Tag Archives: drama

Review, The Way, BBC Wales, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Its title is perhaps deceiving. For there are many ways to describe The Way. Realist, certainly, but both magic and social. Incorporating documentary-style shots with archive footage. Alluding constantly to myth and legend. And that fine line between the supernatural and the imagined. All such elements contribute to what feels like something that wants to be epic. But there are so many strands to this drama that sometimes it drowns in its own details instead.

As Michael Sheen’s directorial debut, it isn’t too bad. It is not so disjointed as to be lacking any concept. The problem is that there are too many big and weighty themes being handled. Boil it down to the Driscolls – the family at the centre of this drama – and it becomes understandable. A fractured and broken unit, the four of them are forced to work together when Port Talbot becomes a site of insurrection, for which mam Dee (Mali Harries) and son Owen (Callum Scott Howells) are largely to blame. In this alternate-reality, they have no choice but to flee their country, seeking to cross the border (which is hard and fast here) into England, and on to daughter Thea’s husband Dan in Germany (played by Sophie Melville and Aneurin Barnard respectively). Their journey is strangely perilous, avoiding road blocks and any kind of surveillance in very familiar countryside and townscapes. It is a bit like watching Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto’ trilogy but without the humour. Everything is a lot more serious here. As if Sheen wants to create a contemporary version of a Classic tale: a 21st Century Mabinogion, if you will. But this lofty ambition is perhaps pushed too far, with hyperbolic tendencies that create, at worst, confusion, and at best, fascinating melodrama.

Lead actor Steffan Rhodri brings a pathos to dad Geoff that keeps the drama believable. He handles his character’s unresolved grief and melancholic temperament with a natural ease that catches the eye. In contrast to Mark Lewis-Jones’ hammed up performance as Union man Glynn and Luke Evans’ suitably brooding but underwhelming appearance as mercenary Hogwood, Rhodri embodies an everyman persona that keeps The Way grounded in its otherwise flittering state. For amidst the jump cuts, involving security cameras, social media sites, and news flashes, there are also talking teddy bears, Carry On clips, and prophetic dreams. But whilst on one level it could be described as strange, there is also a prescience to it that remains real. None more so than with the threat of job losses at the steel plant. Sheen is not content with just a standard social commentary on this issue though. He incorporates immigration, nationalism, Thatcherism, and nostalgia into a story that also wishes to say something about the nature of story itself. Not self-referentially but in the wider sense of Wales as a land of story and song.

Everything is done with good intention. But it doesn’t always result in translation. There are times when, for example, the life of the steel plant would work better as spoken metaphor, and the final monologue more affective, in the context of theatre. The Way almost shows us too much and, in doing so, doesn’t say enough. It rightly has one family at its core but a tendency to reach wider causes it to lose sight sometimes of this feature. The Way still manages to be entertaining though. Just a shame that it’s Michael Sheen’s name that gives it kudos rather than his direction or the drama itself.

Watch the full series on BBC iPlayer here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Series Review, Bariau, S4C by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Bariau is the latest series to enter the realm of prison drama. With Time and Screw already making a mark in their respective ways, it is the turn of S4C to put a Welsh spin on the subgenre. Bariau follows the blueprint of the other two insofar as real-life stories inform the onscreen narratives. Verisimilitude is in vogue when portraying life behind bars these days. But while Bariau does not shy away from the dark realities, its soap-like presentation makes for palatable viewing.

The casting of Adam Woodward (Hollyoaks, Emmerdale) as Kit Brennan ensures that Bariau entertains popular appeal. He brings a slight melodramatic edge to this central villain, making him at once genuinely terrifying and ludicrously arrogant. He arrives with a real swagger, and fast becomes the controller of a wing that features a great cast of misfits. Glyn Pritchard is particularly good as the religiously-devout Peter, whose overbearing mother and anger management issues give some kind of insight into his incarceration. The focal point is Hardy however, played with a fascinating aloofness by Gwion Tegid. An air of mystery continues to surround him even as he becomes embroiled in the powerplay and blackmail of life in the cells. He gets dragged into Brennan’s world largely against his will, performing tasks with deadened emotion. He is intriguing to watch.

The relationship between George Lyle (Bill Skinner) and prison guard Elin (Annes Elwy) is fatefully believable. Brennan threatens them both with exposure unless they enact his plan, inevitably involving drugs. The way tension is built up by the searing music is nicely done (though a little too overbearing in episode five), especially in the final episode, where things come to a head in dramatic fashion. Not edge-of-the-seat thriller but still an enjoyable twist or two to keep glued to the screen. The bilingual nature of the show also adds a touch of finesse which plays into the reality of Wales’ prisons. It means overall that Bariau falls somewhere between Time’s grittiness and Screw’s humour: late-night soap opera, if you will, meant not as an insult but very much a compliment.

Watch the full series on BBC iPlayer here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Series Review, Anfamol, S4C, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A Welsh adaptation of Fleabag seems quite superfluous in the face of Anfamol’s success. For this is a production that takes the best of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy and turns it into something original. First conceived as a stage play, the critical acclaim which it received has seen Rhiannon Boyle now adapt it for the screen. She has taken the frank, witty, dark and direct elements of her monologue and traversed them into a script that is punchy and pointed, hilarious and harrowing. The result is a five-part series that injects S4C’s schedule with something that is vivaciously fresh. Boundary-pushing at its best.

Bethan Ellis-Owen reprises her role as Ani, a forty-something single woman looking to become a mother on her own terms. Ellis-Owen brings a subtle sharpness to her emotions; able to portray dogged determination and inner brokenness with apposite aplomb. Her knowing side-looks to camera borrow unashamedly from Waller-Bridge; while the addition of fantasy sequences, particularly with exotic sperm donor Estevez, offer the kind of quirky aside that feels distinctly Welsh. (Think Parch or Enid a Lucy). There is a dark side to such visions however. For alongside the comic that, in part, comes from its overtness to sex and unabashed portrayal of the fertility process is the devastating effects of postnatal depression and the exacting reality of life as a single mum. Ellis-Owen manages to navigate these emotional shifts with ease; and in doing so, presents to us a character that is highly empathetic, and authentic in every way.

She is joined by a stellar support cast, of which Sara Gregory is the most prevalent. Playing Nia, a kind of nemesis to Ani, Gregory brings a chic strength to her character that cleverly masks a hidden life of sadness and despair. While publicly portraying herself as “Blueprint Mother” online, privately, Nia is struggling. Her birth-plan goes out the window; her marriage is distant, husband absent; and when Ani trolls her online, her success as an online blogger is left in tatters. But along with Ani’s seemingly perfect sister (played by Lowri Gwynne), the drama comes to a point where perfection is extinguished as a myth and vulnerability is celebrated in all its f***ed-up glory. Sticking two fingers up to the chauvinistic, infantile male sex at the same time, it becomes a powerful and thought-provoking piece on feminism, motherhood and mental health in the present age.

Anfamol continues S4C’s excellent batch of female-led dramas whilst offering something very different to what has come before. And though it may feel derivative of Fleabag, it is by no means a copy of it. It has its own distinct subject matter and significant narrative to tell.

Click here to watch the series.

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

Review, Bregus, S4C by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch the series on Clic.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Europeans (THE GUARDIAN) – A Review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you, like me, are tired of the formulaic plot-driven writing that saturates our screens, head for The Guardian channel on YouTube. There you will find Europeans, a series of seven short films with seven writers, each from a different European country: Poland, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, UK, and Ireland. The Guardian shows that it’s ahead of the game in producing documentaries and now drama. The writing of Europeans is fresh and original. The format allows the films to go beyond the demands of TV, where short films have no presence, and crucially the constraints of national cultural traditions.  

The films are so different you wonder whether they were responding to different briefs, but that is precisely what’s good about them. They are not made to fit into a category, although all of them have a strong theatrical voice. This is partly because each film is a monologue delivered to camera exploring Europeans relationship with Europe. 

The series opens with the French film One Right Answer, the most overtly political episode of the series written by Alice Zeniter and performed by Sabrina Ouazani. A young woman talks of her experience of democracy betrayed. She voted for her first time against the Treaty of Nice in the European referendum of 2005. The referendum was lost and yet the result ignored. She was against the neoliberal Europe dominated by consumerism and the free market, but little transpires as to what she believes in. Sabrina Ouazani gives credibility to the monologue, but it doesn’t go past the disillusionment with the process rather than touch on a generation’s aspirations for Europe.  

Borders, the second episode comes from Poland and was written by Jakub Żulczyk and performed by Jacek Koman. It is the story of a lorry driver who has travelled Europe everywhere but has been nowhere because always on the move. Before Schengen, he travelled east and would read books during the long waits at the border. The lorry driver had to sacrifice time with his family to put food on the table. Today, he travels to Germany in a Europe that has no borders. A Europe where his son earns well and can spend time with his family.  

In the UK episode, Dim Sum, written by Clint Dyer and performed by Javone Prince, a bailiff acts tough while he empties a house. It is the longest piece, which allows the monologue to be interspersed with short bursts from the people whose house is being emptied. The bailiff, a black man, presents himself as the product of British society, where people only care about themselves and trample on others to be rich. He is British and has nothing to do with Europe, though he is not blind to the deep racism that casts him and his children as outsider in their own country. The bailiff does his job with no compassion, and yet, that one time, when a pregnant woman from a European country opened the door, slightly trembling and then crying, that time left a scar. The captivating writing gives life to a rounded character. Javone Prince’s intensity makes us relive with the bailiff the memory of that encounter. 

Equally dramatic is Terra Firma, the Spanish episode, written by Blanca Doménech and performed beautifully by Paula Iwasaki. A woman tells us of when she left her rural village for London only to find herself exploited in demeaning jobs. Now back home, as she walks down the streets of her village, her anger at the dehumanising economy is mixed with a feeling of guilt for betraying her roots. She looks up, to the statue of Mary during a procession, and all is forgiven. She is lifted up, away from the the everyday struggle, from the pain, and feel worthy as a human. Thus she can be true to herself.  

For the German episode, Neanderthal, the writer, Marius von Mayenburg, has chosen a Neanderthal man, performed by Robert Beyer, to tell a poetic tale warning of the danger of forgetting the past. It is the story of a tribe that thought themselves stronger than others, which led to war. As he tells the tale, the setting changes from a museum, to the woods, to a theatre, just as a country and a continent change throughout history, and yet repeat the same story, that “Those who don’t want to live together, will die together.” Only in friendship there is life and the future. 

Written by Jonas Jonasson, Top of the Class, the Swedish episode makes fun of the Swedish attitude of superiority saying that “We didn’t really join the EU, we rather decided they could join us.” It blames social media for reducing politics to soundbites and creating divisions. The shortest episode, it is performed well by Viktor Åkerblom, but it feels a little too underdeveloped.  

The Irish Fake Tan, written by Lisa McInerney, alludes to Brexit by presenting an Irish woman splitting up from her British boyfriend. Lighter in tone, the woman, played delightfully by Evanna Lynch, is the embodiment of an Ireland that no longer needs Britain and can fit anywhere.  

I was particularly touched by Dim Sum, Terra Firma, and Neanderthal, which convey complexity through elegant simplicity. They are part of a whole. The films may seem very different dramas, but you get a sense of cohesion, partly achieved by the excellent direction of Amy Hodge, who conveys the emotions in a few careful shots. This cohesion out of difference is just what Europe is, or dreams to be. Europe is not defined by the past but by a dream of the future. Europe looks to what has been to imagine what can be. It is my hope that The Guardian will now commission a series that speaks of our hopes, our dreams, our imagined future. 

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.

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

Series 2 Review, Bang, S4C by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

After its acclaimed debut on S4C in 2017, it was surely only
a matter of time before Bang returned to our screens. Over
two years have passed since the first series, with writer Roger Williams
wasting no time in getting down to business. A visceral opening scene throws us
straight in at the deep end, posing plenty of intrigue. What follows is a
well-plotted second season that melds the development of returning characters’
stories with those of brand-new faces.

There is no sign of second series syndrome, with Williams
developing a strong central crime narrative that works perfectly well as a
stand-alone. This means that there is no overreliance on the likes of Sam
(Jacob Ifan) and Gina (Catrin Stewart), the brother and sister who were central
to the show’s original run. Instead, the continuation of their storyline is
just one of a number of other narrative strands – each fully rounded and
complete – that tie together nicely. It is the tightly-crafted way that
Williams weaves these strands and slowly draws them into a collective whole
that makes Bang such a satisfying
watch.

The gun remains a potent symbol in series two, though its
appearance is much more sporadic. It has shifted from being the singular
obsession of one to being the shared object of many. Its presence is felt, but
always underneath the surface in this latest six-episode run. The ramifications
of its use, however, are potently displayed in the character of Sam. Still
trying to come to terms with the death of his father by such a weapon in series
one, we find him grappling with PTSD. Ifan does an excellent job of conveying
Sam’s mental state; in fact, it is one of the most genuine onscreen portrayals I
have ever seen. Most make clear what they are trying to do. Yet here, through a
combination of fine acting, clever editing, choice camera angles, and pervasive
music, the producers of Bang manage
to capture Sam’s struggles so powerfully that I couldn’t help but be
emotionally moved.

The domestic abuse by DI Morgan Riley (Dyfan Dwyfor) on wife
Caryn (Hedydd Dylan) is no less affecting. Williams captures the subtle
manipulation and invasive cruelty of the husband really well, causing me to
turn away from the screen several times such was my discomfort in the face of
his underhand brutality. In fact, this subplot became more absorbing than the
central storyline, involving a serial killer enacting revenge for the rape of
Marissa Clarke (Sophie Melville) ten years earlier. The bloodbath that ensues
across the course of six episodes is fairly graphic. Yet it was the unseen
mental and emotional scars inflicted on the show’s characters that had me
reaching for the remote in distress.

Writer Roger Williams has not returned to Port Talbot in a
hurry. This second series of Bang feels
as much a labour of love as its first. It is another compelling story full of well-defined
characters dealing with pressing issues. Returning fans will not be
disappointed. And for those who haven’t yet seen it, I would recommend adding it
to your isolation watch-list.

You can watch the full series on Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams