Starring: Owen McDonnell, Dara Devaney, Seán T. Ó Meallaigh
Creator: Dathaí Keane
Mood: If you’ve always wanted to see an Irish Western?
Dominion Creek came to me through my past self adding it to a watchlist and then promptly forgetting it existed.
- Fun fact: I’ve always been late to the tech game. Last of my friends to have a CD player at home, or a Nintendo, or the Internet. I’ve never even owned an iPod. The same has been true about streaming TV services – I’m pretty sure everyone and their dog, cat, and horse had Netflix before I did.
Now that I’m a good little consumer with ALL THE STREAMING, I forget about my Netflix watchlist for long periods of time. But the other night I was looking for a Western that wasn’t quite a movie yet not a 22-minute show, which took me deep into my streaming data. Enter Dominion Creek.
It’s apparently the first-ever Irish Western (filmed in Ireland, with a mostly Irish cast and crew), and it’s set in the Yukon. For those two reasons alone I wish I could say that I loved it. I didn’t HATE it. But this review is full of Canadian history trivia, because learning those tidbits from the show was more interesting than the plot.
Dominion Creek was originally titled An Klondike in Ireland, and is dubbed into English by the original actors. The miniseries begins in Montana in 1897, then quickly moves to the Yukon as brothers Tom ( Owen McDonnell), Séamus (Dara Devaney), and Pádraig (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) follow a mysterious treasure map.
The Connolly brothers are totally different, so you get a diverse group of lead characters. Séamus is a self-absorbed dick who has gold fever but is easily distracted. Tom is honest and reserved, and the one who seems most likely to actually find the gold. Pádraig is gentle, and immediately starts helping out at the hospital.
Tom and Pádraig have excellent facial hair. Pádraig gets a 10/10 from me for his majestic and well-groomed whiskers.
The boys have a lot of misadventures in a short time, involving getting scammed out of money, saloons, women, and the token rich white guy who controls the town.
It’s hard to figure out who anyone is during the first episode, but the plot is interesting and much of the acting is good. The cinematography has got that dark, gritty look and feel that’s similar to Deadwood, and within 30 minutes you get a lot of delightfully gritty bare-knuckle fighting set to banjos.
You also get to see a Mountie in full dress as the town’s law. Despite the fact that tons of Westerns set in the US are actually filmed in Alberta, I’ve never really SEEN Canada represented in a Western. That’s my own fault, since I rarely seek out Canadian films or books… But the OG North-West Mounted Police did expand into the Yukon as gold was discovered, and they did indeed rock the scarlet coat and gold-trimmed jodhpurs worn by Sam Steele (Steve Wall) in Dominion Creek.
- Fun Fact #2: Sam Steele was a real dude, and the actual head of the Yukon detachment of the North-West Mounted Police during the Klondike Gold Rush. He had a long and super interesting military career from 1866 until his retirement in 1918, and Canada’s fifth-tallest mountain is named after him (Mount Steele, the Yukon peak which is also the eleventh-highest in North America).
All three of the actors playing the Connolly brothers do great work.
I wanted to smack Owen McDonnell’s Séamus from his first moments on camera to his last. He handily evoked his character’s cocky, obnoxious, unearned confidence. Dara Devaney delivers a restrained, put-upon slow boil as the elder sibling, and ended up my favourite of the three. And Seán T. Ó Meallaigh tugs at your heartstrings as he radiates wholesome sweetness.
Ian Toner is excellent as the short-lived JJ Hopkins, and the season might have been stronger if he’d lasted. He gives you this refined yet sinister dandy, like a Draco Malfoy of the West.
There are three ‘villains’ in Dominion Creek, but only one of them managed to hook me.
Estella Hopkins (Megan Riordan), is the scheming and spoiled wife of JJ. The role could have been impactful with more subtlety, but Riordan’s performance teeters into overacting. Ned Dennehy as the menacing Captain Galvin is actually great, with a fine balance of simmering and battle-worn explosiveness – but his character barely gets any play until the last episode.
Robert O’Mahoney’s performance as Jacob Hopkins, the old white guy who basically owns the town, gave me Donald Sutherland vibes. He’s powerful while soft spoken, easily commanding each scene.
I also really enjoyed Julian Black Antelope as Skookum Jim. He’s totally at ease in dialogue, and seriously enjoyable to watch in action – particularly the bare-knuckle fight.
- Fun Fact #3: Skookum Jim, aka James Mason, aka Keish, was a real man of the Tagish First Nation who is co-credited with the gold discovery that kicked off the Klondike Gold Rush. And Julian Black Antelope is a Canadian actor of Irish and First Nations blood.
Unfortunately for Dominion Creek, the English audio is F*CKING ATROCIOUS. It’s so tinny and echoey from being recorded in a studio after-the-fact that it often sounds like the characters are ghosts in their own scenes, or like it’s meant to be a dream sequence – which is what I legit thought for most of the third episode.
And the plot, which starts out quite engaging, goes off the rails about halfway through the four-episode season and becomes implausible. I was literally squinting up my eyes and wrinkling my nose like, “you have to be f*cking kidding me”.
SPOILER ALERT: I have to discuss plot points, because otherwise you can’t tell why I didn’t love it.
- The affair between Séamus and Kate (Siobhán O’Kelly) is ridiculous. There’s no time to establish the supposed chemistry. And the idea that they would continue to casually dance or drink together in public, in a small town where her husband is the law, and he doesn’t catch on? Um, no.
- Estella’s character makes absolutely no sense. She’s mean and hateful, then calculating, then outright gross (making out with her f*cking father-in-law?!), then suddenly kind-hearted and nurturing?
- Kate’s entire pregnancy was what finally pushed me over the edge. She boinks Séamus, suddenly realizes she’s pregnant, then she gets checked out and a kick is felt, then within a few days she’s giving birth in the woods… It was all way too fast, with no time seeming to elapse for everyone else. And they didn’t even bother to give this slim woman a belly, let alone one big enough to make it conceivable that she was due! O’Kelly started out strong, but couldn’t do much with her character’s story.
- ONE OF THE BROTHERS TRIES TO KILL THE OTHER WITH DYNAMITE, and then you’re supposed to keep watching and forgive him within the same episode! It’s played out like ‘boys will be boys’.
I might still watch the second season of Dominion Creek. I had really high hopes for season one, but it didn’t pay off despite several highlights among the actors. I think it would have been stronger if they had more episodes to draw out the season’s story. And it was definitely fun to see Canada in a Western… even if it was actually Ireland.