Tag Archives: BBC Cymru Wales

Review, Mammoth, BBC Wales, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The premise of Mammoth is far-fetched. But go along for the ride and this Welsh sitcom doesn’t disappoint. More funfair than theme park, its zaniness takes time to get used to. Once in the flow of Mike Bubbins’ world though, there emerges a strange empathy for his protagonist, resulting in a desire to return for more. It is a shame then that three episodes is all the BBC could muster.

The first episode is a whirlwind narrative. If the task was to squeeze in the life and times of Tony Mammoth in 25 minutes then it succeeds. But not without its fast pace feeling like a rush job. We go from his resurrection on the side of a ski slope, after being buried for 40 years underneath an avalanche of snow, to his reappointment as a PE teacher at Nowlan High School in the blink of an eye. Add in the quirky comedy and it’s possible for all this to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is not until the revelation, at the end of the episode, of Sian Gibson’s doting and overprotective parent as his daughter, that the programme settles and gains traction. Episode two certainly feels more stable even as the humour remains offbeat.

Most of the laughs arise in the dissonance between Mammoth’s 1970s worldview and the liberalisation of a 2020s UK. He is a boozer, pipe-smoker and womaniser, in a world no longer chugging back beers or treating women as objects. He struggles to come to terms with the fact that his boss is not only a woman but a lesbian too. Mali Ann Rees is suitably dismissive as Lucy, despairing in his attempts to connect with out-of-date references and inappropriate behaviour. She is the straight woman to his not-so-wise guy, a partnership that works and even finds slight affection blossoming between them by the end of episode three. Gibson, for her part, delivers an enraged performance opposite Bubbins’ calm exterior which also leads to funny moments filled with fondness. One cannot help feeling for Mammoth even as his views verge from the baffling to the squeamish. In this regard, he follows in the footsteps of other self-absorbed but strangely-lovable male leads, from Glyn Tucker (The Tuckers) to Ben Harper (My Family) and Victor Meldrew (One Foot in the Grave).

For so short a run, this sitcom is awash with verbal and visual tropes. Always playing with the generational difference, it is often the simple exchanges that invite the biggest smiles. The fact that he says “over” at the end of each correspondence at the drive-thru, he gives a pupil “10p [to get] a Marathon from the tuck shop”, and plays music to his class via a tape recorder all add to the ambience with charming effect. Then there’s the playing of “Burn Baby Burn” at his friend Barry’s funeral, giving a rabbit CPR on a wellness retreat, and riding into a café on a horse for daughter Mel’s birthday, that make his world peculiarly comical. It is not without its touching moments though. When fellow friend Roger (Joseph Marcell) poignantly sings the theme tune to Blankety Blank before he scatters Barry’s ashes, the tragedy of the situation is deeply felt, even as it remains absurd.

The ending is a good one, hopefully indicating at the promise of more. For most sitcoms take a while to get going and hit their stride. Mammoth is no different. Mike Bubbins has created a prime candidate for a great British sitcom character. There is enough here to warrant further. It may be odd but it is likably so. Hyperbole at its finest.

Click here to watch the series on BBC iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Pren ar y Bryn/Tree on a Hill, S4C/BBC Wales, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

“Hell’s Bells” is the phrase that sticks from Pren ar y Bryn / Tree on a Hill. “Bingo” too. Both are utterances of Clive, a quirky character, played by Rhodri Meilir, who is representative of this offbeat drama. Filmed in Welsh and English, the former went out on S4C around Christmas whilst the latter appeared on BBC Wales from Easter. And though both are fairly similar, there is something about Cymraeg that offers an eccentricity not quite matched in its Saesneg counterpart.

Right from the start, the programme is off-piste. The presence of a model village is symbolic of a dream-like quality that permeates into the lives of Penwyllt’s real-life inhabitants. The brass and percussion instruments of the soundtrack, resembling arhythmic, improvised jazz, add to its oddness with their chaos. It is at once tragic and comic – a duality that runs through the series like a winding river. The titles are reminiscent of a B-movie; and indeed, complete with the music and faded colour palette, could have easily come from the 1950s. The addition of a rather outlandish murder plot and several strange occurrences mean that, in some ways, Pren ar y Bryn / Tree on a Hill is quite unique in the contemporary TV landscape.

Ed Thomas

It would be no surprise to find The Singing Detective as an influence upon the creators of this drama. It is certainly very different to the more serious and sombre work of producer Ed Thomas (Hinterland, Bregus). Here, he takes the elements of a classic whodunnit and turns them inside out. He borrows from the absurd of sitcom, the emotion of kitchen sink drama, the aesthetic of arthouse film, and even a little from the genre of horror, to create not just a narrative but a whole world that is strange and surprising, silly and sinister. Meilir, for his part, brings a wide-eyed innocence to his role. Deadpan, emotionally understated, yet physically expressive alongside Nia Roberts, who is beautifully awkward as his wife Margaret. Richard Harrington is perhaps the only straight-talking member of the cast as Glyn, the catalyst on which this fabulous yarn unravels. Yet even he is used in a subtle exploration of mental illness that comes to define most of the characters here. Themes of loneliness and change and liberation all feature in a drama that is both brilliantly barmy but with surprising emotional depth. A dead body in a basement freezer is the best description (without giving too much away) of its sliding scale between the ordinary and surreal.

Watch Enid a Lucy, Dal y Mellt and Y Sŵn, even The Way, and you will find a penchant for the off-kilter, ironic, and darkly comic in Welsh drama. The spectral and otherworldly nature of realist pieces like Parch, Yr Amgueddfa and Gwledd also feel very representative of a certain aesthetic that continues into Pren ar y Bryn / Tree on a Hill. Such ingredients somehow work better when the Welsh language is weaved into them – something in its rhythm and pace and tone that differs from the English; that contains a sense of mystery and magic that forms part of the nation’s identity. In which case Pren ar y Bryn is recommended as the preferred watch. Though Tree on a Hill doesn’t miss out on so much that it can’t be just as enthralling.

Click here to watch either series (Welsh or English) on BBC iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Life and Death in the Warehouse, BBC Cymru Wales, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The first thing to say is that nobody dies. Yet that is hardly a ringing endorsement of the working practices on show in Life and Death in the Warehouse. The BBC Cymru drama lays bare the secret world of online distribution centres. And for anyone used to the quick and easy clicks of internet shopping, this is a must-see to make you think twice before placing your next order with Amazon. It makes for hard-hitting and eye-opening television. This is the worst of consumer capitalism.

Megan (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) has been accepted on a fast-track graduate scheme at her local centre. Becoming a trainee manager, she is tasked with ensuring that her team of workers keep up to speed with their daily ‘pick rate’. She is required to monitor their movements constantly via CCTV, praising those who exceed the target and calling out the ones who fall behind. Childhood friend Alys (Poppy-Lee Friar) becomes one of the latter when she confines in Megan that she is pregnant. Instead of receiving assistance and the appropriate support however, Alys is subjected to a ‘personal enhancement plan’ that remains fixated on the numbers at the expense of her health and wellbeing. It is hard to believe that companies operating in 21st Century Britain would treat workers in this way. Yet as it declares from the outset, “This film is inspired by hundreds of real stories”. To say it is shocking then is an understatement.

Director Joseph Bullman ensures that there are plenty of close-ups, with the majority of shots trained on the faces of the actors to capture the intensity, pressure and emotional strain that their characters are under. It means that their environment is pushed right up against the screen. There is no getting away from it. We become embroiled in the ideology of this high-performance workplace, not only witnessing its effect on Megan and Alys but being subjected to it in some way ourselves such is the visceral nature of the storytelling. Edwards brings an incredible vulnerability to her role. She is at once very different from her infamous turn as Esme Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet in spite of her obvious nerves and eagerness to please, there is something of the steeliness of that character that seeps in as the drama progresses. It becomes a negative force in this instance however, used to block out a compassionate and caring side to Megan in keeping with the ‘customer-fixated’ culture that she finds herself trapped in. Friar, for her part, puts in a noteworthy performance as one who experiences the most extreme impact of that culture. The gradual decline in Alys’s physical ability to undertake the tasks at hand, and the increasing level of stress she finds herself under, is acutely felt, in part due to Friar’s concentrated effort to keep her character’s emotions in check against a backdrop of sustained bombardment under which the exhaustion, tears and pain slowly to show.

In a sense, both of these characters are subject to the injustices of a system that exploits, dehumanises, and almost kills them. The obsession with media PR over and above medical concern for an employee is but one unbelievable instance that breeds anger in the heart of the viewer. To understand this as reality takes some coming-to-terms-with, not least in the face of the preposterous responses of the management team. Yet Craig Parkinson (Danny) and Kimberley Nixon (Donna) play their roles with such deliberate ease that the manipulation and false empathy emanating from their characters’ intentions becomes entirely plausible. It makes one very aware of the insidious nature of language; and how it can creep unsuspectingly into relationships.

Life and Death in the Warehouse brings us the best in factual drama. It shines a daring light onto the unseen but now-necessary world of warehouse workers who are at the coalface of our online purchasing habits. It finds the companies who ‘employ’ them, “Some… you will know, others you won’t have heard of”, seriously wanting. Bullman directs in the same unrelenting way as he did with its predecessor, The Left Behind. Meanwhile, Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Poppy Lee Friar lead a superb majority-Welsh cast in depicting the dark side to our unrelenting consumerism. It should make us pause a moment and take note. It should even make us turn to look for something better. It shows that the rights fought so hard for in the past are in danger of so easily slipping away.

Click here to watch on iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams