Channel 4’s smash hit comedy Derry Girls came to an action-packed and rather poignant end in episode six, as Clare made the brave decision to come out to her friends and a fatal bombing rocked the Quinn household to its core.
We caught up with writer Lisa McGee and actresses Nicola Coughlan (Clare) and Saoirse Jackson (Erin) to get the inside story on the finale.
The final scenes of episode six saw Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle and James dancing around joyfully in their school hall but at home, a very different story was unfolding. Ma Mary, Da Gerry, Aunt Sarah and Grandpa Joe stared solemnly at the TV screen as reports of a fatal bombing filtered through. The sheer impact of the atrocity was echoed in Joe’s gentle gesture of solidarity, placing a hand on his son-in-law’s shoulder in a rare show of support.
The scene was something of an unexpected gut-punch at the end of an already emotional episode and almost jarred with the show’s light-hearted tone. So why did Lisa McGee choose to wrap up the series on such a somber note?
“I thought if I’m going to do this show and show this side of things, I have to at some point show that there were times when it floored you,” McGee told RadioTimes.com. “I thought, I’ll probably do that at the end because it wasn’t a joke either.”
“I had a nod to that, there were lots of mundane bomb scares and things like Orange Order parades, where you had to change how you might go about your journey. There were lots of day-to-day things that were funny but occasionally there was something big like Omagh, that the whole nation went ‘this just has to change’ and I think, I wanted to mix that in with this ‘life goes on’ thing. It had to be at the end.”
Was the bomb at the end of Derry Girls based on a real incident?
“I’ve not based anything on any particular incident, but it was just something at that scale,” McGee said.
“There were lots of times when your family stood around the TV and just couldn’t speak because this was people in your own place doing it to each other. I just wanted to nod to the fact that there were those times as well.”
We need to talk about Clare’s coming out…
Earlier in the episode best friends Erin and Clare came to something of an impasse after Clare revealed that she was the girl who’d used the school essay competition to express the truth about her sexuality. Erin didn’t exactly react well to her best friend’s confession, telling her she was “going to boke” and encouraging her to “go back in”.
“I really thought you’d understand,” a vulnerable Clare sighed before walking away in one of the show’s most powerful and poignant scenes.
“I always wanted to tell a sort of very real teenage story in the mix of it all,” McGee told RadioTimes.com, “and I suppose someone not being able to say who they are is a horrible thing.”
Coughlan hopes that her portrayal of Clare, who she believes spends most of the series realising that she’s gay and coming to terms with her sexuality, will be well received by young men and women who’ve gone through – or are going through – a similar experience.
“I hope that we’ve played it right and I hope, for a lot of young gay kids out there, that we’ve done that kind of story justice. I know we’re a comedy but at the same time we really felt the weight of responsibility and we wanted to do it properly,” she said.
Why does Erin respond so angrily when Clare reveals she’s a lesbian?
“I don’t think in any way that Erin’s homophobic, I just think that she’s shocked,” actress Saoirse Jackson – who plays Erin – argued. “It challenges that view that Erin has about herself that she’s worldly and she’s liberal. This is another defining moment that we get to see for Erin, that actually she’s so naïve and shocked by most things. She just has a romantic idea of herself that she’s bigger than what she is, smarter than she is, and this is one of those moments where you get to see how naïve she is.”
“Erin thinks of herself as very liberal and worldly, but actually she can’t handle it,” McGee said. “I think it’s how a lot of people would react at that age.
“It’s not about being gay, it’s your best friend telling you they’re not who you think they’ve been all these years,” the writer explained, “and that’s what Erin is actually reacting to. It’s ‘how could you not tell me?’ but it was very hard for someone at that age, in that place, to come out.”
Coughlan said that both herself and Jackson really felt the responsibility of getting the scene right. “I think Clare thinks she’s going to go to Erin and have certain feedback and she doesn’t get it and she’s thinking ‘what the hell?’” said the actress, who praised McGee for not being afraid to make the girls do unlikeable things.
“A lot of the time when you see women on TV there’s this huge pressure on women to be nice and for women to be sweet. I read Derry Girls and I thought none of these girls are nice, quote-unquote, they’re just not. They’re not afraid to be abrasive, they say the wrong things. I think the script is all the better for it, for not kind of watering these girls down.”
“Erin’s response is really a true response” Coughlan argued. “She doesn’t immediately have to be this accepting, open person. That wouldn’t be right for the show either. And then I think their friendships, real-life Derry women, they have hearts of gold but they’re tough, so I think the way that it plays out in episode six is very right.”