Category Archives: Film & TV

Review I May Destroy You by Simon Kensdale

Please note this review contains analysis of the programmes plotlines.

I May Destroy You didn’t deal with murder: it dealt with Rape.  I don’t know why crime series don’t tackle more common crimes more often.  It’s as if only murder is considered sufficiently serious as dramatic material to engage our attention.  The victims of assault, fraud and dangerous driving would disagree with this assessment: crime often has life-changing consequences.  I also don’t know why ‘serious’ drama has to involve crime, anyway.  Does contemporary society lack internal tensions?

I May Destroy You scored points for me by tackling a subject important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is extremely rare for rapists to be convicted.  The series drew attention to the failure of the dedicated/honest, heroic/glamorous, photogenic/fascinating police force’s inability to deal with what is almost a routine occurrence.  I thought it would be more interesting than the standard foul murder- clever investigation – heroic arrest format normally served up.

I May Destroy You also drew my attention because it concentrated on young people and their lives, meaning it could deploy novel vocabulary and expressive idioms. The police were hardly relevant so there weren’t any of those terse office conversations building up the plot.  It came in half hour episodes, too, which meant it moved forwards quickly.  (Nearly all TV programmes fill a sixty-minute slot to suit the scheduling.  Nearly all could do with editing.)

Nonetheless, I found it disappointing and I lost interest half-way through.  The acting and camera work were good but I found the conversations limited, as if there was no point in our spending more time with the characters or in getting closer to their predicaments.

I think the problem was the subject matter proved too difficult for television in the end.  The combination of PTSD and writer’s block resulting from a date rape was never going to be easy to present.  Writers are not exciting dramatis personae and writers who can’t write are not interesting people to watch.  And, fatally, we were distracted from considering the initial issue by two further rapes – both variations on the situation of the removal or non-use of a condom.  I say ‘fatally’ because, as with the standard crime series where further killings are added to maintain momentum, more proves to be less.  By the time three people have been killed, the viewer has begun to lose interest in the first victim and a key element in the story – the motive of the killer and the circumstances that have driven him or her to kill – has been sacrificed to the simpler mysteries of who the killer might be and how they’ll be caught.

Thus, in I May Destroy You, the main character’s trauma was pushed aside when she is raped a second time – by a man removing a condom during sex.  We witness this rape as well as the homosexual rape of one of her friends and the graphic images displace the vague memories of what happened to her when she was drugged that she is trying to access.

There is a lot of sexual activity but none of it is ordinary.  The one sex scene in which rape does not take place involves the main character’s best friend in a one-night stand threesome.  Nobody appears to be in a settled relationship, turning sex itself into an issue, rather than showing it as a routine feature of everyday life, i.e. making consent a norm.

There is a reason for this, of course.  The series aims at exploring the ramifications of rape – its impact on victims, augmented by the inability of the police to deal with a serious crime.  It has been plotted so as not present the traditional, stereotypical view of rape, i.e. the violent assault, and it deserves recognition for this.  Unfortunately, as each of the three rapes is distinct – involving the absence of consent but also representing different aspects of the problem – they don’t complement one another.  It would have been better to have concentrated on a single incident, which is what I thought would happen, in order to allow the audience to consider the meaning of consent and the psychological consequences of intimate violence.

You could say that by illustrating rape so graphically and insistently, the series drew attention to a wide-spread problem, but I think we are mainly moved by the sight of one interesting and unforgettable individual’s experience or suffering and we start to step back once we suspect there is nothing unique about it.

In making these remarks, I’m conscious that I’m resorting to literary theory and I do enjoy novels more than the television.  It’s not wholly correct to compare a TV series with a novel and to expect the same kind of imaginative experience from both.  Equally, I May Destroy You is not a play, in which a dramatic situation can be explored and worked out in a single intense performance.  But some of the criteria applies across the board.  A long time ago, the BBC televised The Forsyte Saga.  Galsworthy’s Forsyte novels are not widely read any more – who has time for a saga, even one written by a Nobel prize winner? – but Galsworthy was ahead of his time in tackling marital rape.  By describing a single incident at the time of publication to his readers and then through the BBC series, I think his story highlighted the issue more memorably than if he had shown a multiplicity of cases and marital rape would have been as common when he was writing as it is today.  As a consequence of his concentration on the one event, Soames, the perpetrator of the rape, is criminalised and revealed for what he is and what he represents; Irene, his wife and his victim, monopolises our sympathy.  Both characters are memorable and, dare I say it, this suggests a more oblique, less elaborate treatment of rape may be more effective in terms of engaging an audience.

I’m disagreeing here with The Guardian’s write up on I May Destroy You which was an ‘unadulterated paean of praise’, the series apparently being ‘an extraordinary, breathtaking achievement without a false note in it’ and ‘the drama of the year so far’.

I enjoyed reading that review but it wasn’t critical.  It expressed the reviewer’s obvious personal enjoyment but one of the principles of criticism is – still – offering constructive feedback.  I think Michaela Coel, the writer and star of I May Destroy You is someone with both potential and ambition.  She wants to tackle big subjects in unusual ways but she’s more likely to make progress in the future if she remembers the traditional basics of story telling.  For my taste, I May Destroy You went too far in some directions and not far enough in others.

An Interview with Country Singer-songwriter Rae Sam, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to Welsh Country singer-songwriter Rae Sam. Their chat takes place in the form of a podcast, the first in a trial series in conversation with Welsh creatives. Rae talks about her debut album, The Great Escape, as well as songwriting, mental health, Welsh identity, and faith.

To find out more about Rae, visit her website here, or follow her on social media @raesammusic.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here. Thanks.

Series Review, The Pact, BBC1, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a moment during the final episode of BBC1 drama The Pact when its writer, Pete McTighe, attempts to deconstruct the truth. Julie Hesmondhalgh’s character Nancy, one of the four women caught up at the centre of a murder investigation, begins a Shakespearean dialogue with her priest (Mark Lewis-Jones), telling him that we all wear masks and play parts. No one is ever truly themselves, she admits. “I’ve come to realise that it’s the absence of truth that holds us together”. When Father Martin responds to her “cynical worldview”, I’m inclined to agree with him. But I do wonder if McTighe has still necessarily muddied the waters to offer a critique of truth as a negative construct: sometimes dangerous, potentially destructive, and capable of being subverted by something greater than itself.

Pete McTighe

This critique plays out in the central narrative of the drama. After brewery boss Jack Evans (Aneurin Barnard) is found dead in the woods, having been innocently left there by four friends in a humorous act of revenge for his snide comments the night before, the group endeavour to create a cover story so as not to be implicated in the subsequent investigation. They attempt to absolve themselves of the situation, thinking about the possible ramifications should their involvement be uncovered. They are driven by fear of where the truth might lead, and attempt to abscond it by living a lie. What takes shape over the course of six episodes is a fascinating interplay between truth and lie. It is at its most dynamic in episode five when Anna (Laura Fraser) reveals to her husband, police officer Max (Jason Hughes), what really happened. In doing so, she makes him complicit; forced to choose between his personal and professional commitments. It becomes a choice between telling the truth or living the lie; and in choosing the latter, the lie becomes the truth that drives the lie. In other words, he acknowledges the destructive consequences that the truth poses to his family, and so seeks to avert this risk entirely by becoming entangled, like the rest, in a web of deceit.

Anna (Laura Fraser) and Max (Jason Hughes)

Ordinarily, one might assume that McTighe is telling a simple story of corruption. However, I believe he presents a rather deft commentary on the nature of friendship. I think it goes to the heart of what Nancy means when she describes “the absence of truth that holds us together”. For the lie which Anna, Nancy, Louie (Eiry Thomas) and Cat (Heledd Gwynn) concoct, which some of their nearest and dearest are eventually drawn into, becomes the basis for which trust between them is built.  The Pact is not so much an exercise in secrecy then as trust. It may be that the lie wins but only as an expression of self-sacrifice. Nancy gives of herself in an act of grace that saves the guilty Tamsin (Gabrielle Creevy), complicating the typical formula of the crime drama where the mystery murderer is finally unveiled and given their comeuppance. There is no good and evil as solidly defined categories here. Instead, everyone falls short in their own way, having to pay penance for their actions on the night of Jack’s death, to paraphrase Nancy. Her response is, perhaps not surprisingly, steeped in a theology of sin and atonement which, though far from straightforward, still leaves plenty of food for thought on the place of justice and truth.

When I came to The Pact, I was expecting to comment on its place within the landscape of Welsh TV drama. It is certainly an interesting addition to the canon, with its strong Welsh cast supplemented by a scattering of British stars representing a Wales with fluid borders; a community with a recognisably local identity but peppered with the accents of Scots and English settlers. It is not quite the bilingualism of a Bang or Hinterland but neither is it a homogenously accented whole. It has given Eiry Thomas an opportunity to take on a role that sees her come into her own, her star turn opposite heavyweights like Eddie Marsan (Arwel) and Hesmondhalgh announcing her as an accomplished lead. Rakie Ayola is superb as deadpan detective DS Hammond, her commanding presence softened beautifully by her dry wit and no-nonsense comment. Meanwhile, Abbie Hern makes her debut acting role as Tish a memorable one, her performance opposite Heledd Gwynn making her one to watch for the future. However, for all its stunning shots of the landscape, its subtly effective music and excellent cast, it is the narrative themes that have really drawn me into this drama and kept my interest throughout. The Pact has been a thought-provoking crime thriller which has left me with something to think about.

Click here to watch the series.

Written by
Gareth Williams

Review Welcome Back, Justin Teddy Cliffe by Leslie R. Herman Jones

Full disclosure: I like this guy.

A conflict of interest may be real, potential, or perceived. You must disclose all actual and potential conflicts of interest promptly.[1]

I have only known and admired him in a professional context. Done.

#welcomeback, #justinteddycliffe.

In the fateful words of JTC, ‘everything online is weird and nebulous’, and the ‘South Wales-based performer + theatre maker-come-nonsensical ideasman’, Justin Teddy Cliffe, is no exception. Weird and nebulous figure large in his show, Welcome Back, livestreaming on YouTube, where his particular brand of weird and nebulous is well-worth watching.

In his 30-40 minute one-man show, Cliffe performs live at Le Pub in Newport (Gwent) to cardboard cut outs, while simultaneously reaching human audiences digitally in cyberspace. Nice juxtaposition.

Self-created, directed and performed, with dramaturgy by Jeremy Linnell, Cliffe shows up in his underwear on a circular stage the size of a lazy susan — enough space for one man and four cans of beer. I’m guessing the mini stage was a creative decision — it had to be tight enough to get an upstage shot of his arse and still get audience reaction.

Cliffe’s brand extends to a kind of civilised vulgarity, which, if you don’t typically dance to the vulgar beat, try it. Cliffe delivers vulgar on the off-beat — it’s charming, it’s gentle — but don’t be fooled, it’s still a roller coaster ride with heightened realism, giving us an up ’n over view of the human condition in all its pitiful frailty, perhaps a view from the ‘Pepsi Max aka The Big One’ he still dreams of, dreams crushed like his beer cans, crushed, to delineate scene changes. And if you do like to dance you won’t want to miss his beat box R&B number, Right on Time (Choreography, Kylie Ann Smith).

 The extent to which Welcome Back is autobiographical isn’t clear. His only character isn’t named. I suggest he represents Everyman. He questions: ’How will we cope going back into the world after having been in survival mode for so long?’ The Universe answers, ‘Who knows, but before you start worrying about all that, why don’t you toast this strange time with a drink or four and dance like it’s the end of the world as we know it.’ And so he does, for all humans and cut-outs to see.

The show deals with mental health, survival modes, memories, self-preservation and accepting change through a contemporary kind of clowning, and backed up by the science of survival we see in a slideshow at the top of the show, designed to assure us when he goes off on one.

His dreams — abstract memories — form the backbone of the show; song, dance and mini-riffs — like the ‘If You Haven’t Done That’ tale about his wild swimming, kombucha drinking, culture growing neighbours — are crack fillers. Cliffe’s recollections are mutually painful  — he hurts, we hurt; he confesses they are ‘not stories I really want to tell, so let’s get on with it,’ a way of bracing himself and suggesting we strap ourselves in, too. And he tackles some tough stuff — but he makes sure that there’s a soft landing, providing billows of laughter at his raucous characterisation and self-styled use of language.

 Justin Teddy Cliffe’s kind of humour begs the world to be a kinder, more humorous place. He manages to deliver raw stories, giving us something to really chew on, and edgy messages, sharp edges you’ve got to be mindful of. The combination is a prescription for our well-being: all that chewing flexes and stretches the brain muscles; and those edges require a wholesome flexibility and navigation skills.

Welcome Back is an essential work out.

Leslie R. Herman Jones

28 May 2021

[1] WGICodeofConductEthics.pdf

Review Come Away By Ethan Clancy

Down the rabbit hole and across to Neverland we go, mix in a personal tragedy and that gives you Come Away. A mixed bag of a film that never seems to know where its own story is going, but yet, there are glimmers of hope within its 94 minute runtime. The film ponders the question ‘What if Alice from Wonderland and Peter Pan were siblings?’ Starring the likes of Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo, the latter of which steals the show in every scene he is in, but the film primarily focuses on its younger cast, Keria Chansa and Jordan Nash, as the Littleton children, each destined for an adventure. The film takes a look within the imagination of a child, and how certain events, good or bad, can trigger it.

Within the time of the 19th Century, a time without technology or the violence we see today. Three children, David Littleton (Reese Yates), Peter Littleton (Jordan Nash) and Alice Littleton (Keria Chansa) enjoy their peaceful life, full of wonder in their tea parties or adventure in their forest, where either imagination can run wild as they can travel, encouraged by their mother Rose Littleton (Angelina Jolie) and their father Jack Littleton (David Oyelowo), the three children enjoy a happy, fun life. Unfortunately, a dark storm is cast over the family, with the accidental death of David, each family member spirals into a dark path in order to cope with their grief, Rose delves deep into the world of alcohol, neglecting Alice, who seeks solace with her aunt Elanor Morrow (Anna Chancellor), whilst Jack delves deep into his mysterious and dangerous past, costing him the safety of his family. As Alice and Peter seek to aid their father, they travel to London to put an end to their family’s tragedy, if it were only that easy.

The film’s two central characters Alice and Peter Pan, each come from a beloved piece of classic literature. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, first published in 1865, whilst J.M. Barrie created the character of Peter Pan in a series of novels, the first of which came out in 1902 in his novel, The Little White Bird. Characters and story elements are drawn from both books to create this story, and many characters are found in subtle, but unique and unexpected ways. In fact, some story elements are even taken from the personal history of the authors, for example. J.M. Barrie had an older brother who died in an accident, leaving their mother devastated. J.M. Barrie later attempted to take his siblings’ place in her mother’s eyes. Similar to what Peter did in the story. The idea of the story itself first came to the screenwriter Marissa Kate Goodhill when she graduated from college, after taking a class, she wondered about ‘what if Peter and Alice were siblings’ and began working on the script for the film for years. Directed by Brenda Chapman, the first woman to ever direct an animated film from a major studio, Dreamworks’s The Prince of Egypt.

Her unique vision to the film, brought to life hundreds of different places and characters. Visually, the film looks like it had been ripped straight from an animated Disney movie, bringing a fantasy element, the way she is able to combine the real world as well as the children’s imaginations flow seamlessly, between the false and the real. The visual effects within the first half of the film are flawless. Whilst I do have my issue with the pacing of the first act, the first scene is mind blowing. The children are introduced, as well as establishing the general tone of the film. The characters themselves are a mixed bag, with many of the characters we see, a version of a beloved character from the books. With the exception of the family, each character is given a single character trait in order to make them memorable, however, they do this to the best of their abilities, making some of them extremely memorable. Clarke Peters’ portrayal of the pawn shop owner, the Mad Hatter, makes a lasting impact, and whilst only having a few scenes, he makes a lasting impression on the audience. The same could be said for the character of Elanor Morrow, who is this film’s version of the Queen of Hearts, a much more modern take on her character, with her views on class being her aim driving force, and I do think that her character is generally concerned for her sister as well as Alice, and the scenes of Alice and Elanor together near the start are heart touching. But out of every single character, the character I find we get most attached to is Jack Littleton.

Jack Littleton is perhaps the most interesting character, presented as a good father, and an excellent carver, coming from an unsavoury upbringing within the crime world. He is extremely hard working and sets in motion the story that gets their family into trouble, when after David’s death, he returns to his gambling ways. Whilst I do not think any of the characters is more essential than another, Jack is the character that holds the family together, having connections to both Peter Pan and Alice and Wonderland. After David, I would argue that he is a principal character.

However, despite the film’s highlights, there are a large number of issues that I think could have been fixed with a couple lines of dialogue and better pacing, the film could have been improved, significantly. My first major issue is the film’s pacing, during the first act as we led up to David’s death, the film was extremely slow, apart from the fast paced stellar first scene, the film doesn’t improve from there, until the death of David that is, were the film picks up the pace to deliver that in my opinion, the most interesting act, especially the Jack Littleton plotline. The true calamity however is the third act, by far the worst part of the film, a rushed conclusion that never tells us truly what is going on. I will not spoil the film, but, in the final scenes of the film, we are left to wonder what is real and what is not, leading to confusion, which is quite annoying, another issue with the final act I have is the terrible effects, which I am surprised at, since up to that point, the effects stood strong.

The connection between Alice and Peter was well developed, until it was not. At the essence of their relationship, is a strong dynamic, Alice is a child who wants to grow up, whilst Peter is a child that never wants to grow up, and through the second act, their bond is developed, with David now gone to hold them together, they are forced to find their own way, learning to work together. However, the two characters are too separated through the film, for them to forge a connection that was memorable, and therefore, forgettable. They also bring, A List actors, such as Michael Caine and Derek Jacobi, who only appear for one or two scenes. Scenes that I feel could have been replaced with up and coming actors that could have made the exact same effect.

Michael Caine stars as Charlie in COME AWAY, a Relativity Media release. Credit: Alex Bailey / © Maginot Line, LLC 2020

Ultimately the film is bland, it is something special in my opinion, sure the actors make the best out what they are given, but it is not enough to save them from poor pacing and a story that feels unconnected and unhinged. What makes it even worse we that there was a strong and interesting story within the film, the story of Jack Littleton, I feel that the film could have been much better by focusing much more on this, I feel that, whilst I enjoy that particular aspect, the film fails to catch what made is so interesting in the first place. I enjoy the stories of Peter Pan and Alice and Wonderland, the latter of the two much more, however, by combining them, it was given a muddled story, down the rabbit hole they went, but when the story fell, it never stopped falling.

Signature Entertainment presents Come Away on Blu-ray and DVD on 12th April.

Ethan is a member of The Torch Theatre, Young Film Ambassadors, this is a new scheme for those aged 14-18 in Pembrokeshire that will give opportunities for young people to watch, discuss and review the latest independent, UK & International, and blockbuster films. The scheme will give the young ambassadors the opportunity to get their reviews seen, and, to find out more about cinema and filmmaking in focused workshop sessions for aspiring reviewers with special guest speakers.

Review How Green Was My Valley By Kevin Johnson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Sir Anthony Hopkins was the latest of many Oscar winners with a Welsh connection, one in particular is often overlooked. The greatest film ever made is considered to be Citizen Kane, but it lost out on Best Picture in 1941 to a story about a family of Welsh coal miners. 

How Green Was My Valley is about the Morgan family, and set between 1890-1914. It tells of the lives of Gwilym, his wife Beth, and their seven children living in a coal mining village in the Rhondda. Derided for its inaccuracies, mining families of the time could barely recognise their own lives. The novel was also far from authentic as the writer, Richard Llewellyn, was the son of Welsh parents who ran a pub in London. Born and raised there, he had an English accent, and never set foot in Wales until he was an adult. Most of the background came from listening to stories told by others, and written while on army service in India. The rights were bought by Fox for $300,000 and adapted by American screenwriter Philip Dunne, who had no idea about Wales. It wasn’t even filmed there: The original intent was to make it on location, in colour, and as a four hour epic like Gone With The Wind, but the outbreak of World War Two ended that. Instead an entire village was built in Malibu Creek State Park, taking 150 builders six months and costing $110,000, with the hill painted black to look like coal slag.

Studio executives also watered down the politics of the story, uneasy with its pro-union and socialist message. Gwilym Morgan is seen as being an independent leader, opposed to unions. Most of his sons disagree, and it is this issue that eventually leads to the decline of both the Morgan family and the valley itself.

The biggest criticism of the film is the poor Welsh accents by the actors, as there was only one Welsh person in the entire cast. Rhys Williams from Clydach plays Dai Bando, the miner who teaches Huw how to box. The rest are Irish, Scottish, English and even Canadian. One of the better accents comes from Mr Parry the chapel deacon, played by Arthur Shields. The brother of Barry Fitzgerald who plays Cyfartha, he fought in the Easter Rebellion in 1916 and was imprisoned afterwards in a camp in Frongoch, Wales. Oddly enough John Loder (Ianto Morgan) was a British officer and fought on the other side.

Despite the criticism it should be remembered that the film won 5 Oscars, and brought Wales to the attention of the world. It also managed to create a genuine feeling of Welshness by using traditional songs & hymns, such as Men of Harlech, Cwm Rhondda and Calon Lan, employing most of the Welsh singers in California. For me it has the one thing that Citizen Kane lacked, heart.

There is one scene in particular that captures the poetry, sadness and humour that are endemic to Wales: a disaster brings everyone to the mine, including Dai Bando, his constant companion Cyfartha, and Mr Gruffydd, the preacher who was about to leave the valley. With men still trapped, he appeals for volunteers to rescue them:

Mr. Gruffydd: “Who is for Gwilym Morgan and the others?”

Dai Bando: “I, for one. He is the blood of my heart. Come Cyfartha.”

Cyfartha: “Tis a coward I am. But I will hold your coat.”

The film left its mark on several of the cast and crew: Anna Lee (Bronwyn) became pregnant halfway through filming, Maureen O’Hara later named her daughter Bronwyn, Donald Crisp & Beth Allgood (Mr & Mrs Morgan) were nominated for Best Supporting Oscars, with Crisp winning, and John Ford won his third Best Director Oscar. The film also won cinematography and for Art Direction, due mainly to the village set. Although many believe Citizen Kane to have been robbed, I think that at a time when the world was going to war, a film about a family struggling to stay together through tragedy was the right choice.

“Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still – real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever. How green was my Valley then.”

Review, Keeping Faith, Series 3, BBC/S4C, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a moment in the final series of Keeping Faith when Eve Myles becomes Celia Imrie. The transformation is extraordinary. There is no CGI or special effects; rather, just Eve Myles doing what Eve Myles does best. It’s why we’ll miss her as Faith, the gutsy, emotional, steely and vulnerable lawyer who has been through the ringer, so to speak, over three series of the hit Welsh drama. Throughout that time, Myles has more than embodied the character. She has become her. And in this, her final swansong, Imrie has matched her star quality as Faith’s cold, manipulative and deliciously deceitful mother, Rose. Together, the two of them have simply sparkled onscreen. Their sparring matches have been so emotionally explosive that they have enthralled and exhilarated in equal measure. The introduction of Faith’s backstory has been a stroke of genius by the show’s creator, Matthew Hall, and these two acting heavyweights have helped to make it so. However, they are by no means the sole contributors to its success.

What made the first series of Keeping Faith so hugely popular was not just the superb acting talent of Eve Myles but the strong cast of characters that surrounded her. Keeping Faith has always been, at its heart, a drama about family. It is to Hall’s credit that he has managed to retain this as the central focus, the effect being, in this final series, a real depth to those supporting characters, whose arcs are as important to and invested in by the audience as Faith’s. Catherine Ayers deserves special mention for her heartrending portrayal of Lisa’s alcoholism, the scene at her first AA meeting being one of many powerful moments in this final series. The quiet resolve grown in Tom by Aneirin Hughes is another that has been beautiful to watch, with the presence of strong women, such as Suzanne Packer’s Delyth, being key to this change. I have loved watching Demi Letherby and Lacey Jones grow in their roles as Alice and Megan respectively, each bringing a different temperament that perfectly matches the stubbornness and fragility of Faith herself. Then there is the warm and gentle manner of Steve, who is played to perfection by Mark Lewis Jones, opposite the increasingly jealous and controlling Evan, played by Bradley Freegard. These two men have been magnificent, circling around the magnetic Myles with performances that have helped steer the romantic element away from soppy sentimentality, and ensured that the depiction of a relationship breakdown has been studiously honest and suitably dramatic. Such significant attention to detail has been the difference in ensuring that Keeping Faith has not just been engaging drama but has won the devotion of many fans too.

This devotion has also been generated, in no small part, by its memorable soundtrack. Amy Wadge was rightfully recognised for her musical contribution to the original series, with ‘Faith’s Song’ proving incredibly popular even outside of the series’ run. It returns in this final instalment with a greater appreciation than its more intrusive presence in series two. There is a mixture of recognisable favourites and brand-new compositions, all of which complement the action onscreen. It is in the final scenes though that the emotional weight of the title track in particular is laid heavily on the shoulders of the audience. The complete absence of music in the last episode before this point contributes to the tear-jerking moments that follow. The appearance of Osian (Keogh Kiernan) – having survived the operation that Faith fights so hard for in this series – Alice’s poignant speech, and the intimacy of Faith and Lisa as they walk across the beach to the sea, is enough to get the lip quivering. But it’s the presence of that iconic yellow coat, now firmly worn by Faith, and accompanied by her song, that really starts the waterworks off. It ensures a truly satisfying end to a show that has changed the face of Welsh drama, and been taken to the hearts of so many in Wales and beyond.

From its humble beginnings as Un Bore Mercher on S4C to its primetime slot on Saturday night BBC1, Keeping Faith has been a juggernaut of a drama. It is rare that I get on my hobby horse but I think it’s important, given the constant criticism levelled at its news output, that the future of the BBC and its licence fee is not debated on such a narrow-minded understanding of the corporation to the detriment of gems such as this. Keeping Faith demonstrates the BBC’s commitment and ability to produce quality Welsh drama that is made in Wales, for the people of Wales, but with the potential to reach beyond Wales too. It may not always get it right (see Pitching In) but without it, there is little evidence to suggest that the commercial channels will step up to the mark. The Pembrokeshire Murders (ITV) may represent a rare foray into Welsh representation. However, its risk-taking (a true story crime drama) leaves a lot to be desired. Keeping Faith is unlikely to have been made without the backing of the BBC & S4C. Could its success herald the possibility of a sea-change? I doubt it. But whatever happens, we will always be grateful for Faith Howells. So thank you, Matthew Hall. Thank you, Eve Myles.

Click here to watch the whole series.

Review written by
Gareth Williams

Review, Bregus, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Hannah Daniel gives an impressive performance in S4C’s latest drama series, Bregus. She is almost unrecognisable from her best known role to date, playing straight-faced, sharp-tongued lawyer Cerys in Keeping Faith. Instead, she takes on the character of high-flying surgeon Ellie, whose vulnerability and fragile mental state begin to unravel following the sudden death of her sister, Luce (played by Sara Gregory). Daniel manages to create a richly compelling personality, surrounding her with an air of mystery that is greatly enhanced by the use of camera, music and cinematography. In doing so, she makes the transition from supporting actor to leading lady with aplomb. No doubt awards will follow.

The series begins almost as a mirror image of Keeping Faith, with Daniel adopting the organised chaos of the married middle-class professional with kids first thing on a weekday morning. The initial picture that is painted is one in which everything appears perfect. Life is good. But then an unexpected twist turns everything upside down. Where Bregus then veers from Keeping Faith becomes more apparent, not least in the actions of Ellie, whose accompanying blank expressions could not be more different from the swirling emotion conveyed by Eve Myles as Faith. This is where Daniel excels in producing a sense of detachment both within the drama itself and from us, the audience. She becomes something of an enigma. The lingering close-ups, jarring soundtrack and surrealist techniques all contribute to this unknown element. But it is what surrounds the dialogue between Ellie and husband Mart that really unlocks the general feeling of unease that accompanies the strangeness of this drama.

It is not about what is said so much as what is not said that makes Bregus so intriguing. The surface dialogue contains such rich subtext that it is hard not to be gripped by the exchanges of Hannah Daniel and Rhodri Meilir in particular. Meilir is perfectly cast as the quietly controlling Mart. His ability to play a character with such threatening calmness is ideally suited here. There is always a sense of an ulterior motive behind his composed exterior which, like in his previous role as Bill in 35 Diwrnod, is never quite confirmed until the final episode. In the meantime, it is the suspicion that surrounds him that helps build tension here, with the revelation of his character’s true nature being even more powerful when it finally comes. It is in the final scenes that everything that has been bubbling underneath the surface is suddenly unleashed in explosive fashion. The dialogue then becomes explicit, so carefully crafted as to cut like a knife, and revealing Bregus as a beautifully feminist piece that is incredibly moving to say the least.

Bregus is this wonderful mix of mystery drama, psychological thriller and family psychodrama. At its heart is a wonderfully complex female character whose actions are often far removed from the stereotype. Hannah Daniel portrays Ellie exceedingly well as a mother, wife, friend and surgeon who is not immune to the challenges and external pressures that come with these roles. Her responses are often unexpected and at times surprising, which is partly what makes this drama so absorbing. Its sense of intrigue is elevated by music that is so resonant at times that it overwhelms; close-up shots that are so immersive that they enthral; and the use of surrealism such that one is never quite sure whether what Ellie is experiencing is real or not. It is in the subtlety of expression alongside the dialogue though that should be particularly commended. Daniel and Rhodri Meilir excel at this, though the rest of the cast have their moments too. It is in the mystery at the heart of these relationship dynamics that makes Bregus such a fascinating watch. And it is the vehicle through which Hannah Daniel finally announces herself as a solid and very capable lead.

Click here to watch the series on Clic.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

The Serpent – Reflections on a TV Crime Drama

With less to do during lock-down, Simon Kensdale has been resorting to the BBC i Player.  He has noticed how many broadcast crime series consisting of murder enquiries.  Some are truly horrific, like The Serpent, in the sense of being both true and frightening.  It has made him wonder if there is a danger of TV audiences gradually becoming desensitised to violence. Simon explores these areas in the article below.

There is a secondary story in The Serpent about Herman Knippenberg.  He’s a Dutch diplomat obsessed with tracking the killer – Sobhraj – down and his meticulous record-keeping finally results in success. His obsession costs him his marriage and threatens his career prospects.  He’s odd, too, keeping boxes of paperwork with him wherever he goes, rather than throwing anything away.  But at least Knippenberg’s activities are normal – ish. In following the series, through him we see a bit more of humanity than that of a unique, psychopathic killer who gets off on drugging and murdering young travellers in the Far East.

Knippenberg’s behaviour makes him similar to the average TV detective.  We can almost predict – as yet another crime series kicks off with yet another discovery of the body of a dead woman – that there will be someone on the case who can’t let go and who also cannot maintain a private life. The detective will be divorced or uncommitted to a relationship. Recently several detectives have been shown on TV as also having problematic relationships with their daughters. Ironically, in The Investigation – the true story of a particularly bizarre Danish murder, committed on a privately-owned submarine – it turned out that the Head of Homicide really had been alienated from his adult daughter.

The Investigation

What seems to happen in all these series is that the main thrust of the narrative – the need to apprehend a killer – is cross-cut with ‘everyday’ human drama.  The lives of the detectives and the supporting cast of police officers are presented as if they are representative of the wider community. I rather doubt that the professional upholders of law and order are as interesting as the TV companies make them appear to be, or even as interesting as Knippenberg, but I admit that this could be a personal bias. In any case, their personal dramas are never meant to be as important as the main story line. It’s as if no-one believes there’s any serious drama going on in human situations anywhere that does not involve a killing – or three, or nine.  Everything that is not murder is soap.

But murder is rare in European societies.  It is a comparatively easy crime to solve, as there is usually a connection between the murderer and his victim.  Of course, recently the police clear-up capability has been speeded up by the information processing of computers and by the scientific advances which make DNA recordable, storable and traceable.  The police can also monitor mobile phone usage and draw on the massive amounts of film footage accumulated by security cameras. But where there is no connection between victim and killer – as in the case of Sobhraj – or where there has been a professional ‘hit’ – the police are still ineffectual.  They often have to wait for the killer to make a mistake – as in they did in the case of the Yorkshire Ripper – before they can solve the case. 

The fact that you and I know about these new developments is an indication of how many crime series we have swallowed down whole.  We could almost all now write one ourselves.  You open with a shocking and mysterious death, preferably in an unusual setting; you introduce in a handful of ‘interesting’ characters and some back story.  When you feel the tension level flagging, you throw in some more bodies, as if adding fuel to the fire.  (You needn’t concern yourself with the fact that with murders more is actually less, since the audience can’t keep on meting out its sympathy and will get emotionally confused as the body count increases, forgetting who got killed first.)  You can enrich your material with a red herring or an unexpected clue and you must include a chase, on foot or using cars.  You might even put in some comic relief before you wrap it everything up with a dangerous, ‘dramatic’ confrontation with the murderer. The over familiar narrative process is meant to reassure everyone that, however bad things appear to be, truth will out and justice will be delivered.

More than exciting an interest in the nastier side of life and the worst forms of human behaviour, I think there is a problem with this narrative form. Seeking to reassure a mass audience with a basic fantasy is a form of brainwashing.  We are seduced into abandoning our rational awareness that murder enquiries are nothing like as tense and interesting as the way they are presented (The Investigation is an exception to this rule) because of the real time they take and because of the dull routine of the work involved.

More importantly, few of us live the experience of confronting a problem which gets solved, allowing us to we live happily ever after.  Instead of having one large and horrific issue to grapple with we have innumerable minor difficulties that most of the time add up to make our life either frustrating or frightening.  We know this situation is never going to change, that nothing we can do will make any difference and that nobody is coming to help.  If we are not actually the victim in an unsensational case, we will be like the junior police officer expected to solve a crime with access to limited information and having no authority, struggling with a mountain of bureaucracy, against a background of incompetent management and competitive colleagues.  Our family life may not be any more straightforward than our work life.  It will be banal but it will consist of more than a communication difficulty with a daughter.

Given this reality, in my opinion what we need from the purveyors of fiction, is a constructive reflection on our circumstance – an experience exploring the outlines of the predicament we find ourselves in.  This should be done in a way that is not escapism disguised as realism.  The proliferation of crime dramas based on murder stories suggests that TV as a medium, despite the talent and intelligence of the people working within it and despite the quite astonishing technical facilities available to them nowadays, is not able to offer this kind of creative reflection.  Maybe I am expecting too much from what can only ever be light entertainment.  If I want the kind of imaginative experience I am defining, perhaps I have to read novels or go to the theatre.

I did appreciate the ingenuity of The Serpent, in particular the way the timing of the action moved backwards and forwards.  I was suitably appalled by what Sobhraj did, although he was presented as being so perpetually cool and self-controlled that he seemed quite dull.  Little space was given to exploring his capacity to be so charming and desirable that his partner and indeed his ex-wife both found him irresistible, despite their knowledge of what he was capable of.  For me, the really interesting questions surrounding Sobhraj remains not what he did or how he got away with it, so much as why he did it and why others helped him. 

Otherwise I thought the acting in the series was of a good standard – although Tim McInnerny hammed it up as a Belgian. The dialogue was credible and moved the plot on even if it didn’t say much about Sobhraj’s motivation.  Since the series draws on a true story for its outline it only required the details to be coloured in carefully.  The impressive settings for the action in Thailand, India, Nepal and Paris were like pages from a holiday brochure.  

Tim McInnerny

Would a closer focus on Sobhraj have demanded too much of us?  It would have required us to sit and pay attention and respond to words and phrases in conversations and note small gestures and aspects of behaviour in the way we do in front of a live performance.  We would not have been able to just get up and go and make a sandwich or look at our texts or carry on with the ironing.  We might, though, have been truly moved by what we were watching.  We wouldn’t have wanted to either pause an episode or wait until next week for the sequel.  The story would have possessed us.

Numerous people have said they ‘loved’ The Serpent. Personally, whilst I might admit to loving plays by Shakespeare and Moliere, or novels by Dickens and Tolstoy, I can only say the series temporarily distracted me whilst my options of doing anything else other than watching TV were limited by lockdown.  Despite its expensive ingenuity it did not tell me anything new about the human condition and it did not give me that sensation of excitement that engagement with a work of art provides.

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Review, Fflam, S4c by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The recent S4C series Fflam was a slow-burner. I came to it with much intrigue and anticipation given the concept and acting talent. The idea of a woman, Noni, seeing her dead husband, Tim, again, after years believing he had died in a fire, sounded like the perfect spark from which to ignite a gripping narrative. The fact that Gwyneth Keyworth (Bang, Craith/Hidden) and Richard Harrington (Hinterland, Poldark) played the lead roles only served to excite and offer high expectations. So it was with sadness and disappointment that I found myself ultimately underwhelmed by its delivery. It did manage to strike a few matches throughout its six, half-hour episodes. However, these failed to set alight a series that was full of promise but low on satisfaction.

The performance of Keyworth was central to giving the drama a certain kudos that it may otherwise have lacked. Her ability to convey Noni’s internal emotions onscreen was akin to that of Eve Myles in Keeping Faith. The difference here though was the oft understated way that Keyworth did this. She demonstrated the conflict between grief and passion going on inside through very subtle expression which, nevertheless, with help from the camera and editing suite, was full of depth. Her appearances alongside Richard Harrington, particularly those in a restaurant over dinner, provided some of the most enjoyable scenes of the series. The gentle charisma that Harrington brought to his mysterious character, opposite the romantic infatuation that Keyworth successfully tempered as Noni, helped create a sense of ease. It led to a free-flowing script that meant their conversations appeared natural onscreen. These moments became absorbing as a result, giving some required fizz to a drama that, outside of them, felt a bit flat and unengaging.

I wonder whether the drama would have benefitted from having a more compressed narrative in which its central premise was played with a lot sooner and the final twist in the series was incorporated a lot earlier. This would have contributed to the retention of dramatic tension that, instead, bubbles up and then peters out at several points throughout the series. It is not helped by the fact that the characters of Deniz (Memet Ali Alabora), Ekin (Pinar Ögün), and Malan (Mali Ann Rees) were underserved by a subplot that lacked the same level of emotional investment as the main thread. And even in respect of the lead characters’ encounters, the pull-and-push of their developing relationship, though understandable in capturing Noni’s reticence, became increasingly frustrating. It simply took too long to progress, with the undesired effect being that, at points, the series felt like it was playing for time. By the time the revelations started to come out in episode five, they did not elicit the same degree of interest as they might otherwise have done had the narrative been pacier. As such, Fflam would have benefitted from an adaptation that condensed its source material into much more flavoursome half-hour chunks than we get here.

Overall then, Fflam has plenty of plus points to prevent it from being a damp squib even as it fails to set fire to the landscape of Welsh television drama. It is refreshing to see an image of Wales that is multicultural and inclusive played out onscreen, even if the presence of diverse characters only serve to circulate around a central narrative in which they play a limited part. Gwyneth Keyworth cements her status as one of Wales’ most exciting and talented screen actresses, with Richard Harrington and Mali Ann Rees again proving solid and reliable actors in their own right. If a second series is forthcoming, as expected, then Fflam has plenty of room for improvement. But it also still retains enough unrealised potential to warrant another chance.

Click here to watch the whole series.

Written by
Gareth Williams