Category Archives: Film & TV

Review: Life of Pi, Wales Millennium Centre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Press Night Oct 18th 2023 

‘A visual feast…’

Those who watched Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel will be familiar with the premise of Life of Pi. A young 16-year old boy from Pondicherry in India is launched into an epic adventure as the ship carrying his family and their zoo to a new life in Canada sinks – and he finds himself adrift in the ocean with only a fearsome Bengal tiger for company. 

Through the prism of Pi’s recollections later in a hospital ward, we hear how he survives 227 days at sea – and how the narrative which we come to believe – as bizarre and hallucinogenic it seems – is later completely turned on its head. 

This is a story exploring themes of religion, the complexities of people, the sanctity and sentience of animals and the sheer will to survive. The degree to which this stage adaptation adds to or takes away from both the book and Ang Lee’s film adaptation is up for debate, however. 

Previous reactions to the stage tour all seem to touch on this production being a “visual feast” or “an incredible visual adaptation”, “aesthetically pleasing” or that the puppeteers and animals steal the show. This is most certainly true – the production’s stunning set, magical special effects and masterful puppetry will wow the senses and pack a visual punch. 

But some of the book and film’s deeper delves into the philosophies of the human experience and the hypocrisies of religion are lost somewhat in this truncated stage adaptation. Speaking for myself and my father, seeing this stage show for the first time, we found ourselves disliking and feeling upset by some of the depictions of animal suffering. Truth be told, we can’t even stomach David Attenborough’s programmes these days.

This unease mind you, is probably a sign of the incredibly well-executed puppetry and choreography by the team. This did remind me also of the discomfort I felt watching Ang Lee’s film. So absorbed was I by the idea that the animals were suffering, I probably missed some of the intended broader points of the story. The highlight of this production, then becomes focused on the mode of delivery of the story rather than the story itself. Because the plot is pretty harrowing and – to quote a former colleague of mine who I bumped into in the show’s interval: “pretty grim”. 

This is not a stage show that will not exactly elevate or lift you as some productions can. It illustrates the difficult line writers and directors tread in that no creative really wants to spoon feed their audience and only serve up neat and today tales in a pretty little bow. But in the quest to make us think and engage us with what’s going on via the mechanisms of the stage production, we lose the potential to get under the skin of the characters and get to know them well. The characters become pawns for pondering the story, rather than characters you truly care about. Life of Pi is also an exploration of the stories we tell and how they come to form part of our “truth” – and as an audience you’ll be confronted with these idiosyncrasies in live time, preferring one version of “truth” over another. 

As an audience, we become desperate for those light moments of relief when Pi makes a quip, when the stars come out, when the glowing wiggly fish arrive because we’re reminded of the moments of light relief and beauty in a world that can be truly depressing and awful at times. As Pi tells Ms Okamoto in the hospital ward: “I’ve had a TERRIBLE journey…” 

Life of Pi in 2023 hits differently. You’ll think about how some things never change. When Pi’s family flee India due to the dangerous unrest (supposedly echoing Indira Ghandi’s 1976 declaration of “The Emergency”), you’ll ponder the plight of others in the world who now face becoming refugees in hostile territories, as we see playing out when the family are treated poorly by crew and passengers on route to Canada. 

Huge congratulations and oceans of praise must go to the energetic and engaging Divesh Subaskaran playing Pi. His physicality and presence in the lead role is stupendous, leaping from one side of the boat / bed to the other and embodying all of the trauma, hope and mania of Pi during his tumultuous journey across the sea. His stamina, his powerful voice, warmth and wit shine through even in the bleakest of times. You are rooting for him from the very beginning and willing for his terrible story to take a turn for the better. The chemistry and rapport between Divesh and Keshini Misha playing Pi’s sister Rani is sweet, offering up a ray of hope ahead of the family’s ill-fated journey. 

Finally, the purveyors of the visual magic in this show have to be set and costume designer Tim Hartley, Puppetry and Movement Director Finn Caldwell. The lighting, visual effects and projections in this production are wonderful thanks to Andrzej Goulding and Tim Lutkin. 

Life of Pi may not be an easy watch – but it’s certainly a beautiful one.

Review, Rebecca, Charing Cross Theatre, London by James Ellis    

Photo credit: Mark Senior

 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

After a hefty scandal in its original outing, the German take on the classic English book Rebecca as a musical has finally made it to London. Sadly, the curse which is synonymous with the story still leaves it mark…

The elegance and intrigue of Daphne Du Maurier’s tale has not translated well in this staging by Alejandro Bonatto. There is something of a pantomime about the whole thing. I can assume the budget was right for this, even with some practical use of quite a small stage, designer Nicky Shaw should get a shoutout for this. The songs by Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay have some charm and passion, but remain remarkably old fashioned. Precise extracts from the novel are present, yet it’s the generic vocal line and unappealing melodies which stand out. I spent over 14 hours listening to the audio book and it’s amazing how much was the story just stops and starts on stage. This tension does not always work when you have to take a break with songs.

The cast are vocally fine, with what they are given. I was pleased with the loud and proud ensemble who play the service staff, salty sailor types and Monte Carlo snobs. Our leading lady is never given a first name, the mark of Rebecca as Mr de Winter’s first wife looms over all. As “I”, said second wife is Lauren Jones who works well in the unassuming role. She puts up with a lot, curiously there is no mention of children or plans for any from either wife. Elements of Jane Eyre cannot be denied either. As Maxim de Winter, I wasn’t so convinced with Richard Carson, though dashing and subtly spoken. I didn’t really get the outbursts nor mental anguish from his time with Rebeca and here death. A singing voice that felt quite Les Mis, marginally less depressing than that show.

Kara Lane had fun as Mrs Danvers, perhaps the most fascinating living character in the story. Obsessed with Rebeca whom she always cared for, her singing reach absurd moments belting out the title characters name, some of the best moments in the show. The supporting cast varied from compassion to miscast. Some problematic aspects…the role of Ben who feels quite Sondheim like was played with conviction from an adorable David Breeds, his broken, mysterious, lines signs straight from the book. Sarah Harlington as Beatrice might be the best suited for any of these roles, Piers Bate as Frank Crawley getting little time to show sympathy in the ongoing scandal. Emily Apps as Clarice and Alex James-Ward as Rebecca’s cousin also worked well in the scattered pacing.

Its rare that I’m annoyed with a show. Rebeca deserved better.

Rebecca runs at Charing Cross Theatre till 18th November 2023.

Review, An Audience with Lucy Worsley on Agatha Christie, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

Photo credit: Hay Festival/Paul Musso

Perhaps best known for her documentaries on the telly, Lucy Worsley remains a vision of the past. It remains her openness, her determination to shed light upon these famous female figures throughout English history that is endearing. Her girlish charm, her sensible style and swift wit are what make you fall in love with her.

Her arrival to the Cardiff stage was everything I expected it to be and I was still elated. Gracing the space in a nymph like green and sparkly number, her time throught the night was on the murder mystery mistress Agatha Christie. All this to smoothly plug her new book, which people, bought in droves on the night. Impressive to hear that over a thousand tickets had been sold for the Cardiff talk alone.

Christie, here is given the full shake down by Worsley. Her upbringing in Torquay, two separate marriages swirled with affairs, archeology and aging gracefully. The might of her huge selling power in novels galore is commendable, though I’m thinking “was she truly a great writer?”, our presenter saying Murder in the Vicarage is a work of genius. It’s easy to tap into Agatha’s old psyche to see why she loved stories that involed murder and the mode of finding the killer. Work as a nurse during WWI, might pertian to certain horrors, her need to write with a driving force of creation her fuel. Catharsis unbounded.

Lucy makes a PowerPoint presentation funny, thoughtful and expectedly educational. Her reach spans far with TV work, books, live events and job at Hampton Court Palace. We won’t dare mention what a contractor once said to her when she was knocking about with her parasol one day! Though I must confess, I think I might respectfully disagree with Lucy over Christie’s famous disappearance. Her hubbie’s affair put her into an apparent fugue state, which resulted in a suicide attempt, hiding in a hotel for two weeks, alleged amnesia and apparently…a South African accent. If she was faking it, I doubt she could be blamed, her husband pushing her over the edge in mental and physical realms (she planned to force her car over some sand dunes). We are never ourselves in extraordinary circumstances.

Though I doubt I’ll be reading Lucy’s recent page flutter, this was a thoroughly good evening and meeting her after was a briefly, real delight, the longest queue behind me itching to meet her themselves.

Lucy Worsley continues on tour around the UK.

Agatha Christie by Lucy Worsley is available to buy now.

Review, The Martin Decker Show, A Kevin Jones/Keiron Self Co-production, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Covid lockdowns presented both challenges and opportunities for creatives. For actor Keiron Self and producer Kevin Jones, The Martin Decker Show was conceived in such a context and now reaches its climax in a 70-minute film. Shot almost entirely on iPhone and GoPro cameras, it is a witty and cleverly conceived mockumentary that parodies the self-made ‘stars’ of social media. It lightly pokes fun at the online world of gaming and fitness videos while telling a story that contains a real depth of emotion. I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to be both humorous and heartbreaking. It is by turns off-piste and tragic.

Fans of Self will recognise in his protagonist some of the hapless romanticism of another of his characters, Roger Harper, from the sitcom My Family, for which he’s best known. In Martin Decker though there is a repressed sadness behind the jollity that eeks out as the narrative progresses. This results in a story that is full of pathos, made all the more prominent by the comedy on which it is built. What is witnessed is, in essence, a mid-life crisis; a mental breakdown of sorts of a white, middle-aged man who refuses to accept that his wife no longer loves him. The film ingeniously points to this state of affairs: from the slightly rundown semi-detached dwelling to Martin’s loose-fitting appearance in shirt and tie, not to mention the many calamitous moments while filming videos for his YouTube channel. He is, in many ways, a reincarnation of Keith Barrett, actor-comedian Rob Brydon’s character in the sitcom Marion & Geoff. He certainly displays the same kind of false positivity that at once draws sympathy and pity. But there is also a growing insanity, presented in such an offbeat style that one is forced to laugh at him at times, in spite of oneself and his situation. Martin’s stubborn refusal to admit what is happening right in front of him becomes both the cause and effect of his comedic value. Add in the deadpan commentary of Lynne Seymour, who also plays Martin’s wife, and it is a recipe for pure entertainment.

There is a serious side though. For encased within scenes of Minecraft videos and tinselled-up cars are genuine moments of tragedy. They beat palpably through the silence which is held by Self with such deftness that it’s hard not to be emotionally struck by the hopelessness and humility of his personal circumstance. It comes to a head in the bathroom, where most of Martin’s videos have been shot. He hides in a cupboard from whom he thinks is his wife’s new fella when, in fact, it is her. There is something incredibly poignant about her message to him, delivered, as it is, via the very camera that he has used to form his own YouTube channel. The consequence, when he finally faces up to reality, is so simply and beautifully done that one is left to admire, with satisfaction, a film of unexpected depth and genuine charm.

The Martin Decker Show may start with its protagonist faking applause for his own show. But by the end, this real audience member was clapping authentically, so impressed was I by this lockdown creation.

For more info, including cinema screening dates, click here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Barbie by James Ellis 

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Barbie, Dir: Greta Gerwig. 12a, 114 mins

The summer of 2023 in cinema circles will be best remembered for the bizarre joining of the forces of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s take on Barbie. Both released on the same day, “Barbenheimer”, as it’s been dubbed might just save the cinema after all, this double feature proudly making millions and creating debates on both films themes.

Unsurprisingly, Barbie the film has rilled up all the wrong people and we are here for it. Some declaring it woke, anti-men, sexist, alt-right and everything in between. With some sprawling marketing, the film has cleverly trudged through the premise of making an actual Barbie film, made by the its creators Mattel. We didn’t need this back in 1990’s, The Simpsons episode ‘Lisa vs. Malibu Stacey’ perfectly captured the thoughts of many. Todd Haynes infamous Karen Carpenter film will never be released due to the use of her unlicensed music, brilliantly uses Barbie dolls to tackle the eating disorders of its leading lady. We’ve had Babrie be used and discussed as above, yet this is her first official feature. Does it work?

Greta Gerwig has made the right Barbie film for our current climate. Unafraid to poke fun at men, Mattel, misogyny and more. Her and Noah Baumbach have written a strange and genuinely funny script which at times pops as much as the tower of pink we as an audience cannot escape. The sets and costumes here are as hyper and over the top as you’d expect. Margot Robbie could only ever be perfect as this Barbie, what might be her most delightful role for some time. She is baffled as to why she after living her perfect life, is now feeling depressed and getting cellulite. Sent to the quirky Kate McKinnon as Oracle like Weird Barbie (a nod to the children who played too rough with their dolls). She tells Barbie to go out into the real world and find the child who is actually playing with her.

What follows is often sharp and so anti-men, I went along with it knowing it was in good humour. Stealing the show is Ryan Gosling as Ken, who is bound to win awards for his take on the role. The lavish musical number “I’m just Ken” is destined for an Oscar nom as well. Ryan embraces everything wrong with toxic men, feeling useless in Barbieland and then empowered by the patriarchy in our own world. It’s outrageous just how much Barbie is harrassed the moment she arrives in our realm, a groper she hits, instantly lines her up for a mugshot, with a joyous Ken.

I had a thought that a plot twist boy would be playing with this Barbie, but it turns out it’s the mother Gloria, who has started to play with Sasha, her daughter’s dolls. Some sweet and apt moments occur between Anerica Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt, yet it’s not why we are here. The lack of conflict and a villain slows down the dynamics of the film too. It could have shaved off some ten minutes aside. Will Ferrell as the Mattel CEO, is his typical, giddy self, though him fainting on the corporate board table might just be his funniest moment in the film. An ensemble of other Barbies, Kens and other odd casting choices adds style, dirty jokes and a well needed diversity to proceedings. Michael Cera playing as Alan, Ken’s friend who had a limited release as a doll, is clever casting as he defines the nervous, other guy at the party that is Barbieland. Helen Mirren is underplayed as a matter of fact, yet catty narrator, first heard in the opening Space Odyssey parody.

The film is rife with Barbie lore, spanning decades: the dolls they would rather forget and the cult ones they are happy to wink at. Many an Easter egg is to be found here and there are some sweet scenes concering Barbie’s creator that I won’t spoil. Even if some of her rhetoric is out dated and questionable.

Also, it has to be said that this is isn’t really a children’s film (it’s a 12a), unless parents are willing to answer some big questions they might be faced with during and after a screening. The last line of the film caught me right off guard.

Barbie is out now on general release.  

Review Meltdown, Johnny Jewel & Zola Jesus, Southbank Centre by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Southbank would simply Meltdown from the heat. This year’s fest sees Christina and the Qeens platforming an array of lush artistic activity. Our warm up for Johnny Jewel was Zola Jesus.

Zola arrived on stage, vamp and punk and I was in love. She said she rarely uses piano and was treated to a concert grand, she couldn’t believe her luck. With wild operatic vocal and an easy pop aura, I found myself taken unawares. Her own songs were introspective and honest. I never expect to hear Dido’s Lament by Purcell. Folk songs were also offered from Ukraine and Armenia. She has this extasic quality about her. Most certainly the discovery of the festival. I’d love to hear more feverish opera!

The main event was Johnny Jewel, best known for his work on the new Twin Peaks from David Lynch. His set used clips from the films he worked on, Lost River, Bronson and Drive aside old horror including The Nude Vampire and A Bay of Blood. It’s the piercing synths and all round heightened flair that Johnny brings to his sound world. Tell Me a stunningly touching song with vocals from Saoirse Ronan was heard near the end and I’m so glad it was. The spine tingling saxophone solo for his Windswept in Twin Peaks The Return was a real highlight, with video from the whole of the show’s run. His bow at the end appeard to have broken him, back bent for a durational period.

What an utter thrill to hear live. Won’t you come back, Jonnhy?

Meltdown runs till 18th June 2023

Review, Steeltown Murders, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Steeltown Murders may be yet another Welsh drama in the ever-popular crime genre, but it is very well done on the whole. Telling the true story of how DNA was used in a pioneering way to solve a cold case in Port Talbot, it flits between the 1973 setting of the murders of three girls and the early 2000s with ease. Starring Philip Glenister, whose accent was nicely perfected through immersion into his Welsh roots, alongside Steffan Rhodri, who play the chief investigating officers, it is a drama that is understated, and effective as a result. Verisimilitude permeates its presentation, and is its greatest strength.

The aesthetic is beige and brown, particularly in its 1970s scenes. The “present” day has a drop more colour but remains blunted by a noirish sensibility. It suits the story and the location well, the unsolved murders hanging over the families and wider community like the smoke from the factories. When music is used, it is in a typically melodramatic way, especially over highly emotional scenes and end-of-episode montages featuring the various characters that come into play. The cast is large, a result of spanning over two timelines partly, but even when each is considered separately, Steeltown Murders feels like an ensemble rather than a two-man show. Glenister’s DCI Paul Bethall is well-drawn – strong-willed, single-minded, haunted by the past – as is Rhodri’s DC Phil Bach – dry-humoured, attentive, poised. But even bit-part characters such as Seb, played by Matthew Gravelle, husband to Sita (Natasha Vasandani), who was two of the girls’ friend, is complete enough to add real weight to the narrative, particularly in its final episode. Whether this is down to its basis in real events, and therefore people, is open to question but, even in spite of this, every actor appears to embody their character with respective heart and attentiveness.

There is the slight criticism towards exposition, and explanation of the forensic and scientific methods that sound plainly for the audience’s benefit. This takes away slightly from its realism which is nevertheless strengthened by the localised accents on show and a bilingualism which, though under-used, was still welcome insofar as representation is concerned. Never for a moment can Glenister be thought of as merely a star signing, his commitment to the role and the overall drama depicted as much in Bethall’s seriousness as his relationship with Steffan Rhodri. The two make a great pairing, sparring off one another with an ease and respect that lightens the dark tone of the narrative. They never dominate the screen however, meaning that the case itself always takes centre-stage even when their part in it is pivotal.

This four-part drama may not be ground-breaking in-and-of itself but Steeltown Murders does tell a ground-breaking story of how DNA technology was used to catch a killer. As such, it is simple but effective; good at what it does, without breaking any new ground.

Click here to watch the series on BBC iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review Joe Pera, Soho Theatre, London by James Ellis 

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Joe Pera: Spring in the Midwest and Rustbelt PT IV – Spring in the UK & Europe 

Out of all the comics around today, Joe Pera might just be one of the most unique. His gentle comedy stylings might not be to everyone’s taste, though those that do simply love him. After viral success and a HBO series lasting three seasons, he seems unstoppable. Having not been seen in the U.K. since 2016, his new stand up tour comes with these many triumphs on is shoulders.

It remains the subtlety he brings to his act that makes it so funny. Earnest and frank observations would make him appear twice as old as he looks, perhaps even three times older. His gait, posture, hand gestures and accent might make you feel like you’ve time travelled to the 1950s. He looks like he might fall over, his back slightly bent as if he has done heavy lifting all day. It’s very easy to fall in love with him, he cannot be seen as anything but adorable. 

Now, I never expected to be riffing with him during his performance. I was dubbed the guy from Wales and we have many a good back and for, Joe even coming out of character a few times, lost in my remarks and swipes. I have to say I didn’t let myself down, I just embraced the energy of the night, this being a London audience I wanted to let them know they had some Welsh in. Joe admitting his recent comparisons to Jeffrey Dahmer on TikTok seems to loom over him, the image of a densely accented, softly spoken, blonde, glasses wearing man cannot be denied. Welsh water came up for some reason and I also recall a conversation about The Sopranos TV show. What a joy! I blame the wine…

It remains the jolt of the old school with Joe, finding beauty in the simple things in life, the mundane, everyday sort of experiences and encounters. This is a spiritual experience for the soul, the genius of this comedian lies in the pacing, volume control and of course, soft wit. 

He cleverly subverted expectations by ending with a fairly filthy and shocking monologue, something I never thought would pass his lips. The love of his United States is always with him, though in his tender own way of expression. We could learn a lot from him out of life.    

I do have to wonder what would have been the act more had I not embraced the vibe of the night, Joe seems to work an audience very skilfully. Speaking to him after he seemed delighted in the good ribbing we both gave each other. He said their was a chance he could have performed in Cardiff in a festival, which was an exciting prospect. We hope he can make it to Wales next time. 

I award this show 5 stars or as Joe would say himself: “10 OK’s…..” 

Many thanks to Soho Theatre for letting me see Joe’s final performance in London. 

Joe Pera continues on tour to Bristol, Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Europe & the U.S. 

Review Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby,Ballet Rambert, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Ballet Rambert, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Writer and Creator: Steven Knight, CBE

Choreographer and Director: Benoit Swan Pouffer

Composer and Orchestration: Roman GianArthur

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

No need to stress if you didn’t watch the TV series.  Ballet Rambert’s Peaky Blinders is in a class of its own, unique both as a production and as a dance form. Although danced in the main in contemporary dance style with more than a touch of street dancing – razors, knives etc – choreographer and director Benoit Swan Pouffer uses classical dance moves too. Not only uses them but dares to improvise, building on to the traditional with innovative use of classical ballet moves – with a dancer even performing a plié in mid-air.

Beginning with a brilliantly depicted scene from the battlefields of World I, the ballet moves through the life of one Tommy Shelby down the years, showing through him the ways in which those who fought in this horrendous war were affected throughout their lives even in they survived – a living death, as it were.  As it moves on through the post-war years, Tommy’s life segues into a violent world full of murders and gang warfare, with knives and razors flashed – the latter hidden in and the raison d’ètre for – the peaked caps that gave the gang its name. This historically accurate production is not for the faint-hearted, but is well worth taking a deep breath and immersing oneself in what it portrays through dance form.

Creator Steven Knight, who wrote the original script for TV and together with Pouffer, adapted it into dance form, uses a live band on stage throughout for gunfire, air raid sirens and a plethora of music and sounds which works well in tandem with ever-changing themes composed and orchestrated by Roman GianArthur. Natasha Chivers’ lighting aids and abets, of particular note being the scene with searchlight beams and in the second half where an opium-fuelled Tommy descends into a living hell.  Benjamin Zephaniah’s voiceover is both necessary and succinct, while set designer Moi Tran’s clever sets lend an authentic and atmospheric touch throughout: a colourful carousel lends a light touch for one scene. Having the dancers on two levels gives additional scope but at this venue means that audiences in stall seats are unable to see the dancers’ legs!  Ben Zephaniah’s voiceover is both necessary and well done but pre-recorded vocals – recordings of different tracks which, despite being relevant, are over-loud for much of the time.  

The love story between Shelby and his long-time sweetheart disappears and resurfaces throughout lending a necessary lightness of touch, as does a great scene in the second half with dancers dressed in costumes by costume designer Richard Gellar reminiscent of photos of Marilyn Monroe in her early days (a la Moulin Rouge or Talk of the Town for those old enough to remember these iconic London night spots!)

Ballet Rambert is justifiably famed for the high standard of its dancers, and this production underlies this with memorable moves executed with skill. Mention must be made here, in addition to the expertise of the dancers – notably Naya Lovell, Simone Damberg Würtz and Caiti Carpenter -of Musa Motha who, despite losing a leg to cancer when he was just ten years old, does not let that factor deter him in any way, resulting in a performance that is a privilege to watch not only for its depiction of the role but its perfection of technique.

Runs until Saturday March 25th at Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff, then touring.

Review, Y Sŵn, a Swnllyd/Joio/S4C film, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What a fascinating film Y Sŵn is. No sooner has its writer, Roger Williams, struck gold with cult horror Y Gwledd than his Midas touch turns to the marking of forty years of S4C with this: a striking production that is as offbeat and realist, telling the story of how the Welsh TV channel came into being. Featuring an all-star cast of Welsh natives who perfectly attune themselves to playing key public figures of the time, it successfully immerses itself in the optimism and rancour of Margaret Thatcher’s first-term as Prime Minister. Full of energy and a bursting palette of colour, it truly marks itself as a distinctly British yet uniquely Welsh film.

The aesthetic right from the get-go resembles that of Killing Eve. In big bold letters, we are introduced to CARDIFF. The year is 1979 and there is a rich seam of colour which paints a positive picture of urban Welsh life. Ceri Samuel (Lily Beau) works at the Welsh Office, taking us into a shiny Mad Men-style series of corridors and meeting rooms where we are also introduced to key players in the civil service and government. The clever contrast between the ebullient colour of the former and monochrome presentation of the latter quickly marks out the heroes and villains of the piece. It also represents the vitality and strength of a nation against a stuffy and outmoded political leadership. Other forms of pop art appear throughout to give the film a slightly off-kilter, comedic edge. This sets it apart from the more fictionalised social realism of films like Pride to become a self-referential melodrama that nevertheless manages to maintain a sense of seriousness in respect of the story it wishes to tell.

The fine balance between dramatic and comedic forms is supremely kept by the onscreen talent. Assisted by the magnificent make-up and wardrobe departments, each character stands at an acute junction between verisimilitude and caricature. Willie Whitelaw is perfectly realised in the bushy eyebrows pinned and preened on Mark Lewis-Jones’ face. Sian Reese-Williams ensures a finely-pouted, drably-accented portrait of a scruffy-haired Iron Lady. Rhodri Meilir could turn up his pristine English act no more as Welsh Secretary, Nicholas Edwards. They play the part of authority figures straight enough to make them believable whilst subtly exaggerating them to undermine the abuse of power which leads to their attempts to back down on a manifesto pledge to establish a Welsh language television channel. In contrast, Carys Eleri plays Ceri’s superior with an effervescent humour that makes her a sympathetic character. Eiry Thomas plays devoted wife Rhiannon with enough emotional heart that belies her stereotypical dress. And Rhodri Evan brings a warm smile and gentle demeanour to troubled protagonist Gwynfor Evans to ensure his battle against the political might of Downing Street and Whitehall is portrayed with sufficient weight so as not to become a trivial matter. This is an important story albeit told in a highly imaginative way.

Y Sŵn represents the very best of Welsh filmmaking, in both its content and production. The ending is a surprising yet interesting one, paying homage as well as subverting an oft-derided formula. Its effect is heart-warming, in such a way as to instil a sense of pride in Welsh identity, complete with self-deprecation and humour. It also speaks to the small budget with which it was made, creatively used and referenced in the 4:3 home-movie ratio. You wouldn’t know it though from its professional and glossy finish. Y Sŵn is a real labour of love which stands among the best in contemporary British cinema.

Y Sŵn is showing in selected cinemas throughout March 2023. Click here to find out more.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams