Tag Archives: BBC3

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

5 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

Review, In My Skin, Series 2, BBC3, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The second series of In My Skin has really got under my skin these past few days. Content simply to watch at first, I’ve found myself itching to write something in response after a final episode in which the emotional pull of this award-winning drama really tugged at the heartstrings. I laughed. I cried. I smiled at the poignancy and hope with which this coming-of-age story signed off. Writer Kayleigh Llewelyn has really captured something special with this semi-autobiographical series. And actor Gabrielle Creevy and crew have brought it beautifully to life.

Kayleigh Llewelyn

From the continued subtlety with which sexuality is explored and presented, to its unashamed yet understated presentation of Welshness, the second series of In My Skin matches the achievements of the first. It does come across as much more arthouse in both pace and aesthetic than its predecessor. Yet this slow burn, highly-polished look only gives it a gravitas that adds to the verisimilitude which made it so relatable and ruinous to begin with. Bethan (Creevy) is still living out a compartmentalised existence, where her efforts to keep family and friends separate are increasingly tested this time around. Her mum Trina (Jo Hartley), in recovery from bipolar, is found to be working at the bingo by best friends Travis (James Wilbraham) and Lydia (Poppy Lee Friar). Her father (Rhod Meilir), still an abusive alcoholic, becomes the subject of taunts by class clown Priest (Aled ap Steffan) after his devastating actions toward his wife’s secret lover are found out. Meanwhile, her blossoming relationship with Cam (Rebekah Murrell) sees the roots of shame surfacing from beneath her steely exterior. All this forces Bethan to face up to who she is and where she comes from.

Rebekah Murrell (Cam) and Gabrielle Creevy (Bethan)
(C) Expectation – Photographer: Huw John

This emergence and gradual acceptance of personal identity is both beautiful and heartrending to watch. The scenes between Bethan and Cam become increasingly delicate as their relationship develops. More artistic shots, close-ups, movements, and softer conversations bring to mind the craftsmanship of Normal People. They help to convey a vulnerability in Bethan that has so far been hidden but that Cam gently draws into the light. Such tender compassion is matched only by Trina, whose fragility may lead to a relapse in the wake of husband Dylan’s actions, but is also a source of strength in her daughter’s time of need. In one of the most grace-filled scenes of dialogue, in the final episode, within the space of a few minutes, I found myself reduced to tears as she responds to Bethan’s brokenness with a touching recollection of love, failure, and hope. Creevy and Hartley are simply sublime in this incredible mother-daughter exchange. Their conversation is painted onto the camera lens with such gentle brushstrokes as to form the most exquisite piece of sacrificial art. It begins a chain of events which, though numerous and rich enough to warrant a further episode, nevertheless see Bethan find her wings and set off via coach for a new life in London town. The look-to-camera right at the end, complete with a modest, appreciative smile, only adds to the positive vitality which imbues these final moments of a series that will be sorely missed but has ended on a high.

Gabrielle Creevy

In My Skin is an extraordinary piece of television. It has made stars of Gabrielle Creevy and Jo Hartley. Kayleigh Llewelyn has brought something magical to the screen. I thought I’d said everything that there was to say about this wonderful drama. Turns out, in light of series two, I needed to say a little bit more.

Click here to watch the full series.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Series Review, In My Skin, BBC3 by Gareth Williams

5 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.

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