Derry Girls, the much-loved comedy series, has now come to an end. Sarah Kennedy takes a look at the emotional goodbye to our favourite girls.
Back when Derry Girls started in 2018, I wonder if anyone could have predicted the show’s huge success and their ballsy decision to bow out on a high. This week saw the much-anticipated final episodes; the ‘proper’ one with the wee English fella James fighting for Fatboy Slim tickets and an hour long special about 1998’s historic referendum that led directly to the Good Friday agreement. As a special treat, both aired on Channel 4 this week, the finale acting as a comedy chaser after Clare’s terrible Halloween heartache.
In an inverse Blackadder Goes Forth, peace was closer than ever, and no one had to go over the top, apart from Orla, naturally. The referendum episode could have been much sillier, but writer Lisa McGee decided to dial up the pathos instead, saying “Let’s just bring the political and the personal crashing together, because it’s the only time we’re gonna get a chance to do it.” With Northern Ireland’s precarious political situation back in the headlines, this was a timely warning to the UK government not to squander what was achieved through so much turmoil 25 years ago.
Anything cultural or entertainment set in Northern Ireland doesn’t have a duty to provide an education about the history of the Troubles, least of all to English viewers, who should have been served better by the national curriculum. Granda Joe is the teacher we all needed, with his homemade collage breaking down the daunting information everyone was supposed to read before the vote. Copies of Granda’s plan must immediately be sent to 10 Downing Street. Call it avant-garde wallpaper, and charge £840 per roll. You know they’d lap it up. Cover every inch of that place, inside and out, with Joe’s idiot’s guide. Would it change anything? I don’t know. But wouldn’t it be satisfying?
Despite the pivotal political moment our girls are still silly, funny, messy and completely self-absorbed. They’re too busy living their own lives to worry all that much. Orla’s mad dance through town was beautifully shot and the direction was on point. It was joyful; part Fosse jazz-hands, part Riverdance, part Bittersweet Symphony. Tellingly she was paused, not stopped, by a British soldier. Her lust for life is irrepressible. That sequence makes me want to rewatch every episode to see exactly what Louisa Harland was doing in the background.
While the politics is closer to home than normal, the commentary remains subtle. Erin’s complaint is that the once-in-a-lifetime peace process referendum is “pulling focus” from her 18th birthday party. They’re living their lives as the main protagonists in their own story, with their strange world held at a distance by their egos and the efforts of their parents and teachers, protecting them as best as they can. Because that generation is not so old to have forgotten what being a teenager was like. We got to see that in the wonderful reunion episode, dedicated to ‘all the Mammies’.
It was a brief but important falling out between Michelle and Erin that reflected the confusion of the time. How can terrorists on both sides be released from prison? How will that make the country safer? But, to achieve any kind of peace, even an imperfect one, what else could they have done?
Thanks to clashes with the Bridgerton filming schedules, Nicola Coughlan’s appearances have felt a bit like a cameo, making her presence even more of a treat. Another small but stand-out moment was Sister Michael’s quiet determination to keep her job, and her unlikely alliance with happy-clappy Father Peter who irritates her so much. It was a brief glimpse of the sincerity and belief hidden deep inside this most sarcastic comedy creation.
My one uncharitable grumble would be that maybe it didn’t really need the full hour for the lap of honour, and some parts left me a bit underwhelmed, in the way that the Halloween episode didn’t. That was very funny and hit so many emotional beats. For a brief second it felt strange – a character on the periphery of the main cast suffers a sudden death – but then it was obvious. This was autobiographical, a toast to McGee’s own Derry girls, her own Clare. And I was so glad they didn’t kill off Granda.
The Chelsea Clinton cameo was a lovely call-back. Seeing New York in the present day, I was imagining Erin’s wonderful Carrie Brashaw Sex and the City life. But in those few seconds Liam Neeson stole the show again from inside the voting booth. I couldn’t work out if his pained sorrowful expression was a lovely bit of face-acting, or, given his age and background, was he just remembering? It was powerful to share this private moment with him, representing the ‘other’ side. Unlike the girls, we didn’t get to see how he voted, and that felt right.
I love Derry Girls, and I am not alone. I love the certainty of teenagers acting like selfish idiots, exactly as teenagers act the world over, probably throughout the history of time. The horrors of their particular existence only occasionally crashing into and over the domestic barricades, defended by all the Mammies and the Das and the Grandas. Holding the past at bay to give the girls, and the nation, a chance at a different future. The comedy and the pathos were finely balanced, always a tricky thing in comedy, but the final moments were wonderfully touching.
So, raise a glass to the girls and all the fellas who made this rare thing happen; a cast with funny bones, able to make light of the darkest of times with big themes and great subtlety. A show that has always been of the highest quality and that never outstayed its welcome. I can’t wait to see what they do next.