Ice water in its veins but ‘Amber’ is a deeply stylish series

A 14-year-old girl vanishes on a drab Dublin afternoon, leaving her estranged parents to piece together the circumstances of her disappearance even as they try to reassemble their shattered lives. That’s the premise of RTÉ’s much talked about new drama Amber, a four-parter over consecutive nights, concluding on Wednesday.

Emboldened by the success of scruffily handsome crime romp Love/Hate, the broadcaster clearly has great ambitions for Amber, written by Gary Duggan and Rob Cawley. Already sold to markets in the US and Europe (it will shortly appear on BBC4 in the “quality” Saturday evening slot previously occupied by nordic smashes such as Borgen and The Bridge).

Is it worth the fuss? A cool, noirish affair shot in moody browns and greys (like many in English-speaking TV, director Thaddeus O’Sullivan has been paying attention to the new wave of Danish and Swedish television), Amber is undoubtedly easy on the eye and the novelty of seeing everyday facets of Dublin — the skeletal Anglo building on the quays, the Luas — portrayed in highly cinematic fashion will keep many viewers glued.

But the show has ice water in its veins and the audience may struggle to find an emotional connection. Amber Bailey (Lauryn Canny) is a precious south Dublin teenager, living with mother Sarah (Eva Berthistle) and younger brother Eamon (Levi O’Sullivan).

In the throes of midlife malaise Sarah has separated from Amber’s father, Ben — a faintly creepy David Murray — and the frosty tension between the couple gives episode one what spark it has (enough to power a gerbil wheel).

Amber disappears having asked her dad to drop her off at a pal’s house.

Grieving for her (presumably deceased) daughter, Berthistle is restrained one moment, hysterical the next, but never pushes past the sense she is a rendering of a stereotypical SoCoDu yummy mum.

Murray’s Dad is more complex — he seems to be doing his best in awful circumstances and yet there’s a glimmer in his gaze we’re not sure we want to see any more of. The only other significant protagonist is Sarah’s journalist friend Maeve Flynn-Dunne (Justine Mitchell), a gossip hack who spends most of the time staring over Sarah’s shoulder, as if trying to think of something supportive to say and coming up blank.

Still, it is deeply stylish and the long, mediative shots of Dublin, a city O’Sullivan portrays as stooped under some unspoken burden, will enthral.

— Amber continues on RTÉ1 tonight at 9.30pm.


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