CLEAN BREAK review: Damien Molony gives a knockout performance in RTÉ’s new Irish drama


Damien has made his debut on Irish TV in RTE One’s Clean Break, giving a knockout performance as former boxing champ Danny Dempsey.

Damien as Danny Dempsey in Clean Break Series 1 episode 1

Damien as Danny Dempsey in Clean Break Series 1 episode 1


Our favourite actor did not disappoint in an exciting main role and with his character appearing front and centre in the new drama. Damien Molony fans on Twitter agreed.


Check out our thoughts on Clean Break Series 1 episode 1 below.
(Fair warning: contains spoilers!)


Intense suspense

Taking the Sunday night slot on RTÉ One previously filled by Love/Hate and facing high expectations, Clean Break more than delivered on its own terms – an intense, absorbing premiere that left a sense of much more to come from the small town of Wexford where it is set.

The first instalment of the four-part series written by Billy Roche delivered a perfect balance of exposition and intrigue, a suspenseful mix of storytelling and characterisation from the start, captivatingly woven with engaging characters at every turn.


Tone of the Town

The stunning and cinematic photography gave the town itself a heartbeat and its atmospheric colour palette added to a compelling background eeriness throughout. The soundtrack was also suitably suggestive and stark.


Hidden Secrets, layered characters

Our introduction to the main characters came with a growing sense that there is much more going on beneath the surface of this small community where everyone knows (and thinks they know all about) everyone else, and everyone has something to hide.

Car dealer Frank Mallon (Adam Fergus) appears to be doing well for himself and his daughter Corrina (Kelly Thornton), but has been ignoring the fact that he is facing financial ruin. The town bank manager Desmond ‘Dessie’ Rane (Aidan McArdle) who Frank has known for years makes his situation clear to him, in a tense exchange full of undercurrents between the two men. We later find out that Desmond’s wife Annette Rane (Simone Kirby) and Frank used to be an item. Frank comes up with a solution that is hard to justify as purely the desperate measures of a desperate man – a tiger kidnapping of Annette and Jenny (Amybeth Mcnulty) the Rane’s daughter, with the help of shady local Noel Blake (Ned Dennehy).

Desmond himself, strangely over-concerned about the activities of Frank’s daughter Corrina and creepily unaffected emotionally by the kidnap of his wife and own daughter, becomes more mysterious as the story progresses. By the end of the episode, when he calmly peruses his stamp collection, there is something suspiciously chilling about him.

Corrina is also harbouring secrets, including her relationship with Danny Dempsey (Damien). At the outset it is through her eyes we witness a disturbing scene that becomes a metaphor for all that is hidden beneath the surface of the town, when she and friend Snowy (Dermot Morphy) see two figures throwing something into the river that she thinks looks like a body.


Danny Dempsey: the most Conflicted and compelling of them all

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the angstiest of them all?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the angstiest of them all?

But it is Damien’s character Danny Dempsey who is the most conflicted and intriguing of all. He has a fascinating back story and his growing shades of angst are quickly engaging. He once had a very successful boxing career, almost qualifying for the olympics, but now works in a job he doesn’t like, and loses at the beginning of the episode.

Danny fell asleep on the job

Danny fell asleep on the job

He lives above the Boxing Club, which serves as a central nucleus of the town, in a room filled with evidence of his boxing success, his trophies and an All Ireland Boxing Champion poster on display.

Danny's boxing history on display

Danny’s boxing history on display

Danny is a bit of a local celebrity, a fact pointed out by Corrina (who sees him as a total catch) to her Father when she suggests he gives Danny a job at his car dealership. It doesn’t take long for Frank to begin exploiting Danny’s assets, using his fame for advertising and his muscle for repossessing a car.

Danny and Frank pose for a photograph

Danny and Frank pose for a photograph

We’re soon given clues to what may have ended Danny’s success in the boxing ring. On the way to a car repossession, Franks asks Danny if he has “been inside”, Danny responds with “been inside what” but tells him “it was a set up.” It also becomes apparent he is far from a hero with the whole town, when local thugs Noel and ‘Teeth’ give him a less than warm reception and goad him for his near Olympic success.

Danny gets a less than warm reception from 'Teeth'

Danny gets a less than warm reception from ‘Teeth’

First impressions are that Danny is down on his luck and whatever happened in the past to end his boxing career, he is in need of a job and wants to do nothing to jeopardise it. Danny does well at Mallon’s Motors, earning himself a bundle of cash from Frank when he makes a sale, but we see him blow the lot at the local casino under the watchful eye of Ed Banner (Aaron Monaghan), a stand-in overseer after the disappearance of manager ‘Long John’. Danny does not have the look like he is having any fun though, more like a very troubled man.

Danny splashes his cash at the casino

Danny splashes his cash at the casino

Whatever his history, Danny reveals himself to be a good and kind-hearted man, a favourite with the youngsters of the town, coaching them at the boxing club, and in a scene foreshadowing later events, showing gentleness to young Jenny Rane.

Jenny Rane gives Danny Dempsey a box of trophies. © RTÉ

Jenny Rane gives Danny Dempsey a box of trophies. © RTÉ

He is streetwise and can handle himself, but clearly does not want any trouble. We’re not sure how he knows about the underworld of Wexford, but when he sees Frank plotting something with Noel and Teeth, Danny looks on with concern and warns him not to “mess with these fellas.”

Danny watches as Frank and Noel plan something

Danny watches as Frank and Noel plan something

In a pivotal scene a manipulative Frank asks Danny to help carry out his tiger kidnapping plan. Danny is horrified and instinctively responds.
“Are you nuts?!”
“10 grand Danny, cash, in your hand, it’s a lot of money”
“No! something like this, jesus, someone could get hurt.”
“What do you think.. I am going to let someone get hurt? that’s why I need you on the inside to make sure no one gets hurt….Where else are you going to get this kind of cash? And you don’t even have to break a sweat. I’m trying to help you here.”
“Yeah I know, but, all the same..”
“Alright, this is what we’ll do, you just think about it alright? And if at the end of the day you still don’t want to do it, then we just won’t do it.”

Danny reacts to Frank's proposition

Danny reacts to Frank’s proposition

We soon discover that money is Danny’s downfall when he is visited by Ed Banner and his henchman – he has gambling debts, owing a “couple of big ones” and the casino heavyweight is coming to collect. A menacing Ed gives him a week to pay up and the intimidating exchange leaves Danny visibly shaken.

Danny gets a visit from casino heavyweights

Danny gets a visit from casino heavyweights

He is the ultimate conflicted character, especially in the final scenes of the episode, when, faced with temptation and his debts, he agrees to take part in Frank’s tiger kidnapping plan. But he hates every minute of it and is angst ridden throughout when he joins Noel and an angry Teeth as the driver of the operation.

A conflicted Danny acts as driver in the Tiger kidnapping

A conflicted Danny acts as driver in the Tiger kidnapping

The kidnapping itself is frightening and hard-hitting. Annette and Jenny are both bound and gagged with heads covered and taken from their home in the back of the van, while Desmond is forced to take money from the bank to ensure their return. A reluctant Danny becomes more and more uncomfortable and disturbed by their screams.

Danny struggles as Annette and Jenny Rane scream

Danny struggles as Annette and Jenny Rane scream

He’s a man who would do anything to protect a child not harm them, and tensions rise between Danny and Teeth when he tells him to separate mother and daughter. Danny gives Jenny water and instinctively tries to soothe and reassure her when she becomes hysterical, ignoring Teeth’s orders to keep quiet. He becomes the ultimate paradoxical character when, in his scary balaclava mask, with Jenny handcuffed her to a tree, he becomes the only reassuring thing to the little girl, his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet while softly stroking the tears off her cheek and telling her it’s going to be fine.

Danny wipes Jenny's tears away

Danny wipes Jenny’s tears away

At that point Danny’s natural inclination has allied him with the Ranes not the kidnappers, and he has shifted to becoming a victim of the whole awful event himself. He has put himself at risk by letting his sense of moral rightness win out, as Jenny, recognizing his voice, thanks him by name. In the final scenes Danny runs for his life into the woods chased by Noel and Teeth with a shotgun. The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Noel takes one shot.

Noel and Teeth chase Danny with a gun

Noel and Teeth chase Danny with a gun


In conclusion, there is a strong goodness about Danny, especially in contrast to the shadier characters about town. But events seem to conspire against him and his actions end up being out of synch with his values. There is purity in his truthfulness and at times the only voice of reason and sanity in the web of weirdness and creeping darkness around him. His inner turmoil makes it hard to judge him by his mistakes. As his world starts spiral spiralling ever downwards into the murky depths beneath the town of Wexford, larger forces take events beyond his control and we cannot help but sympathise with him.

Damien comes into his own in these increasingly intense scenes with a subtle yet powerful, riveting performance. He brings Danny to life with a captivating mix of vulnerability, an almost child like innocence, and all the shades of a conflicted character who carries the burden of his own choices but is unable to get a ‘clean break’.

It seems symbolic that the two characters who constantly remind him of his failings are the ones who decide to attempt to kill him. It is as if he is being chased by the demons of his past and he cannot escape.

Can Danny get away? We hope so and cannot wait to find out next week.


Check out a video recap of the episode courtesy of the RTÉ One Facebook page.


Clean Break returns 9.30pm Sunday 4 October on RTÉ One.


For more Clean Break info, visit the RTÉ One Website and Clean Break on the RTÉ Player

To comment and discuss with other fans at the forum, click here.

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