Category Archives: Film & TV

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, Llandudno March 5th – 9th 2024, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff July 23-28th and touring

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Produced by Michael Harrison and Gavin Karin Productions. By arrangement with the Really Useful Group Limited. Adapted by Andrew Lloyd Weber from the 1939 Motion Picture.  Book by L. Frank Baum

Somewhere over the rainbow… in a land that I heard of once in a lullaby

Why has this film and subsequent musical retained its attraction?  In the preface to his book, L. Frank Baum describes the book as a modernised fairy tale in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.  It is this fantasy and escapism that has proved enduring, for the same reason, Star Wars has retained its appeal. 

The storyline starts with a petulant Dorothy who feels a common teen angst where she feels neglected.  On running away, she is transported to a fantasy land and seen as a hero for accidentally killing the wicked witch of the east.  She then embarks on a journey to Oz, to see the wizard and gain the means to go home.  She encounters various characters and makes firm friends with the brainless scarecrow, heartless tin man and cowardly lion.  In order to earn her passage home and to find respectively a brain, a heart and some courage, the intrepid four are sent on an arduous task, to bring the broomstick to the wizard of the wicked witch of the west.  

This story is well known and ranks among many peoples favourites so it is a challenge to bring it to the stage once again in a fresh way.  This production adds a bit of glitz and glamour to do this, the props are minimalistic, but the music and video backdrop add plenty of pizazz to proceedings. Some of the visuals are stunning, notably the tornado scene which was highly effective, and in general they are used imaginatively to set the scene and augment the action.  

The cast have a couple of celebrity names, Gary Wilmot gives an assured performance as Professor Marvel and the Wizard while The Vivienne, winner of the first series of Ru Paul’s drag race makes a threatening, devious Wicked Witch of the West.  However, the show is carried by Dorothy, played by Aviva Tulley.  She made ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, the signature song, her own and was a lively presence throughout.  The supporting cast were energetic and committed, making this a fast paced, joyful experience.  

The musical is faithful to the original story and incorporates most of the favourite songs from the 1939 film as well as some more contemporary numbers from its recent revival.  However, the production lacks the simplicity and innocence of the film, replacing it with the loud score and striking visuals.  Does is loose some of its allure in this process?  

There is plenty of enduring meaning here, not least, your heart, brain and courage are latent inside you.  Dorothy learns to appreciate home when she understands what she is missing.  But it is in joyful escapism that this story comes to life.  It is a colourful interlude from the mundane, gritty reality of life.  This may explain its appeal to marginalised groups in our society but there is enough here for anyone to identify with and makes this a warm, feel good experience that is well worth seeing.

Review, The Way, BBC Wales, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Its title is perhaps deceiving. For there are many ways to describe The Way. Realist, certainly, but both magic and social. Incorporating documentary-style shots with archive footage. Alluding constantly to myth and legend. And that fine line between the supernatural and the imagined. All such elements contribute to what feels like something that wants to be epic. But there are so many strands to this drama that sometimes it drowns in its own details instead.

As Michael Sheen’s directorial debut, it isn’t too bad. It is not so disjointed as to be lacking any concept. The problem is that there are too many big and weighty themes being handled. Boil it down to the Driscolls – the family at the centre of this drama – and it becomes understandable. A fractured and broken unit, the four of them are forced to work together when Port Talbot becomes a site of insurrection, for which mam Dee (Mali Harries) and son Owen (Callum Scott Howells) are largely to blame. In this alternate-reality, they have no choice but to flee their country, seeking to cross the border (which is hard and fast here) into England, and on to daughter Thea’s husband Dan in Germany (played by Sophie Melville and Aneurin Barnard respectively). Their journey is strangely perilous, avoiding road blocks and any kind of surveillance in very familiar countryside and townscapes. It is a bit like watching Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto’ trilogy but without the humour. Everything is a lot more serious here. As if Sheen wants to create a contemporary version of a Classic tale: a 21st Century Mabinogion, if you will. But this lofty ambition is perhaps pushed too far, with hyperbolic tendencies that create, at worst, confusion, and at best, fascinating melodrama.

Lead actor Steffan Rhodri brings a pathos to dad Geoff that keeps the drama believable. He handles his character’s unresolved grief and melancholic temperament with a natural ease that catches the eye. In contrast to Mark Lewis-Jones’ hammed up performance as Union man Glynn and Luke Evans’ suitably brooding but underwhelming appearance as mercenary Hogwood, Rhodri embodies an everyman persona that keeps The Way grounded in its otherwise flittering state. For amidst the jump cuts, involving security cameras, social media sites, and news flashes, there are also talking teddy bears, Carry On clips, and prophetic dreams. But whilst on one level it could be described as strange, there is also a prescience to it that remains real. None more so than with the threat of job losses at the steel plant. Sheen is not content with just a standard social commentary on this issue though. He incorporates immigration, nationalism, Thatcherism, and nostalgia into a story that also wishes to say something about the nature of story itself. Not self-referentially but in the wider sense of Wales as a land of story and song.

Everything is done with good intention. But it doesn’t always result in translation. There are times when, for example, the life of the steel plant would work better as spoken metaphor, and the final monologue more affective, in the context of theatre. The Way almost shows us too much and, in doing so, doesn’t say enough. It rightly has one family at its core but a tendency to reach wider causes it to lose sight sometimes of this feature. The Way still manages to be entertaining though. Just a shame that it’s Michael Sheen’s name that gives it kudos rather than his direction or the drama itself.

Watch the full series on BBC iPlayer here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Series Review, Bariau, S4C by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Bariau is the latest series to enter the realm of prison drama. With Time and Screw already making a mark in their respective ways, it is the turn of S4C to put a Welsh spin on the subgenre. Bariau follows the blueprint of the other two insofar as real-life stories inform the onscreen narratives. Verisimilitude is in vogue when portraying life behind bars these days. But while Bariau does not shy away from the dark realities, its soap-like presentation makes for palatable viewing.

The casting of Adam Woodward (Hollyoaks, Emmerdale) as Kit Brennan ensures that Bariau entertains popular appeal. He brings a slight melodramatic edge to this central villain, making him at once genuinely terrifying and ludicrously arrogant. He arrives with a real swagger, and fast becomes the controller of a wing that features a great cast of misfits. Glyn Pritchard is particularly good as the religiously-devout Peter, whose overbearing mother and anger management issues give some kind of insight into his incarceration. The focal point is Hardy however, played with a fascinating aloofness by Gwion Tegid. An air of mystery continues to surround him even as he becomes embroiled in the powerplay and blackmail of life in the cells. He gets dragged into Brennan’s world largely against his will, performing tasks with deadened emotion. He is intriguing to watch.

The relationship between George Lyle (Bill Skinner) and prison guard Elin (Annes Elwy) is fatefully believable. Brennan threatens them both with exposure unless they enact his plan, inevitably involving drugs. The way tension is built up by the searing music is nicely done (though a little too overbearing in episode five), especially in the final episode, where things come to a head in dramatic fashion. Not edge-of-the-seat thriller but still an enjoyable twist or two to keep glued to the screen. The bilingual nature of the show also adds a touch of finesse which plays into the reality of Wales’ prisons. It means overall that Bariau falls somewhere between Time’s grittiness and Screw’s humour: late-night soap opera, if you will, meant not as an insult but very much a compliment.

Watch the full series on BBC iPlayer here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review Barbie by Ayo Adeyinka

Barbie 2023: A Kenundrum of Gender, Capitalism, and Coming-of-Age Revelations

‘Barbie,’ at its core, delves into the intricate dynamics of gender identity and societal expectations, particularly through its’ central characters- Barbie and Ken. The film grapples with the notion that masculinity, unlike femininity, is often defined in negation, a constant proving of oneself to society, other men, and women. The plot beautifully weaves a narrative where Ken’s struggle to cover up his perceived lack and Barbie’s journey toward self-realization serve as metaphors for broader societal challenges.

The film subtly addresses feminist ideals but, as anticipated by many, falls prey to the constraints of capitalistic demands that inevitably come along with working with a prominent piece of commercial property owned by a major corporation. This particular sentiment was a concern expressed by both director Greta Gerwig, known for critically lauded films like ‘Ladybird’ (2017) and ‘Little Women’ (2019), and actress/producer Margot Robbie who said “we had to be upfront… we wanted to honour the brand but not shy away from the problematic parts…otherwise, its not a movie we’re interested in making.” While ‘Barbie’ attempts to gesture towards feminist concepts, the film’s need for broad appeal arguably dilutes its potential impact, as it can’t seem to fully articulate a version of feminism that is truly threatening to both patriarchy and capitalism.

Despite this, part of the film’s success is its ability to provide the audience with a sufficient understanding of feminism’s multifaceted nature without being overly theoretical or heavy handed. Therefore, it may be beneficial that ‘Barbie’ isn’t some indie movie assuming a pretentious pseudo-philosophical stance, but is itself a piece of commercial property that critiques ideology from within. Nonetheless, Gerwig maintains her indie sensibility, enabling the film to transcend being merely pro-Mattel propaganda and succeeding as an aesthetic work.

On an especially positive note, framing ‘Barbie’ as a coming-of-age story injects fresh life into the narrative. Barbie’s journey from stereotypical representations to self-realization mirrors a rite of passage into womanhood. Ken, too, grapples with identity initially tied to shallow ideals, reflecting the challenges boys face in defining their path to manhood in a world where embodying healthy forms of masculinity seems increasingly difficult. Amidst this exploration, Barbie attempts to seek answers from Mattel, only to discover that corporations can’t provide the meaningful answers she seeks (shocker)—a revelation that feels particularly pertinent for modern viewers.

Another notable aspect of the film is Jacqueline Durran’s phenomenal costume design; the characters’ style transformation reflecting their internal growth. Initially, Barbie is always dressing for an event, a task. And Ken dresses in relation to Barbie. If it’s Malibu barbie, he’s Malibu Ken. But as the movie progresses, Ken sees ways of dressing in the real world that accord with him and the version of himself, he aspires to be (even if this version isn’t truly his ultimate ideal- it seldom is when you’re growing up). Meanwhile, Barbie’s outfits become less tied to a specific function and more human, signifying a move towards self-acceptance, detached from stereotypical representations.

Through Ryan Gosling’s superb performance, Ken emerges as a compelling character, sympathetic and comical even at his worst. The film’s representation of patriarchy is potent, emphasizing the absence of a governmental structure in the Ken world as a commentary on the intangible yet pervasive nature of patriarchal ideals as well as ideas’ ability to structure social reality. In its reflection of societal norms, ‘Barbie’ raises questions about the pursuit of equality, mirroring real-world scenarios where women may be represented up to a point, yet it still feels as though true equality remains elusive. The ending, mirroring the unresolved state of societal issues, prompts contemplation on the gap between ideals and reality. Barbie’s evolution into a true subject, marked by her possession of a reproductive organ, is a poignant symbol of liberation. The film cleverly subverts the objectification of Barbie by presenting her reproductive organ not as a fetishized ideal but as a brute marker of her newfound subjectivity.

Arguably, ‘Barbie’s’ greatest triumph has little to do with the film itself and everything to do with its marketing campaign, which effectively convinced various different groups that the movie was targeted at them — from adult women to young girls. However, after watching the trailer, it seems odd to me that any parent would conclude the film was explicitly targeting children, although Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is famously every 9-year-old girl’s favourite film.

Moreover, the cultural phenomenon that was ‘Barbenheimer,’ pertaining to the simultaneous release of ‘Barbie’ and Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer,’ achieved high levels of monocultural saturation at a time where cultural fragmentation has never been higher. This instance of counterprogramming played on the bizarre contrast between the fantastical, comedic, light-hearted nature of ‘Barbie,’ and Oppenheimer as an intense, biographical thriller, to great success. Barbie’s marketing, like the film itself, leaned heavily into traditionally feminine aesthetics, and its success points to the dearth of movies specifically targeted at female audiences- a lack which Oppenheimer’s contrasting marketing only accentuates. Cinema has long favoured male-centric narratives, and in turn, has underestimated the commercial viability of stories centring on women. It’s not merely about creating films with prominent female characters but crafting narratives that depart from stereotypes and offer nuanced views of the women depicted (arguably a failure of Oppenheimer, but that’s a topic for a different review).  

In conclusion, ‘Barbie,’ while not without its flaws, successfully engages with complex gender dynamics and societal expectations. Its narrative depth, coupled with nuanced character development and striking visuals, provides a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Review Everybody’s talking about Jamie, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru Nov 28 – Dec 2 2023

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Nica Burns and a Sheffield Theatres Production, music by Dan Gillespie Sells, book and lyrics by Tom McRae

Why would a teenager want to stand out from the crowd?  For many teenagers, fitting in with your peers is hugely important so there must be a reason to be different. 

This is the story of Jamie, someone who by force of personality stood out from the crowd.  Perhaps he always knew he was different.  Perhaps an extrovert personality made him a born performer, but why choose to be a drag queen? By any stretch of the imagination this is an unusual ambition, and this play is a recounting of a now well known story based on the real life experience of Jamie Campbell. 

The action centres around the school environment of a year 11 class in the lead up to their end of school prom.  It focuses on Jamie, who is coming to terms with himself, and explores his ambition to be a female impersonator.  It seems he came out twice, once as gay and subsequently as an aspiring drag queen.  As the school setting is a working class environment in Sheffield, these factors brought with them the scrutiny, must of it unwanted,  from his peers and teachers.  

The stand out performer was Ivano Turco as Jamie who started shy, and mixed up yet became increasingly feminine and confident.  My problem was that in using a soft voice to accentuate his femininity, he became hard to hear.  He was ably supported by Rebecca McKinnis as his mother, Darren Day as his mentor, Hugo/Loco Chanelle and Talia Palamathanan as Priti Pasha, whose songs were memorable.

The production was great although not without its problems.  There was a 10 minute hiatus for a sound system failure near the start, yet the cast and crew addressed this and the musical continued without affecting the enjoyment of the audience.  The set was varied, flexible and effective, switching seamlessly from school room to nightclub to kitchen.  The choreography was energetic and balletic and the score varied in intensity from highly charged to being soulful and poignant.

In one sense, this play is mundane.  The vast majority of 16 year olds go through struggles to assert their identity and individuality and many struggle with attendant mental health problems.  In another sense this story is highly unusual and comes with layers of meaning and issues.  Jamie knew from a young age that he was gay and had an attraction bordering on compulsion for dressing up in so called girls clothes.  This made him out of step with society, such that his father thought him a disgrace and some of his peers poured scorn on him, even bullied him.  As he explores his ambition to be a drag queen, he faces losing his best friend, and being excluded from the prom because he wants to wear a dress.  Issues such as prejudice and discrimination and then human rights spring to mind but most importantly, it is clear from the play that one should stay true to yourself and then it is possible to fight through the barriers of social limitations and achieve success.

Even if a story of an aspiring drag queen is not your cup of tea, there is much in this play that makes it thoughtful, entertaining and uplifting theatre.   

Review, Dream Scenario by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Dir: Kristoffer Borgil. Certificate 15, 102 mins

I’ve always loved to hear what other people’s dreams are. Most might retreat from the idea, yet you can learn a lot from their weird symbolism. But…what if. Imagine this. One man keeps appearing in a lot of people’s dream? You’re gobsmacked.

In keeping with Nicholas Cage’s delightful and whacky recent film choices, Dream Scenario harks back to his more subtle days. He plays Prof. Paul Matthews an expect on ant behaviour. Out of the blue, he begins to appear in dreams of the people around him, family, friends, even his students. What starts off as local celebrity and good natured fun, quickly turns sinister, as the dreams see him enage in acts of violence and sexual abuse. He is swiftly cancelled and the scraps of fame are eaten up, as everything falls apart around him. 

Cage is perfect here. He takes on the serious pedagogue extremely well, not arrogant, more awkward and set in his ways. It is a royal offering. His wife, Janet is a angular Julianne Nicholson,  who does passive aggressiveness masterfully, many moments stood out. Child actors as their children’s fair well: Molly and Sophie from Dylan Gelula and Lily Bird perform the delight, then digest over the whole experience. Michael Cera who is back on top form as Trent, typical word salad spewing, new-age PR sort. Even Cosuin Greg from Succession, Nicholas Braun gets a cameo as Brian Berg, smug inventor of a dream device not to dissimilar from an idea seen in Futurama.

It was fun, you go along with the journey like Cage. The inevitability of the story could only end in cancel culture, as things often do today. Some stylised editing is of note, aggressive flashes and jumps are seen throughout. The dream sequences themselves are noteworthy, for their vividness and surrealness. There is something to say about how things are today. There is even more to say about representation and ownership, amongst other meaty themes. It ended in an odd way, though not to its detriment. We don’t quite know just how Paul got out of this pickle and the final scene is a play on his wifes quirky sexual fantasy.

See it and go dream some more…

Review The Eternal Daughter by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Dir: Joanna Hogg. Certificate 12a, 96mins.

I took it in my stride that I had the ending of this film spoiled by ladies who had seen an earlier screening. Turns out The Eternal Daughter was secretly filmed during lockdown, another A24 flutter, they seem to be getting bigger and bigger.

Tilda Swinton is Julie Hart and her mother Rosalind, who arrive to an estate in North Wales, the former seeking script ideas, the latter to remember past trips to the place. As their holiday goes by, things are not what it seems for anyone involved, the hotel filled with mystery and secrets. Julie struggles with writer’s block during her stay and her mother recounts several deeply sad stories of her previous time there. Julie finds herself recording many conversations, desperate for ideas.

Hogg has honoured the tradition of the classic gothic, ghost story and has kept a lot of its trappings in the big, gloomy estate. It is more atmosphere, less spooks, with green lights, branchs scraping upon windows and eerie late night scuffling. The decent score features a flute heavy air, later revelled as a diagetic sound, related to a minor character in the film. The use of Bartók is effective, recounting The Shining in the chill factor. The beautiful spaniel in the film easily upstaged Tilda in either role, often crying and spread across the fine furnishings. Carly-Sophia Davies, who also introduced the film, plays a fed up receptionist, getting great bouts of attitude problems.

Some strange continuity errors appear baked into the film, Julie and Rosalind will be in their beds in one scene, only to be seen the next shot in the bed of the other. This, I can only assume ties into the reveal at the end. This film was spoilt for me, and I dont want to give it away. Knowing this plot twist made me focus more on aspects of The Eternal Daughter I wouldn’t have done, if not knowing. Aside from the strange continuity, you don’t pick up much in what the twist might be.

Having said this, I throughly enjoyed it’s humour, character development and brief run time.

The Eternal Daughter is out now on limited release. 

Review Anatomy of a Fall by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Anatomy of a Fall, Dir: Justine Triet. Certificate 15, 152mins

After much buzz at winning the Palme d’Or, Justine Triet and her Alpine whodunnit could just be an Oscar contender for next year. I’m still thinking of last year’s winner: The Triangle of Sadness  and it’s safe to say I much prefer that oddity over this.

Out of the few cinema encounters I’ve had his year, The Anatomy of a Fall is my least favourite. There are several things I struggled with. Our lead character Sandra, and her son Daniel are grieving the loss of husband and father, Samuel. This fall in question is from their chalet, as pounding steel drum RnB is heard throughout, Sandra unable to continue with an interview recording at the same time. She becomes suspect number one and the entirety of the film is her striving for innocence, aside the doubts and experiments of her blind son Daniel. We along with the law, discover the fraught relationship between Sandra and Samuel, the latter having contributed to the blinding of their son. Can Sandra come away from the accusations? Or is she or Daniel involved in something more sinister?

The performances fair well, Sandra Hüller as Sandra is highly appealing, stoic in many moments, impassioned in others. This is a highly convincing role. Milo Machado Graner as Daniel, impressing as a child performer with acting chops I think any child aspiring in the industry would envy. Sandra’s defendant is Swann Arlaud as Vincent, an elegant and subtle role. Samuel Theis as Samuel (I am wondering why some actors are playing their namesake in character), is seen through flashbacks, though mostly through his voice memos. One blazing scene between the couple, later played in court goes into their furious deterioration and I’d say, is the best scene in the film.

It was a bit on the long side in length. My major gripe is some strange camera ideas and supporting actors not quite fitting the roles within the court. I’m no expert, but the way some of proceedings for the trail were executed had some odd, fast and loose qualities. Being mostly in French, the film takes some typical swipes at the English language, Sandra being German spoke it with French partner Samuel as it was easier for her. The court insist she speak French, even though a translator is present. Bizarrely, Jehnny Beth as Marge, is Daniel’s guardian issued by the court, has a near identical haircut to him. The flippant remark about Sandra being being bisexual,  might have led into an interesting fling with Marge. This was not explored. I just cannot get over the ludicrous dramatic zoom in upon the judges face, right after the fight recording is played. Something which really brought me out if the film.

We never really find out what exactly happened to Samuel, there was talk of suicide, Sandra getting off scot free, even with the frayed relationship with her son. If I am spending this much time in a film, I do insist on at least some form of closure.

Anatomy of a Fall is out now on limited release. 

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Press Night 23 October 2023

“A riotously upbeat tale for our times….” 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (playing at the WMC until the 28th October) has had a meteoric success since the original documentary about 16 year old Jamie New (who wants to be a drag queen) was introduced to us on our TV screens in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen a musical, an award-winning world tour and a movie starring Richard E Grant and Sharon Horgan. Attending the opening night in Cardiff with my teenage daughter, I wondered if the setting of much of the play (in a typically grim British state school) would chime with her or potentially be shot down as a sad attempt by Millennials to capture Gen Z culture…never an easy line to tread!

It’s the kind of premise that would make a Daily Mail reader’s head explode. We have a gloriously camp 16 year old Jamie New who daydreams of stardom as the next big thing in the Drag scene. His accomplice, a Muslim, hijab-wearing Pritti Pasha (Talia Palamathanan) is his best friend and wing-woman. Supporting his bold and some might say outrageous career aspirations while maintaining her own moral and religious code, the friendship represents the kind of unity and integration that we all wish for. This is never too forced, or too jarring in its earnestness. Talia Palamathanan’s voice is absolutely sensational and her solo number ‘It means beautiful’ (by Dan Gillespie Sells) is stunningly delivered and I saw multiple folks around me wiping away the tears at the end of the number.

Huge credit for first-class character work and rapport with the audience must go to Shobna Gulati as Ray and stand-in Georgina Hagan (who was replacing Rebecca McKinnis as Jamie’s Mum Margaret New the night I attended). Georgina’s two solo tracks “If I met Myself Again” in Act 1 and “My Boy” in Act 2 were truly some of the best numbers in the show. Georgina’s vocals gave me goosebumps and although I’m not usually a fan of sequences with contemporary dance peppered into some scenes, Georgina’s emotional delivery took the whole scene to the next level. The dancers accompanying her were superb – it helped to tell the story and made Georgina’s incredible vocals even greater.

Some of the set-up for Jamie’s big reveal may remind you of Billy Elliott (young Northern lad overcomes toxic and stifling masculinity and a troubled father-Son relationship to follow his dreams, plucky ‘Diamond in the rough’ family members will rally around to support him when it really counts, etc etc). But this show, though perhaps formulaic in places, manages to simultaneously pack in a great story, outstanding choreography, quality songs and a great set. I wasn’t a huge fan of the visuals on the screens behind the stage set – it made the overall look and feel a little ‘commercial-like’ or trying to be like MTV or a swishy campaign when the action and performance on stage really is enough to carry the show…no glossy brand-like photography needed!

Hot on the heels of the incredible Layton Williams who played Jamie New in 2019 (and is now fox-trotting across our screens in BBC’s Strictly), is Ivano Turco. Ivano’s performance as Jamie is spectacular. Sometimes when you listen to the original soundtrack to popular musicals, it can feel like it’s not possible to improve on this ‘original recipe’ – and no disrespect to anyone on the original soundtrack but Ivano’s silky smooth voice is like honey. His approach to the songs is beautifully soulful and his relationship and interaction with Georgina Hagan as his Mum was lovely.

My daughter and I LOVED this show. We listened to all the songs again on the drive back home and we’ll be closely following Ivano’s career – he’s destined for a glittering future. This is a gloriously upbeat tale for modern times and it’s a dopamine booster. Highly recommend it!

Series Review, Anfamol, S4C, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A Welsh adaptation of Fleabag seems quite superfluous in the face of Anfamol’s success. For this is a production that takes the best of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy and turns it into something original. First conceived as a stage play, the critical acclaim which it received has seen Rhiannon Boyle now adapt it for the screen. She has taken the frank, witty, dark and direct elements of her monologue and traversed them into a script that is punchy and pointed, hilarious and harrowing. The result is a five-part series that injects S4C’s schedule with something that is vivaciously fresh. Boundary-pushing at its best.

Bethan Ellis-Owen reprises her role as Ani, a forty-something single woman looking to become a mother on her own terms. Ellis-Owen brings a subtle sharpness to her emotions; able to portray dogged determination and inner brokenness with apposite aplomb. Her knowing side-looks to camera borrow unashamedly from Waller-Bridge; while the addition of fantasy sequences, particularly with exotic sperm donor Estevez, offer the kind of quirky aside that feels distinctly Welsh. (Think Parch or Enid a Lucy). There is a dark side to such visions however. For alongside the comic that, in part, comes from its overtness to sex and unabashed portrayal of the fertility process is the devastating effects of postnatal depression and the exacting reality of life as a single mum. Ellis-Owen manages to navigate these emotional shifts with ease; and in doing so, presents to us a character that is highly empathetic, and authentic in every way.

She is joined by a stellar support cast, of which Sara Gregory is the most prevalent. Playing Nia, a kind of nemesis to Ani, Gregory brings a chic strength to her character that cleverly masks a hidden life of sadness and despair. While publicly portraying herself as “Blueprint Mother” online, privately, Nia is struggling. Her birth-plan goes out the window; her marriage is distant, husband absent; and when Ani trolls her online, her success as an online blogger is left in tatters. But along with Ani’s seemingly perfect sister (played by Lowri Gwynne), the drama comes to a point where perfection is extinguished as a myth and vulnerability is celebrated in all its f***ed-up glory. Sticking two fingers up to the chauvinistic, infantile male sex at the same time, it becomes a powerful and thought-provoking piece on feminism, motherhood and mental health in the present age.

Anfamol continues S4C’s excellent batch of female-led dramas whilst offering something very different to what has come before. And though it may feel derivative of Fleabag, it is by no means a copy of it. It has its own distinct subject matter and significant narrative to tell.

Click here to watch the series.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams