The opening credits are a work of art: a haunting score of sorrowful Celtic strings accompany shots of the Irish coast, taking us to a place far away from Albert Square.
Indeed, Kat & Alfie: Redwater is very much a separate world from the one in which it was spawned. The apple has fallen far from this East-End tree. Rather than see it as a tacky spin-off, it should be viewed as a crossover with a quality TV drama series that didn’t exist until now.
The show works really well on its own. My fears about what a spin-off could do to the EastEnders institution and if it could ever work, dissipated within minutes of episode one. Of course, it is not the first spin-off of the soap. Dot’s war-time special and that terrible E20 thing – although without it we wouldn’t have had Fat Boy (RIP) – may well have dissuaded from any more, but I’m pleased it didn’t.
Kat and Alfie ground the viewer and act as guides through a place far from Albert Square.
Jessie Wallace really comes into her own as Kat. Her character is fully developed, an entity in itself, and Wallace’s matured performance carries the show from the offset. I have always rated her as an actress, but away from the Square, she has blossomed. A stand-out performance as the long-suffering Kat, who goes to Ireland with husband Alfie and their son Tommy. Desperate to find her long-lost son, secrets and lies end up ripping one seemingly perfect family apart.
“We decided we wanted to show how Kat is a survivor and we felt it was time Kat could move on from that darkness to the next stage of her life. Taking her back to Kathleen, the girl she was before that terrible abuse” – Dominic Treadwell-Collins
True to form, Alfie provides some comic relief, but without it being silly. Even though his brain tumour is causing prophetic visions, Shane Richie’s authentic and grounded performance allows the audience to connect on a deeper level with this drama. The surrealism in Alfie’s hallucinations are part of what really allows Redwater to break away from the tone and feel of EastEnders. This is a serious drama, make no mistake.
Unlike the soap, the viewer is privy to pretty much everything. Even seemingly soap-like moments, such as the scene where an unexpected affair is revealed, are executed in an entirely ‘un-soap-like’ fashion. Also, the narrative is finite, unlike the seemingly never-ending story that is something like EastEnders, so screen time is at a premium. This encourages the audience to take note, keep up and savour every scene.
The show also features a fantastic Irish ensemble. Maria Doyle Kennedy – of Orphan Black fame – is of particular note, not to mention Oisin Stack who plays troubled priest Dermott. The darkness that lies behind those piercing eyes is utterly convincing.
As a lot of the Kat and Alfie backstory is already there, EastEnders viewers will be one step ahead of the uninitiated, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a fan to enjoy this haunting six-part drama. Redwater stands proudly on its own two legs: Kat and Alfie.
- Tommy’s straight-talking sass.
- Alfie’s wardrobe.
- The stellar cast, especially Jessie Wallace.
- It’s a slow starter and needs patience.
- It seems a little too stereotypically Irish, lots of Guinness and slightly strained accents.
- Why can’t Kat just have the happy-ending she deserves?
Redwater is available now on BBC iPlayer and RTE.
Last night’s finale might not be the end!
Check out this tweet from Executive Producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins:
— DomTreadwellCollins (@dominictc) June 22, 2017