Tag Archives: Ed Thomas

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

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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

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

Ed Thomas

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

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

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

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Her Ffilm Fer, Hansh, S4C by Gareth Williams

The old adage that the two most difficult genres to write are comedy and horror seemed to have bypassed the ears of some of Wales’ top producers. The likes of Ed Thomas (Hinterland) and Euros Lyn (Doctor Who) decided to devilishly choose the latter for a short film challenge put on by S4C’s Hansh (of which they were judges). To raise the stakes even further, the films were required to be made within 48 hours, which under lockdown conditions, seems like a pretty tall order. But I guess that’s where creativity can either flourish or flounder, producing a fight-or-flight response which, for those of the former persuasion, led to some pretty professional-looking and eye-catching pieces.

The variety of films that were sent in made it difficult for the judges to compare them. But they managed, in the end, to narrow it down to a shortlist, before announcing a couple that were deserving of special merit; that came very close to the standards of the overall winner. Of the three runners-up, Martha a’r fantell ddu was my personal favourite. It contained a lovely, light humour which, in typical horror fashion, slowly turns sour as strange things begin to occur in the life of the protagonist. Much like other entries Dilynwyr and Y Glesni, it uses the prevalence of digital technology to create a familiar experience which, like The Blair Witch Project and Unfriended, is then brilliantly skewed to generate unease, concern, and, finally, terror. But it is the performance of the actor who plays Mari (the film’s producer, Erin?) that makes Martha a’r fantell ddu stand out from the crowd. The effervescence she brings to the role perfectly encapsulates that of the enthusiastic YouTuber. Yet as things get weird, her increasing paranoia is displayed not only in her facial expressions but in the nuanced delivery of her dialogue. She succeeds in taking us on a journey through a narrative that is character-driven, leading us to be entertained, concerned and fearful for her, as we are drawn into her experience to really emotive effect.

The overall winner takes a somewhat more conventional line. There are no livestreams or Zoom calls here. 03YB is a clever, playful and absorbing film that takes familiar tropes from the horror genre and executes them incredibly well. There is enough originality and fresh impetus in the plotline though to test your expectations, as the creators use skilful editing to keep you guessing throughout. The ear piercing music is largely effective, grating only slightly at points, whilst the costume is utilised brilliantly. More specifically, the ears on the hood of the protagonist’s onesie become a fantastically devious signifier for blood at one point, representing the kind of deceitful intentions that the film’s creators look to insert at almost every turn. 03YB reminds me of the kind of visceral scenes at the start of many contemporary Welsh television dramas, posing just as much mystery as them too. It leaves you with enough questions to want to enquire further. It has the makings of a full-length episode, if not series. It is a well-deserved winner.

It appears that there is plenty of talent in Wales when it comes to the creation of original, suspenseful, and entertaining shorts. Thomas, Lyn, et al, clearly sussed that setting such a hard challenge would lead to some excellent entries. I wonder if it did leave them surprised however by the quality of the filmmaking. Given the lockdown restrictions, alongside the competition’s time constraint, I would say the films were of a remarkably professional standard. If they are representative of Wales’ young creative talent, then the current generation can rest assured that the future looks to be in very safe hands. I just hope that the opportunities come for these young filmmakers to grow and develop in their creative potential. Without investment in the arts at all levels, but particularly at the grassroots, going forward, the worry is that their chances will be severely curtailed.

You can watch all 42 films that were entered into the competition here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams