly on disadvantaged youth. His first-hand encounter with this unforgiving world also reiterates that circumstance can radically change the entire course of a person’s life, regardless of where they come from.

For those who were gripped by Love/Hate, Darklands offers a rare opportunity to view gang crime through the eyes of the young people so often caught within it. This unique perspective humanises the individuals of this brutal world, and gives the series a realism that only adds to its tension and tragedy.

Catch the Australian premiere of Darklands season 1 at SBS on Demand

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