Tag Archives: Welsh TV drama

Series Review, 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu, S4c, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

There is nothing like a dining table to expose a series of lies and untold truths. Many would point to Mike Bartlett’s terrific 2015 drama Doctor Foster as the epitome of that. Yet there is a scene in the latest series of 35 Diwrnod that comes close. After four episodes cranking up the tension, this moment represents the point at which the bomb, slowly ticking away since the opening scene, truly starts to go off. It is an extraordinarily gripping scene, full of revelation, as the incalculable web of mystery and intrigue that writer Fflur Dafydd has spun begins to quickly unravel. True to her style however, she leaves enough enigmatic plot points to keep the viewer on tenterhooks to the final moment of the final episode.

What I love most about the writing of Fflur Dafydd is her attention to detail. The series may set up Beth (Gwenllian Higginson) as the main character, whose impending marriage to Dylan (Geraint Todd) provides the focal point, but the interlocking narratives of every single character and the gradual exposure of their secret links to one another means that, in the end, it becomes an ensemble drama. We as viewers become invested in every single person because Dafydd herself has gone to great lengths to make each of them complete and fully rounded characters in their own right. It means that there is no let up; no subplot that exists simply to give the viewer a break from the main focus of the drama. Instead, it is a constant stream of deliberate action, in which every interaction, however mundane on the surface, becomes a point of information that feeds into the wider narrative. The viewer gets drip fed little details, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes via a cleverly crafted camera shot, which act as tantalising threads that keep us hooked. It is a visual guessing game that springs surprises and often plays with our expectations. Dafydd is without doubt one of Britain’s best screenwriters.

This latest series of 35 Diwrnod also features some of Wales’ best acting talent, with Sion Ifan (Efan) and Rhodri Meilir (Bill) starring alongside some inspiring new faces, none more so than Emmy Stonelake (Angharad). Indeed, Meilir and Stonelake are excellent as a married couple whose relationship becomes increasingly fractious due to the former’s controlling behaviour. The calm and calculated persona that Meilir adopts in Bill’s attempts to isolate Angharad from her friends helps achieve a verisimilitude that offers a welcome contrast to some of the more outlandish content in this drama. Stonelake portrays the emotional effects of Bill’s behaviour on Angharad with such obvious subtlety that though it may not grab you by the scruff of the neck like in series two of Bang, this domestic abuse storyline still resonates with a quiet power. Dafydd handles it with great sensitivity, just as she seems to with transgenderism. The inclusion of a character in the process of transitioning may be used as a plot twist, but the emotional impact on them and their family strikes me as sympathetic and considerate in its portrayal. Dafydd balances high-octane scenes with delicate moments really well. 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu is an emotional rollercoaster for the viewer as much as it is for its characters.

I am always fascinated by the exploration of memory and perception that is a feature of all Fflur Dafydd dramas. In this series of 35 Diwrnod we witness the mental traumas that some characters carry, the mental anguish that others feel, as well as the mind games that a few play. Viewers are frequently challenged in their perception of what is happening onscreen, the many surprises and twists throughout providing plenty of mental stimulation that causes us to think twice about our own theories and assumptions as we engage with this incredibly intricate world of Dafydd’s own imagination. I did think that I had her writing figured out. But as my early expectations failed to match with the outcomes onscreen, I realised that it was facetious to even entertain the notion that I could second guess her every move. 35 Diwrnod has deservedly returned for another series with critical acclaim. It further cements Fflur Dafydd’s reputation as a master storyteller.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

My Top 5 Showcase: Welsh TV Drama: 2010-2019

Continuing this series for Get the Chance, here I select my top five Welsh TV dramas of the last decade. They are not necessarily chosen on the basis of popular appeal or critical acclaim. Instead, this is a personal list from which you are free to agree or disagree entirely. Let me know your thoughts…

Baker Boys

Broadcast in 2011, this series was my first proper encounter with Welsh TV drama. Set in a tight-knit community in the South Wales Valleys, it focused on the impact of the economic recession on its population, many of whom suddenly find themselves unemployed when the local bakery goes bust. Timely and relevant, Gary Owen & Helen Raynor’s series featured a who’s-who of Welsh acting talent, with Eve Myles (Sarah) and Gareth Jewell (Owen) heading up efforts to save the company and make it work as a co-operative.

Hinterland (Y Gwyll)

Starring Richard Harrington and Mali Harries, this crime drama was one of the first to find broad appeal outside of its nation’s borders. Running for a mere twelve episodes, Harrington played DCI Tom Mathias, a man whose troubled soul was reflected in the bleak and desolate landscape of its setting. In fact, the wild and mountainous terrain of Ceredigion was such that Hinterland/Y Gwyll was labelled as the original ‘Welsh noir’ (after Nordic counterparts The Killing and The Bridge).

Keeping Faith (Un Bore Mercher)

When I sat down to watch Un Bore Mercher on S4C in 2017, I could not have imagined how big it would become. After its English-language version Keeping Faith was subsequently broadcast on BBC Wales, it became such a hit on iPlayer that it landed a prime-time slot on BBC1. The reason for its immense popularity was largely down to the juggernaut of a performance given by Eve Myles. She put in an emotionally-raw turn as lawyer Faith Howells, whose husband Evan goes missing, leading to the uncovering of a host of secrets that cast doubt on how well she really knew him. Myles deservedly won a BAFTA for her immersive portrayal.

Parch

Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit biased here, but despite the fact that I have a soft spot for TV vicars, this surrealist drama was still a hugely enjoyable and well-written series. I may have tuned in initially to follow the crazy and chaotic life of the show’s protagonist, the Reverend Myfanwy Elfed (played wonderfully by Carys Eleri), but I stayed because of the strength of the supporting cast. Writer Fflur Dafydd is masterful in creating well-rounded, fully formed characters, the effect here being a show that was full of heart.

Hidden (Craith)

Series one of this crime series featured standout performances from Rhodri Meilir (Dylan) and Gwyneth Keyworth (Megan). Series two brought us another excellent performance from rising star Annes Elwy (Mia). Holding it all together are Sian Reese-Williams and Sion Alun Davies, who play detectives Cadi John and Owen Vaughan respectively. They are chief investigators in storylines that reveal the killer early on. But this makes Hidden/Craith no less gripping, perhaps because of its intense focus on the personal lives of all its characters.

And I haven’t even mentioned Bang, 35 Diwrnod/35 Awr, Gwaith/Cartref, Alys…. Are there any others you can think of? What are your favourites?

Written by Gareth Williams

Series 2 Review, Bang, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 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

Review, Handstand, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The first original TV drama of 2020 to emerge from Wales is a short one-off piece called Handstand. It may be quirky and slightly clichéd on the surface, but there is a dark underbelly that gradually reveals itself over the course of half an hour. Director Peter Watkins-Hughes has chosen to shine a spotlight on domestic abuse through what is essentially a love story between the hardworking and compassionate Luke (Darren Evans) and his new neighbour Sarah (Mabli Jen Eustace).

Evans and Eustace demonstrate a wonderful onscreen chemistry from the get-go, their characters’ first meeting being the perfect mix of socially awkward and humorously sweet. The telling camera angles and silently knowing looks to one another add to the sexual tension between them, whilst the synth-pop soundtrack and cinema setting coat their relationship in youthful possibility and nostalgic innocence respectively. It is this portrait of young love that makes the turning point in the story all the more dramatic and affecting, as Luke hears the raised voice of Sarah’s father, Alan, resonate angrily through the ‘shockingly thin’ walls of his bedroom. What follows is a moral dilemma centred on the public and private dichotomy, where the question of intervention is explored rather well, given the drama’s brief running time. Christian Patterson is excellent as the two-faced Alan, whose jolly exterior slowly slips away to reveal a manipulative man whose obsession with power and control is ultimately his undoing.

As a stand-alone piece, Watkins-Hughes has created something that is both entertaining and informative. It is also educational insofar as it deals with the subject of domestic violence, thereby reflecting the three Reithian ideals that the BBC was founded on. I believe that this is important to highlight as the BBC and its licence fee comes under increased scrutiny and ever sharper criticism. There is no doubt a conversation to be had about its future funding model, but I believe Handstand is an example of what publicly-funded broadcasting does best, supporting projects that have no commercial value but nevertheless tell important stories that need to be heard. It is also why public service broadcasting is needed, because without it, I fear that the voices wanting to tell such stories in Wales may be bereft of opportunities to do so in a media marketplace driven solely by profit.

Click here to watch Handstand.

gareth
Gareth Williams

Series Review, Pili Pala, S4C by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

It is a rare but pleasant site to see North Wales used as the setting for TV drama. The mountains of Snowdonia offered a bleak and stunning backdrop to last year’s hit Hidden. Now, it is Conwy’s green and rugged coast that provides the scenery for Pili Pala. Translated as ‘Butterfly’, this four-part series stars Sian-Reese Williams as Sara Morris, senior consultant in a Fetal Medicine Department. When she agrees to take on her pregnant friend Elin (Fflur Medi Owen) as a patient, it is against the advice of colleagues. Their concern appears to be warranted when it becomes clear that there is a problem with her baby’s growth, resulting in both Sara and Elin facing some difficult decisions that will have significant repercussions.

Sian Reese-Williams (Sara)

Pila Pala may be a slow burner, but it is worth sticking with it. Unlike Keeping Faith, where the drama unfolds out of extraordinary circumstances, here it gradually builds out of the ordinary, the everyday. The first episode may feel slightly pedestrian in pace and tone. However, as the characters make choices in the various moments of their daily lives, it is the consequences that come with them that make this a progressively engaging narrative. In particular, I appreciated the writer Phil Rowlands’ exploration of the personal and professional blurring, on both an ethical and human level, and the interactions, pressures and problems that arise as a result.

It is just a shame that his story was restricted to a mini-series. Its steady build-up of tension and the strains and stresses that are placed on the characters lead to so many different and fascinating strands being produced. Yet they all feel as if they are required to suddenly be tied up in the final episode. Reese-Williams’ performance was beginning to show signs of Eve Myles-like frustration with the situation that her character finds herself in. Instead of being given the space and time to fully explore the ramifications and resultant emotions however, it appeared that (production? budget?) constraints cut short what should have ideally been a 6-8 episode run. It warranted as much. The characters certainly had so much more to give.

Fflur Medi Owen (Elin)

Despite its all-too-brief stint, Pili Pala achieves much. It deals with what might be considered a controversial issue with unashamed ease. It is unafraid to show and explore the impact of high-risk decisions on individuals and their relationships. Sian Reese-Williams is as composed and accomplished as ever. It is refreshing to see Owen Arwyn (Jac) occupy a more sensitive role than the ‘hard man’ we are used to seeing him play. Fflur Medi Owen brings a wealth of nuance and subtlety to Elin. There is certainly nothing wrong with the performances here, only that they haven’t been allowed to flex their acting muscles to their full potential. The momentum that was crafted so brilliantly through the first three episodes seemed to come unstuck in the fourth. Perhaps a second series would solve this. I’m unsure. But S4C must be commended for continuing to invest in original drama. Pili Pala is not a disappointment by any means.

Click here to watch the full series.

gareth

Series Review, Enid a Lucy, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Writer Siwan Jones blends social realism and surrealist comedy in the most delightful way in Enid a Lucy. The S4C mini-series, which came to a slightly abrupt end on Sunday night, made for an entertaining and enjoyable drama. Termed the ‘Welsh Thelma and Louise’ by some, Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace certainly provide plenty of laughs as the two leads whose offbeat road trip takes them from Llanelli to London via the most unconventional of routes.

The drama begins on a modest housing estate in Llanelli where we meet next door neighbours Enid (Thomas) and Lucy (Jên). Enid is a piano teacher whose home is neat and tidy, fitted with mod cons and well lit. Meanwhile, Lucy lives in a dark, dank and messy space. The drained colour palette of the cinematography, as well as the use of handheld camera, gives the impression that this is going to be a gritty, class-based drama. The introduction of Lucy’s drunken and abusive boyfriend Denfer (Steffan Cennydd), in contrast with the genteel and traditional images of the Mother’s Union that Enid is involved in, only serves to underline the divide that exists between them. Yet early indications that this is going to be a serious piece of realist drama are confounded by the end of the first episode when Enid turns getaway driver for Lucy in order to escape the hapless Denfer and his buffoon of an uncle, Sid (Nicholas McGaughey). What follows is a random and raucous cat-and-mouse chase across the country as the men seek to reclaim a holdall containing drugs and a gun from Lucy, who is determined to use the contents in order to make a better life for her and her baby.

Siwan Jones’ script plays like a melody that is pitched just below hard-hitting but doesn’t quite decrescendo into absolute farce. It manages to deal with some big issues, such as childlessness and mental health, but these never feel forced. Neither are they allowed to consume the overall narrative, Jones ensuring that the escapades of Enid and Lucy are filled with much hilarity and randomness. This includes perhaps the most comical scene of the series, where two farmers that they end up staying with accidently take some of the drugs in the holdall. Actors Ifan Huw Dafydd and Rhodri Evan really let loose their inner zombie to produce a very funny scene. It borders on the ridiculous but never descends into the realms of the unbelievable. It is this kind of accurate measurement which Jones must be applauded for in the writing of Enid a Lucy.

My only bone of contention with this drama was the finale. It was as if a timer had suddenly gone off with five minutes to go and all the loose ends had to be tied up tout suite. It left me feeling rather out-of-kilter; that such a well-paced journey should end so abruptly. Although not quite on the same level as the conclusion to BBC1’s The Replacement (2017), it nevertheless conjured up similar feelings. It is a shame because, otherwise, Enid a Lucy is a great drama, with particularly notable performances from Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace. Thomas, in particular, slips into her character with ease here; in contrast to her over-exaggerated performance as the detective in Keeping Faith, she is completely believable as Enid. She is a joy to watch, especially during her exchanges with Eustace: the two bounce off one another wonderfully.

It is great to see S4C, via producers Boom Cymru, giving a prime-time platform to female writers at the start of 2019. Both Fflur Dafydd (35 Awr) and now Siwan Jones have provided Welsh audiences with some quality TV drama already this year. Enid a Lucy may have only received a short run, but it was fun whilst it lasted. Its slightly left-field style follows on from some of Jones’ previous work – not least 2011’s Alys – but it still feels highly original. It would have been great to have spent longer with these characters. Despite its rather hasty end though, Enid a Lucy still manages to thoroughly entertain.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.

gareth

Series Review, 35 Awr, s4c by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Exasperated by BBC1 Wales’ Pitching In? Thankfully, it is now the exception to the rule when it comes to contemporary Welsh television drama. What would have once been seen as a godsend – alleviating the problem of non-representation, if only briefly – is now seen as an affront to the people of Wales. We’re better than this. The last few years has seen an explosion of Welsh drama. Not only in the number of series’, but in the quality of these series’ too. From Hinterland to Bang, Parch to Keeping Faith, there has never been a better time for Welsh-set, Welsh-made drama. A Golden Age, as I’ve been inclined to call it.

At the start of 2019, there is another drama to be added to this growing roster: 35 Awr. Fflur Dafydd’s new series sees a 12-person jury assemble after a court case to consider their verdict. But finding the defendant guilty or not guilty of murder proves far less straight-forward than some were expecting. And when it comes to light that they could be in danger if allowed home, they are taken to a local hotel for their protection, until they can come to a decision. But not all is as it seems.

Across this 8-part series, the lives of these characters begin to slowly, tentatively, and intriguingly unfold. As they do, Dafydd begins to entangle them in a dark and sinister web. Connections are made, alliances formed; the power play between the different characters is always fascinating, never simple. The game of poker in episode three becomes the perfect metaphor for this psychological murder mystery. Even where their conversations seem mundane, or rather superfluous, one need only dig a little deeper, beneath the surface, to discover the ulterior motives, selfish motivations, and hidden desires at play. These aren’t always obvious at first. Which is what keeps the drama interesting. Dafydd slowly feeds us with tit-bits of information; now and again she surprises us with a big reveal. Such revelations come at steady intervals throughout; gradually increasing the tension, which bubbles gently until the final episode when it finally boils over, with pulsating twists and numerous turns.

It is the intimate characterisation which makes Fflur Dafydd’s scripts always so enjoyable. To see the characters of 35 Awr brought to life in such fine detail, and with such fascinating complexity, by the ensemble cast was a real treat. From the awful masculinity of Carwyn Jones’ Peredur to the nonchalant behaviour of Gillian Elisa’s Val (to name but two), Dafydd succeeds in creating a memorable set of well-rounded characters that become instantly recognisable long after the programme is over. Indeed, the excellent editing of Dafydd Hunt and the cinematography of Alwyn Hughes helps to give this drama a look that feels fresh and original even as it employs fairly standard techniques and tropes. This is no easy feat. Yet, somehow, they manage to do so; perhaps, in part, down to Dafydd’s original screenplay.

If you’re looking for a darker, more subversive murder mystery than your typical Agatha Christie, then 35 Awr should satisfy your needs. In fact, it should exceed them, for it is also much more than that. Part psychological thriller, part crime drama; it contains as much humour as it does menace. Writer Fflur Dafydd has assembled a fine cast of characters whose personal lives slowly seep out and intertwine with one another, creating a gripping narrative which culminates in a superbly arresting final episode. This is what great Welsh drama is. It is no longer defined by the likes of Pitching In. Pitching In is now the exception. Fflur Dafydd’s 35 Awr represents the rule.

Click here to watch the series now.

gareth