Tag Archives: BBC

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, 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

Series Review, The Pact, BBC1, by Gareth Williams

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

 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

Interview with Welsh singer-songwriter Jodie Marie, as part of BBC Horizons’ ‘Tour of Wales’ 2021

Throughout the past week, BBC Horizons have been touring the nation, stopping off at some of Wales’ most treasured independent music venues to bring us a series of live sessions from some of the country’s top, upcoming musicians. From the mountain top venue of Neuadd Ogwen in Bethesda, to the Queen’s Hall in Narberth on the west coast, to the inner city hub of Le Pub in Newport, across seven days we have seen and heard the crucial role that Grassroots Music Venues (GMVs) play both in their local communities and in fostering the next generation of musical talent.

Artists who have performed across the week have included emerging artists from a wide range of genres: from hip-hop artist Mace the Great to rock band Those Damn Crows; stripped-back sessions from Ifan Pritchard and Rona Mac; and alt-pop from female duo Body Water and solo artist Malan. You can check out all the sessions here.

Here at Get the Chance, we caught up with singer-songwriter Jodie Marie, another of the artists who performed as part of this special project in association with Independent Venues Week. She chatted to us about the importance of the Queen’s Hall both as a music venue and community hub, the vital role that Horizons and BBC Radio Wales play in supporting home-grown talent, and the artists that have influenced her unique sound. She also reveals what we can expect from her upcoming new album, as well as what she’s been up to in lockdown.

To find out more about Jodie Marie and/or to pre-order her new album The Answer, released February 12th, click here.

To check out the full week of sessions, visit the Horizons website, or follow them on social media, where the team would love to hear your stories and experiences of GMVs, especially those in Wales.

The ‘Tour of Wales’ has been supported by Creative Wales and BBC Introducing, and is championed by the likes of BBC Radio Wales’ Adam Walton and Bethan Elfyn.

Series Review, In My Skin, BBC3 by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Don’t get me wrong. The first two episodes of Normal People were beautifully-crafted, and I am looking forward to watching the rest of the series. From this initial glimpse, I can see why it has received such high praise from critics and viewers alike. Whilst this show has been taking all the plaudits however, another BBC3 commission has been quietly going about its business. In My Skin may not have been given a privileged primetime slot on BBC1, but I would argue that its voice has been no less powerful than that of its highly-acclaimed stablemate. The series has just come to an end, hanging on a somewhat explosive cliffhanger that suggests a second series is already confirmed. If so, it is hugely deserved.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-whtGM4ybNg

In My Skin has been misunderstood in some quarters as being about popularity. I don’t believe that to be the case. In the main character of Bethan (Gabrielle Creevy), I found someone not wanting fame or even attention. In my eyes, she simply wants to be liked. As a result, she spins a web of lies surrounding her family in order to paint her life as an alternate reality wherein everything is “normal” and she is “ordinary”. She tells these lies to Poppy (Zadeiah Campbell-Davies), an archetypal Miss Popular, not because she desires to be with the in-crowd. It is not status that Bethan seeks but a relationship. She fancies Poppy. Part of this coming-of-age drama is the exploration of one’s sexuality. This is done with such gentle understatement as to capture a truth very rarely seen in fictional portrayals. The heterosexist narrative that presents same-sex attraction primarily (only) in terms of the closet is instead replaced here with a delicate acknowledgement of her sexual orientation. It is neither a problem nor a revelation; a source of pride nor of shame. It just is. And there is something quite beautiful and refreshing about that.

Some people may sigh at the thought of another teen-focused drama. Yet In My Skin places a spotlight on a corner of the world still underrepresented on television. Writer Kayleigh Llewelyn has talked about ‘wanting to recreate accurately the Wales we knew’. She has praised the likes of Ruth Jones (Gavin & Stacey, Stella) for capturing the ‘warm, broad characters’ of her homeland whilst taking this further, into the realm of traditional kitchen-sink drama, presenting ‘the grittier side’ found in the nation’s working-class communities. For all that I have delighted in the TV dramas emerging from Wales over the last decade, I must concede that most of these shows have been middle-class in nature. In My Skin takes us to the coalface, as it were; to life on a typical semi-urban street on a Welsh council estate. It doesn’t shy away from the challenges of Bethan’s home life, but it is also shot through with plenty of humour. Her dad (Rhodri Meilir) is an alcoholic; her mum (Jo Hartley) bipolar. In her Nan, played wonderfully by Di Botcher, Bethan finds a warm, witty and supportive companion. Hers is a world that is very rarely seen, yet represents for many an everyday reality. This is what the BBC, when it works, does best. We take it for granted at our peril.

Kayleigh Llewelyn

The relationship between Bethan and her mum is the pivot on which the series rests. Hartley is astronomical in her representation of bipolar disorder, giving a performance of such magnitude as to believe she was the real deal. It shows in the accuracy and detail of her portrayal that she has taken on board everything that Llewelyn sought to put across of her own experience. For her part, Creevy presents an inner strength to Bethan that both masks an underlying fear and grows out of a persistent love for her mother. She reflects the vulnerability of her character at the same time as drawing out a steely determination within her. In their relationship, we see the pain, joy, frustration, anger, humour, and love that bind them. It is harrowing, heart-rending, and inspiring. It is what makes the series tick. But like many of its fellow comic-noirs (Fleabag chief among them), its supporting cast are so well-rounded as to add pungency to the show’s centripetal force.

In My Skin is a complete and utter triumph. It deserves major plaudits too.

Click here to watch the full series.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, Handstand, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The first original TV drama of 2020 to emerge from Wales is a short one-off piece called Handstand. It may be quirky and slightly clichéd on the surface, but there is a dark underbelly that gradually reveals itself over the course of half an hour. Director Peter Watkins-Hughes has chosen to shine a spotlight on domestic abuse through what is essentially a love story between the hardworking and compassionate Luke (Darren Evans) and his new neighbour Sarah (Mabli Jen Eustace).

Evans and Eustace demonstrate a wonderful onscreen chemistry from the get-go, their characters’ first meeting being the perfect mix of socially awkward and humorously sweet. The telling camera angles and silently knowing looks to one another add to the sexual tension between them, whilst the synth-pop soundtrack and cinema setting coat their relationship in youthful possibility and nostalgic innocence respectively. It is this portrait of young love that makes the turning point in the story all the more dramatic and affecting, as Luke hears the raised voice of Sarah’s father, Alan, resonate angrily through the ‘shockingly thin’ walls of his bedroom. What follows is a moral dilemma centred on the public and private dichotomy, where the question of intervention is explored rather well, given the drama’s brief running time. Christian Patterson is excellent as the two-faced Alan, whose jolly exterior slowly slips away to reveal a manipulative man whose obsession with power and control is ultimately his undoing.

As a stand-alone piece, Watkins-Hughes has created something that is both entertaining and informative. It is also educational insofar as it deals with the subject of domestic violence, thereby reflecting the three Reithian ideals that the BBC was founded on. I believe that this is important to highlight as the BBC and its licence fee comes under increased scrutiny and ever sharper criticism. There is no doubt a conversation to be had about its future funding model, but I believe Handstand is an example of what publicly-funded broadcasting does best, supporting projects that have no commercial value but nevertheless tell important stories that need to be heard. It is also why public service broadcasting is needed, because without it, I fear that the voices wanting to tell such stories in Wales may be bereft of opportunities to do so in a media marketplace driven solely by profit.

Click here to watch Handstand.

gareth
Gareth Williams

Series Review, Hidden, BBC Cymru Wales by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

When one looks back over 2018, Keeping Faith is sure to come out on top in the world of Welsh television drama. It has been a huge success. Its latest stop on its incredible journey is primetime BBC One. It goes from strength to strength, and will certainly deserve all the accolades that come its way. In amidst all the hype of this brilliant series however, it has been easy to overlook another Welsh drama that has been airing over the past two months on BBC Wales and BBC Four respectively. Produced by the creator of another Welsh hit drama Hinterland, Ed Talfan, Hidden has been allowed to bubble away below the surface of Keeping Faith’s success. I would suggest that this is primarily because it is a crime drama. And though I would agree, to a certain extent, with some of the groans that accompany the thought of yet another one hitting our screens, it does at least offer something a little different. There is a slight spin on the achingly familiar.

The twist in Hidden’s tale is the revelation of the killer at the outset. The opening scene sees a girl running through the woods, pursued by an unknown man. This girl is subsequently found dead. The investigation that unravels across the whole of the series centres on finding this girl’s killer. Such a task is given to local detectives Cadi John (Sian Reece Williams) and Owen Vaughan (Sion Alun Davies). But whilst they are in the dark over the killer’s identity, the viewer is given unprecedented access into the life of Dylan Harris, played brilliantly by Rhodri Meilir. A strange, sensitive and brutalised figure, Harris lives with his mother and daughter in an old farmhouse deep within a forest of the Snowdonia National Park. It turns out that he is a serial abductor of young women. Having let his latest catch go, we witness his unsuccessful attempt at abducting a local farm girl. Then, as the pieces of the drama’s puzzle start to come together á la The Bridge, he claims the life of long-suffering student Megan Ruddock (a standout performance from Gwyneth Keyworth). What follows is a tense thriller that follows both the police investigation and Harris’ narrative simultaneously. As a result, it involves the viewer deeply in its various twists and turns over the course of its eight episode run.

Despite the fact that the central crime isn’t particularly original, Hidden remains worthy of some praise for the performances of two of its central actors: Rhodri Meilir and Gwyneth Keyworth. Episode four in particular, which is wholly focused on Dylan and Megan, is a deeply uncomfortable yet utterly compelling hour of television. It is made so by their noteworthy performances. Firstly, Meilir brings a vulnerability and gentleness to the role of Dylan that will be recognisable to fans of the sitcom My Family, in which he played the hapless Alfie. Yet this vulnerability and gentleness are subverted as a result of the abuse Dylan has suffered at the hands of his mother (Gillian Elisa). As a result, they manifest themselves in an extremely dark and dangerous way, far from the comforting confines of the Harper household. Meilir manages to express such complexity at the heart of his character in such a way that the viewer is both sympathetic yet repulsed by him. To extract such opposing emotions is testament to Meilir and his ability to play such a broken and complex figure. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Keyworth produces an emotionally raw performance as Megan, a student whose mental anguish (outwardly shown in the form of self-harm) is exacerbated by her abduction. It is an incredibly challenging role that Keyworth manages to embody wholeheartedly. As a result, she is powerfully believable as Megan. It is easy to forget sometimes, in the course of the series, that what is witnessed is a dramatic reconstruction. Keyworth plays it in such a way that it seems horribly real. For me, it is one of the most engrossing performances in a British TV drama this year.

With a stunning backdrop that shows off the bleak, mountainous terrain of North West Wales in all its magnificent and austere glory, Hidden may not be revolutionary but it is still worth watching. With some excellent performances from the cast and a slightly different take on the conventional crime narrative, it has enough going for it to keep viewers coming back for more. If you like your crime dramas dark and disturbing, then Hidden is certainly for you. It may not be Keeping Faith but it nevertheless showcases the fantastic talent coming out of Wales at the moment at every level, from production to acting, storytelling to editing. This is very exciting. With hopefully more fantastic ‘Made in Wales’ dramas to come, the Welsh TV landscape looks like going from strength to strength.

Click here to watch the full series.

gareth

Series Review, Keeping Faith, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Having just watched the final episode of Keeping Faith on BBC Wales, I’m asking myself: Is this a golden age for Welsh television drama? Hinterland was critically-acclaimed. Bang featured in the national press. Gwaith/Cartref continues to be a marker for quality Welsh-language drama. Parch has just entered its third series. And Craith will be broadcast in the English language later this year as Hidden. It appears that one cannot move for drama made in Wales. And it’s about time too. Gone are the days when S4C was presumed to be solely for first-language Welsh speakers. Once, BBC Wales-backed dramas were so few and far between that their broadcast almost felt like a national event. Now, subtitles are no longer a barrier, in large part thanks to the phenomenal success of The Killing. Meanwhile, BBC Wales will be following up Keeping Faith with Hidden later this year.

Of course, quantity does not automatically mean quality. However, in the case of the above, quality most certainly matches the output. In terms of Keeping Faith, this has not only been reflected in its incredible cast of Welsh actors but in the gripping storyline and its atmospheric soundtrack. So, if you haven’t managed to catch it yet, here are three reasons why you should go to BBC iPlayer and download the series:

Eve Myles

Fans of Torchwood and Broadchurch will already know the brilliance of Eve Myles. Personally, I’ve run out of superlatives to describe her acting skills. Here, she plays the lead character Faith, wife to Evan (Bradley Freegard), mother to three children, and a lawyer in her husband’s family firm. One Wednesday morning, her life is turned upside-down when Evan leaves home and disappears without trace. Over the course of the next eight episodes, we see this strong, no-nonsense woman face the most challenging emotional, professional and personal pressures of her life. In doing so, Myles produces a character of incredible complexity with seeming simplicity. She manages to wholly embody her character and, as such, Faith’s every expression is drenched in meaning. There is a moment in episode two, for instance, when her vacant stare manages to reveal a plethora of internal emotion. We see her frustration, pain, anger, sadness and confusion all packed tightly into that single expression. Only the best actors can convey so much through doing so little. This is not to say that Myles’ natural physicality does not also enhance the strength of her performance. There is a wonderful moment in episode six, in the boardroom of the law firm, where Faith’s frustration and joy is brilliantly conveyed through the movement of Myles. In this same episode, when Faith is in conversation with Gael Reardon (Angeline Bell), Myles moves so quickly from a smile to a frown that it adds a light humour to the serious nature of the circumstances. In so doing, we learn so much about her character. It is these small moments, in which so much is communicated, that make this such a standout performance. She really is one of the best actresses of her generation.

The Music of Amy Wadge

Alongside Eve Myles, the music has got to be the star of this show. It is beautifully constructed, weaving in and out of the series like the ripples of water in the opening titles. Written, composed and performed by Amy Wadge, it is gorgeous in its simplicity and captivating in its tone. It is a bit of a coup to land a woman who has written songs for some of the biggest stars in the music industry (Ed Sheeran and Kacey Musgraves among them). Yet her star quality is surely what elevates this soundtrack to become a powerful narrator within the series. Wadge has clearly spent time with the character of Faith, connecting so deeply with the character’s emotions that at times the music speaks what no dialogue could. As such, it perfectly complements Myles’ performance, even enhancing it at times. Before going out to buy the soundtrack however, I would recommend a listen to the Welsh translation, sung by Ela Hughes. If you like the originals, you will love these Welsh-language versions.

The Story

Keeping Faith is first and foremost a drama about family. The mystery of Evan’s disappearance may be the hook, but the central focus is on the family. To this end, Matthew Hall has enabled the series to steer the course of eight episodes without ever overstretching the plot twists or exhausting the narrative threads. It enables us to remain intrigued by the disappearance of Evan whilst giving us a fully formed world of characters all with secrets of their own. As a result, the central mystery becomes laced with other mysteries as the web of family affairs widens. It is not only the marriage of Faith and Evan that is put under the microscope, but those of Tom and Marion (Evan’s parents) and Terry and Bethan (Evan’s sister) too. Add a cast of corrupt police officers, a criminal underworld and a client that has feelings for Faith and there is no shortage of action. All that is left is to give a nod to some of the cast for bringing Hall’s intriguing narrative to life so vividly, among them Mark Lewis Jones (Stella), Aneurin Hughes (Hinterland) and Matthew Gravelle (Broadchurch).

What do you think? Is this a golden age for Welsh drama? And what are among your favourites? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments below).

Series Review, Broken, BBC by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
Father Michael Kerrigan is the latest name to add to the growing pantheon of priests appearing on our television screens in recent years. Following in the footsteps of Tom Hollander (Rev), James Norton (Grantchester) and Mark Williams (Father Brown) is another acting heavyweight, Sean Bean. Bean takes the lead role in writer Jimmy McGovern’s latest drama, Broken. The six-part BBC series has seen Kerrigan battling his own personal demons whilst acting as counsellor, social worker and friend to his parishioners. The narrative has been suitably gritty, tackling poverty and injustice unashamedly through the lens of social realism. It is, of course, what McGovern does best. It could even be argued that Broken is among his best work.
Sean Bean is a fascinating lead actor. He is utterly mesmerising here. The emotion etched on his face conveys perfectly the inner turmoil and wretched guilt of his character. There is no need for words. He makes Kerrigan so likable, so genuine. It is hard not to fall in love with his character. His flaws and his mistakes and his heartfelt pleas only increase our empathy for the man. Kerrigan is broken. Yet in his brokenness we see something of our humanity – for better and for worse.

The opening credits seem to capture this sense of conflict perfectly. It is so beautifully melancholic: the heart-rending tones of Nina Simone singing “Human kindness is overflowing/ And I think it’s going to rain today”. It is this overwhelmingly positive image streaked with an impending sense of despair that wonderfully encapsulates the stories at the heart of this drama. In particular, the investigation into the death of Vernon Oyenusi (Jerome Holder) places a focus on PC Andrew Powell (Mark Stanley) as he wrestles with the personal and professional consequences of telling the truth. He wants to do the right thing, but there is a cost for doing so.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSYgoC_Dgw4
McGovern finds rich material here. He touches on some of the hypocrisies of the institutional church. He tackles issues of homosexual acceptance and the morality of gambling. There is also the moment when Kerrigan faces up to one of his former teachers who, as we see in flashbacks, abused him. The lack of remorse shown by Father Matthew (Robert Gillespie) is infuriating to say the least. Yet Kerrigan’s response is measured. He doesn’t lash out in justifiable rage yet the emotional anger underneath is evident in this incredible exchange. Again, Bean’s acting is masterful.
The standout episode of this fascinating series has to be the fourth offering. It finds single mother Roz (Paula Malcomson) facing up to the reality of her fraudulent past. She owes over £200,000 to her employer and confesses to Father Michael that her only way out is to take her own life. It is complete dramatic perfection from McGovern: raw, heart-breaking, full of understated emotion and grounded in the ordinary reality of daily life. It is also where Broken becomes an ensemble piece rather than simply a protagonist-led drama.
Jimmy McGovern is a master at creating fully-formed and multi-layered characters. The leading light in this drama is certainly Kerrigan. However, as the series progresses, he becomes like the candle he lights to declare the presence of Christ. This simple yet powerful motif reflects Kerrigan’s role in the community: he is present amongst his parishioners but he is no superman solving all their problems. He is there for them, but he is helpless as much as he is helpful. He is part of their lives, but they have their own stories to tell – he does not define their decisions or determine their choices necessarily.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2fZcs82Xhs
The place that McGovern gives to Father Michael Kerrigan is far less certain than the clear morality of Sidney Chambers’ crime-solving world in Grantchester. Yet it is somewhat more assured than the struggle for relevance that faces Adam Smallbone in Rev. This is what makes Broken such a fascinating series, particularly in the canon of TV shows with a clerical protagonist. For McGovern, the church remains a place where hope is found. But this hope is expressed through the individual (Kerrigan) rather than the institution (as represented by Adrian Dunbar’s  Father Peter Flaherty). In this way, the final scene makes perfect sense. Being critical, it could be seen as a little too perfect, almost sentimental. Nevertheless, it still elicited a few tears from me in response.
Broken is an excellent and inspiring drama. It continues Jimmy McGovern’s reign as one of Britain’s best and most provocative of writers. The acting talents of Sean Bean, et al. only add to the sheer quality on display here. It is surely one of 2017’s best dramas.