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.