University College Dublin, Ireland
The commercial and critical reception of AMC/RTÉ co-production series Kin (2021) indicates both the enduring popularity of crime-drama series more generally, and the indelible mark left upon Irish television by the enormous success of RTÉ’s earlier gangster-drama series Love/Hate (2010-2014). Any domestic Irish crime drama released in the wake of Love/Hate’s ascension to the level of appointment viewing seems doomed to being repeatedly discussed only in reference to its predecessor: indeed, Kin, despite being described by critics as “generally disinterested in the clichés of Irish gangster drama – some of them established by the broadcaster’s own Love/Hate a decade ago” (Power 2021b, np.), Kin is referred to as being “like a gloomier Love/Hate” (Power 2021a, np.), either a “modern day Love/Hate or a terrible knock off” (Limerick Voice 2021, np.) and “a D4 version of Love/Hate” (O’Loughlin 2021, np.).
This final comparison, with its specific geographic reference to one of Dublin’s most affluent neighbourhoods is perhaps most indicative of what sets Kin apart from its televisual antecedent. Love/Hate rarely depicted Dublin in a recognisable fashion, focusing instead on a vaguely connected network of anonymous concrete suburbs and identical rows of terraced housing that form what has been usefully termed a “mythological arena” – a non-place whose only recognisable iconography is delivered through “glimpses of Dublin in intermittent fast-edited montages that do not create any sense of place” (McGuirk 2012, 227). While rarely recognisable, what unifies the disparate landscapes depicted in Love/Hate is that all are far from thriving, instead forming a complex tapestry of what Ralf Haekel has described as dysfunctional, declining communities (2019, 85). However, by obscuring the iconography of the city, and expelling its criminals to anonymous suburbs only loosely connected to one another, Love/Hate avoids characterising Dublin more widely as a community in decline, as the dysfunctional criminal families stand apart from the city.
Where Kin differs from Love/Hate then, is in the fashion alluded to in the above reference to it as a ‘D4’ variant on the crime-drama series. Unlike the series to which it is compared, Kin is specifically, and explicitly, concerned with constructing a recognisable iconography of Dublin within which it situates its characters. From this construction and conceptualisation of the city, Kin derives a great deal of its cultural, contemporary relevance, elevating it from a more mundane imitation of pre-existing series, either national in the case of Love/Hate, or other, international crime dramas with a focus on family (The Sopranos being the most prominent example), to a series which provides a deep, and profoundly pessimistic account of Dublin’s slow transformation into a city where the gleaming churches of contemporary international capital sit alongside the rusting wreckage of tradition and domestic industry.
The series’ warring Kinsella and Cunningham families are positioned alongside not the traditional sites of criminality in Irish film and television productions, such as the run-down housing estates of Darndale or the rarely-identified but easily recognised working-class neighbourhoods simply referred to as ‘the flats’. Such locations, evocative of a Dublin of the past, are instead passed over in favour of slick, modern and recently constructed or renovated locations in whose shadows the criminality of the families takes place. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the glass-panelled behemoth of the Aviva Stadium, which hangs above the home of Jimmy (Emmet Scanlan) and Amanda Kinsella (Clare Dunne) and is one of the recognisable landmarks to which Kin repeatedly returns. Situated on Lansdowne Road, the Aviva Stadium replaced the historical Lansdowne Road Stadium, constructed in 1872, but demolished in 2007 and named for the international insurance giant who paid over €40 million to secure the right to christen the stadium. Much of the series’ drama and intrigue takes place in the shadow of the stadium, a symbol of the demolition of historic Dublin, and its replacement by modern buildings, frequently funded by or built for international corporations. This stadium casts a shadow over the homes of several central characters, a looming reminder of the demolition of the past and the construction of the new. This is a thread which runs throughout the show, as it repeatedly portrays Dublin as a city of awkward, irreconcilable divides, a conflict between historical, cultural continuity and contemporary development and re-development that attempts to imitate or borrow from historic Dublin, with the juxtaposition of the historic and the contemporary imitation forming what has been described as an “inauthentic vista” with “new and restored buildings a pastiche of the original architectural design [that] should be characterised as inauthentic buildings” (Lowe 2014, 249-250).
In Kin, this inauthentic vista is explored through the visual positioning of old alongside new, with contemporary imitations of historic Dublin peering into frame repeatedly, favoured at times of high emotion. When Amanda, overcome with grief and rage in the wake of her son’s murder, deliberately crashes her car, she is treated by paramedics on the pavement, sitting completely still while the space around her fills with motion. Behind her is a redbrick terraced house, typical of historic Dublin neighbourhoods. As Amanda sinks wordlessly into shock and grief, however, the camera gradually pulls back, widening the frame to reveal the presence of a contemporary imitation of a historic terraced home, with the low positioning of the camera exaggerating its height and proximity (figure 1). These contemporary homes, despite their inhabitation by families, do not unite family members ‘under one roof’. Instead, the architecture of the domestic space indicates and exaggerates their separation and alienation, the breakdown of the nuclear family portrayed visually (figure 2).
Figure 1: Amanda is treated by paramedics, as a historic building and its contemporary imitation sit alongside one another. Kin, Episode 2
Figure 2: Deep focus exaggerates the space between Amanda and Jimmy, while the architecture of their family home separates them from their son. Kin, Episode 2
Not only does Kin engage with a Dublin dualism that positions the historic alongside the contemporary, the latter frequently depicted as replacing or displacing the former (as in the case of the Aviva Stadium), but the series frequently and explicitly positions sites of criminality alongside those of capitalism. Indeed, crime, commerce and capital are in such close proximity in Kin, that they frequently bleed into one another, as careful analysis of the series’ spatial and geographical positioning reveals. Frank Kinsella (Aidan Gillen), patriarch of the crime family which bears his name, launders his money and imports his drugs through the operation of a small, otherwise legitimate sun-tanning salon, wherein wads of cash and parcels of drugs are hidden within the inner workings of sunbeds. Frank’s use of a small, family-owned and operated business is indicative of the small scale of his criminal operation, and the salon’s location in a domestic property in an anonymous part of Dublin seems to indicate his apparent ‘authenticity’ – despite being criminal, his is a strictly family business, and Frank a relatively small fish in the criminal underworld. This perception is only reinforced by a comment by Frank’s sister, Bridget ‘Birdy’ Goggins (Marie Doyle Kennedy), who at one point describes the Kinsellas as merely “playing at being gangsters”, and further by Frank’s uneasy attempts at the socialite lifestyle: he is frequently depicted patronising the up-market bars and restaurants of Dublin, or attending what appear to be refined parties in modern apartments and houses. Despite his attendance at these events and locations that may otherwise mark him out as belonging to the upper classes, Frank’s attempts at social mobility are characterised as insincere and awkward – he is more at home in discussion with family members and Kinsella-family foot soldiers than in the elite circles of life in the capital, and his semi-closeted queerness seems to mark him out as Other – early in the series, he abandons an up-market bar to engage in a homosexual tryst with the young barman.
The Kinsellas’ domesticity and narrative emphasis on family (in international markets, the series tagline suggests they possess a secret weapon in “the unbreakable bonds of family”) marks them out as perhaps more traditional, ‘old-school’ criminals. By contrast, cartel boss Éamon Cunningham (Ciarán Hinds), is a far more isolated figure, through whom the series articulates its treatise on the city and on the effects of globalisation, neoliberalism and the whole-hearted embrace of capital by the State. Dispensing with the North-Inner-City accent and tracksuits (along with their working-class connotations) of previous screen gangsters, such as Love/Hate’s Nidge (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor) or Cardboard Gangsters’ Jason Connolly (John Connors), Cunningham is a suit-clad and articulate leader of what appears to be a major international cartel. In both actions and appearance, Cunningham resembles more a CEO than a gangster. He traverses the city in a chauffeured car, making frequent trips to the airport, and maintains holiday properties in southern Spain. His reaction to crises is frequently financial. His response to the series’ inciting incident, the murder by a Cunningham foot soldier of teenaged Kinsella family member Jamie, is to offer the bereaved parents financial compensation in the form of a carrier bag stuffed with bank notes, and attempts to endear himself to Michael Kinsella (Charlie Cox), brother-in-law of bereaved Amanda, with the offer of a holiday home in Spain’s Costa del Sol. When his estranged wife reveals to him her diagnosis of cancer, his immediate response is couched in the terms of finance – despite her resistance, he insists that they travel to the US to get a second opinion and avail of better, but hugely expensive treatments, at his own expense.
Beyond the couching of almost every aspect of Cunningham’s character in terms of finance and luxury, Kin again utilises spatial and geographical messaging to characterise him as embodying and representing capital, Where the Kinsellas’ criminality is focused upon domestic properties, depicted as lying in the shadow of corporate, postmodern landmark the Aviva Stadium, the use of low-angle videography creating a looming monolith of the stadium, Cunningham is positioned as proximate to, and indeed above, the contemporary centres of capital in Dublin. His movement through the city over the course of the series speaks to the redevelopment of certain areas and industries at the cost of others. Rather than the small-business salon which provides the Kinsella headquarters, Cunningham conducts his affairs from the rooftop bar of the luxurious Mayson Hotel, near to Dublin’s docklands. Whilst this does place Cunningham in proximity to historic sites of deprivation and resulting criminality in the inner-city, this positioning, when coupled with the series’ visual and verbal description of Cunningham, is striking in its characterisation of the cartel leader as proximate to capital. The hotel from which he administers his criminal enterprise is only a short distance from the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC). The IFSC, purportedly the site which birthed Ireland’s modern economy, now functions as the gravitational centre for Dublin’s financial and technological corporations, whose headquarters surround it, as well as being a key site for the concentration and management of international wealth in Ireland – the centre describes itself as “one of the leading hedge-fund service centres in Europe” whose “importance … to the Irish economy is indisputable” (IFSC 2022, np).
The IFSC centre came to epitomise in the public mind the economic transformation in Ireland in the late 20th century. Beginning in 1987, the IFSC became a Special Economic Zone, where companies within the zone would pay a special corporate tax rate of just 10%. Upon the reduction in Ireland’s national corporate tax rate to 12.5% in 2003, the IFSC ceased to provide a tax benefit to companies headquartered there. Despite this, the centre still represents the inward flow of investment which accompanied Ireland’s economic transformation, and many of the international corporate giants which the low corporate tax rates attracted remain headquartered in the area.
The placing of a major criminal such as Éamon Cunningham in such close proximity to the IFSC, away from the typical setting of Irish crime dramas in housing estates and suburbs, in addition to the aforementioned corporate-esque persona of Cunningham, indicates Kin’s positioning of criminality and corporatism as proximate to capital. That the series abandons the vaguer geographies and iconographies of its filmic and televisual antecedents, such as Love/Hate’s ‘mythological arena’, only ever glimpsed in snatches of quick-cut montages, or Dublin Murder’s focus on exurbs and the commuter belt of liminal small towns that surround the capital, and instead chooses to construct an immediately recognisable iconography, particularly when depicting Cunningham, allowing the viewer to easily locate the centres of criminality, speaks to this positioning being either a deliberate choice, or indicative of the lasting impact of Ireland’s economic transformation (and the accompanying scandal, collapse, and well publicised corruption) upon the national psyche.
Through the positioning of Cunningham’s headquarters in close proximity to the IFSC and the construction of an easily recognisable iconography of Dublin, Kin situates Cunningham in an area which was historically one of the most deprived in Ireland. However, the series is careful not to suggest that the replacement of social housing with gleaming office blocks and boutique hotels is a form of social uplift inclusive of those who previously inhabited the Docklands area. Instead, Kin depicts visually and narratively that the re-development of the Docklands has been a form of urban expulsion, and that dereliction within the capital persists, despite the continuing inward flow of capital. The series vivid depiction of vast, gleaming office blocks and luxury apartments as in such close proximity to urban wastelands and the derelict, decaying sites of former indigenous Irish industry indicates a level of doubt about the supposedly transformative and uplifting effects of Ireland’s economic transformation.
The presence of Cunningham, a criminal, in the Docklands, is perhaps unsurprising. Historically, Dublin’s inner-city has been plagued by deprivation and accompanying criminality, with the area particularly devastated by the development of the heroin trade in the 1980s. The explosion of the drugs trade in the early 1980s was accompanied by, and indeed precipitated, the negotiation and announcement in 1982 of the so-called Gregory Deal. This deal, negotiated between independent TD for Dublin Central Tony Gregory, and then Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil Charles Haughey. Worth IR£80 million, the Gregory deal would have seen Dublin’s inner city, and a 27-acre parcel of land in the docklands area, transformed: the State was to purchase swathes of land in the inner city, create thousands of jobs, and build 400 homes in the docklands area, in addition to a commitment to construct 1,600 elsewhere (The Irish Times, 2009). The deal would also have seen Haughey’s government, under the influence of Gregory, “[accept] the urgency of dealing with the drug problem” (Rafferty 2012, np). However, Haughey’s government collapsed, and the Gregory Deal with it. The Haughey government were replaced by a coalition of the Labour Party and Fine Gael, whose programme for government was described as “the dreary eternal return of the same right-wing economics”, with the transformative spending programme of the Gregory Deal “cast aside like dog shite off a shoe” (Rafferty 2012, np).
The history of the Gregory Deal, then, intersects with Kin’s depiction of Dublin in two ways. Firstly, the modern metropolis Cunningham seems so at home in, and in which the series is careful to locate him, is directly linked to the collapse of the deal. Instead of social housing, the 27 acres of land in the docklands area became the IFSC. Where homes were to stand, corporations instead erected vast warrens of concrete and glass, attracted by the State’s designation of the area as a Special Economic Zone, subject to a corporate tax rate of just 10%. Instead of serving a direct social need, to benefit those who already lived in the area, the State stood by, in the words of one of the Gregory Deal’s architects, as “the whole docklands were subsequently developed as a financial hub with profit as the god, and bankers and speculators as its ardent high priests” (Rafferty 2012, np). The effort to squash the drugs trade, and the accompanying social programmes, never materialised. By the time any real action was taken to control the influx of drugs into inner-city Dublin, “the heroin horse had bolted” (Rafferty 2012, np). The placement of Cunningham’s headquarters then, in a luxurious hotel restaurant adjacent to the IFSC, and his role in the importation of heroin, is particularly striking – Cunningham’s financial fixation seems to embody the worshipping of profit, while his wearing of a tailored suit in place of expensive tracksuits and his proximity to the centres of capital, codes him as more akin to one of profit’s ‘ardent high priests’, than his televisual antecedents such as Nigel “Nidge” Farrelly of Love/Hate.
Accompanying the series’ singular characterisation of criminality and its proximity to capital, evocative of Dublin’s transformation into a hub of international capital, is Kin’s characterisation of this transformation as having displaced and degraded the existing infrastructure of the city. The historic industries of Dublin’s outer docklands are depicted as abandoned, derelict and decaying, in contrast to the finance-and-tech dominated inner docklands. Characters frequently journey outward from the modern centre of the city to the wastelands that surround it, their outward journeys suggesting the replacement and displacement of indigenous industry, as well as a sense of cause-and-effect. Most strikingly, Poolbeg Generating Station, whose towering red-and-white twin smokestacks (affectionately known as ‘the Stacks’) have become synonymous with Dublin, are depicted not as the brightly-painted silhouettes against a setting sun they frequently appear as in a multitude of forms from posters to tea-towels. Instead, the fire that once burned at the base of these towers to power the city is extinguished, their once-bright exterior streaked by rust. Made redundant by the decision to import energy from abroad, the Stacks, as they appear in Kin, seem to serve as a reminder of times past, their ruin accompanying the Kinsella family’s decline (closely linked with the towers throughout the series’ opening episodes) and the ascension and dominance of the Cunninghams’ international operation. The only fire which still burns at the Stacks is that of the Kinsella brothers’ get-away car, bursting into flame as they dispose of the evidence of their latest murder in the wasteland surrounding the city’s most recognisable landmark (figure 3).
Figure 3: The decaying form of the Poolbeg Towers stands over the flaming wreckage of the Kinsella brothers’ getaway car. Kin, Episode 3
Kin, then, constructs a vision of Dublin that differs starkly from its televisual predecessor Love/Hate, out of whose shadow the series often struggles to emerge. Whereas Love/Hate situates itself within the ‘mythological arena’ of a loosely defined “gangland” wherein the city “is only glimpsed in fleeting montages evoking an anonymous postmodernist metropolis” and “none of the characters interact in any serious way with the ‘outside-world’” (McGuirk 2012, 227), Kin instead takes care to craft an immediately recognisable iconography of the capital, from the iconic Poolbeg Stacks to modern landmarks such as the Aviva Stadium. Through the construction of a recognisable iconography, Kin places criminality in proximity to capital, and its characterisation of Éamon Cunningham makes clear the series draws little distinction between the two. Perhaps most striking, however, is the series conceptualising of the city as inherently dualistic – a tale of two cities, uneasily occupying the same space. The gleaming office blocks of multinational corporations dominate the once-deprived docklands area, while the rust-streaked remains of the indigenous industry they displaced lie idle only a short distance away. Attempts by the modern to emulate the historic are evident – historic redbrick terraces abound, but their contemporary imitations peek into view and form an inauthentic urban vista, their architecture carving up the family home into distinct and alienated cells. Both halves of the city seem to orbit different centres: the new, shining metropolis turns around the IFSC, while the ruins of the old city centre upon the still-standing, but disused remains of the Poolbeg Stacks. Ultimately, Kin puts forward a palimpsestic view of Dublin – the old has been erased and overwritten with the new, yet something of the original remains. At times of high emotion, the inauthentic nature of the new seems obvious, while at calmer moments, the old is merely hinted at – it bleeds through the clean concrete expanses of the new, like old lines of rust seeping through fresh paint.
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