Tag Archives: television

Series Review, Stad, S4C, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It is the North West that seems to be in the Welsh TV spotlight recently. The final series of Hidden has begun, Rybish has returned, and a brand-new series called Stad has just completed its run.  Set on a council estate near Caernarfon, it combines the drama and comedy of the aforementioned to create a slightly off-piste narrative similar to Enid a Lucy. This has made it lightly entertaining and surprisingly engrossing; a series that does not make you want to binge from the off but, by the time it reaches its final episode, leaves you desperate for more.

Stad is not strictly original, coming ten years after its highly-popular predecessor Tipyn o Stad ended on S4C. Viewers of that series will recognise the return of a few familiar characters, not least the Gurkha family. However, no prior knowledge is needed to enter this new chapter in the life of Maes Menai, described as “North Wales’ most colourful housing estate”. The opening scene might feel a bit overwhelming and thus confusing for those, like me, entering this world for the first time. But it does not take long to adjust to its tragi-comic genre and realise that the historic connections between some of these characters are no barrier to its accessibility. Instead, one becomes steadily intrigued by the issues, situations and circumstances that arise within the first episode and as the series progresses. Mental health is but one subject which is tackled with a surprising sensitivity, particularly in respect of trauma and loss. Elen Gwynne, for example, gives the most acute performance as Susan whose struggle with bereavement is portrayed onscreen in such a way as to be funny without being derisive.

The writers Manon Wyn Jones, Angharad Elen and Daf Palfrey have pitched the darkness and light of this drama to perfection. There is a bit of a Breaking Bad influence that seems to hang over it in more ways than one. There is the obvious connection to the selling of drugs for financial security, but it is also the hapless nature of the partnership between Ed Lovell (Bryn Fôn) and Dan (Sion Eifion) that strikes chords with the father-son relationship of Walter White and Jesse. The two also find themselves in sometimes absurd situations, like being held hostage by a crossbow-wielding farmer by the name of Iona Kebab (Janet Aethwy). Such wild, crazy scenarios end up contrasting nicely with the far more real-world dilemmas of other characters, like Alaw. Begw Rowlands ensures a real likability towards her character, playing her with a confidence that is tinged with a deeper, hidden vulnerability. It draws much sympathy when she discovers that she is pregnant, and makes her gently blossoming relationship with Kim (Gwenno Fôn) all-the-more sweeter.

Stad can feel a bit pedestrian at times, measured and paced, with no rush to excite or entice viewers into a suspenseful or twisting narrative. It prefers to operate at the most basic level of human drama even as some of its storylines take on a surrealist edge. This means that we get to know the characters themselves in the context of their ordinary lives and is what makes the final part of the series so unexpected and heightens the tension around it. We come to really care as Alaw attacks her dad Keith (Rhodri Meilir), with seemingly-terminal ramifications, and Ed Lovell finds himself trapped in the basement of a burning house. It ratchets up the anticipation before running into the closing credits to devasting effect. Suddenly, it is edge-of-your-seat stuff. A second series is demanded.

Stad becomes a series that gradually wins your heart and then has the power to break it.

Click here to watch the full series.

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

Review, Fflam, S4c by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The recent S4C series Fflam was a slow-burner. I came to it with much intrigue and anticipation given the concept and acting talent. The idea of a woman, Noni, seeing her dead husband, Tim, again, after years believing he had died in a fire, sounded like the perfect spark from which to ignite a gripping narrative. The fact that Gwyneth Keyworth (Bang, Craith/Hidden) and Richard Harrington (Hinterland, Poldark) played the lead roles only served to excite and offer high expectations. So it was with sadness and disappointment that I found myself ultimately underwhelmed by its delivery. It did manage to strike a few matches throughout its six, half-hour episodes. However, these failed to set alight a series that was full of promise but low on satisfaction.

The performance of Keyworth was central to giving the drama a certain kudos that it may otherwise have lacked. Her ability to convey Noni’s internal emotions onscreen was akin to that of Eve Myles in Keeping Faith. The difference here though was the oft understated way that Keyworth did this. She demonstrated the conflict between grief and passion going on inside through very subtle expression which, nevertheless, with help from the camera and editing suite, was full of depth. Her appearances alongside Richard Harrington, particularly those in a restaurant over dinner, provided some of the most enjoyable scenes of the series. The gentle charisma that Harrington brought to his mysterious character, opposite the romantic infatuation that Keyworth successfully tempered as Noni, helped create a sense of ease. It led to a free-flowing script that meant their conversations appeared natural onscreen. These moments became absorbing as a result, giving some required fizz to a drama that, outside of them, felt a bit flat and unengaging.

I wonder whether the drama would have benefitted from having a more compressed narrative in which its central premise was played with a lot sooner and the final twist in the series was incorporated a lot earlier. This would have contributed to the retention of dramatic tension that, instead, bubbles up and then peters out at several points throughout the series. It is not helped by the fact that the characters of Deniz (Memet Ali Alabora), Ekin (Pinar Ögün), and Malan (Mali Ann Rees) were underserved by a subplot that lacked the same level of emotional investment as the main thread. And even in respect of the lead characters’ encounters, the pull-and-push of their developing relationship, though understandable in capturing Noni’s reticence, became increasingly frustrating. It simply took too long to progress, with the undesired effect being that, at points, the series felt like it was playing for time. By the time the revelations started to come out in episode five, they did not elicit the same degree of interest as they might otherwise have done had the narrative been pacier. As such, Fflam would have benefitted from an adaptation that condensed its source material into much more flavoursome half-hour chunks than we get here.

Overall then, Fflam has plenty of plus points to prevent it from being a damp squib even as it fails to set fire to the landscape of Welsh television drama. It is refreshing to see an image of Wales that is multicultural and inclusive played out onscreen, even if the presence of diverse characters only serve to circulate around a central narrative in which they play a limited part. Gwyneth Keyworth cements her status as one of Wales’ most exciting and talented screen actresses, with Richard Harrington and Mali Ann Rees again proving solid and reliable actors in their own right. If a second series is forthcoming, as expected, then Fflam has plenty of room for improvement. But it also still retains enough unrealised potential to warrant another chance.

Click here to watch the whole series.

Written by
Gareth Williams