Tag Archives: BBC Wales

Out of the woods

Welsh noir Craith (Hidden) finds new shades of light and dark in a fresh urban setting for its second season, but with new terrors to uncover, the crime drama promises to be as menacing as ever.

Much of the success and allure of gloomy Welsh crime drama Craith (Hidden) comes from the fact the show reveals the murderers very early on.

In fact, the killers are revealed in the first episode of the second season of the breakout drama, allowing its creators to explore why people commit such heinous crimes rather than distracting the audience’s attention in trying to solve the crime throughout the season.

“Using the ‘whydunnit’ as opposed to ‘whodunnit’ mechanism allows audiences to delve into these characters’ lives and to understand why they have done these really terrible things,” Craith producer Hannah Thomas tells DQ. “Once that baggage is removed from the audience, it can free them to really dive into the story, the nuance and to explore the world we’ve created.”

A ‘whydunnit’ mechanism allows audiences to delve into characters’ lives

The BBC Wales and S4C series, which debuted last year, again follows detectives Cadi John (Siân Reese-Williams) and Owen Vaughan (Siôn Alun Davies) as they try to solve the gruesome murder of an elderly man in North Wales. Craith’s second season picks up nine months after the first installment ended, with both major characters having gone through life-changing events.

Cadi is dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death and going through the grieving process, but she has also received a promotion to detective chief inspector ¬– a career move, she is told, her late father would have been proud of.

The character has become such an iconic and popular protagonist that producers brought on Reese-Williams as a consultant much earlier in the production phase this time around so she could contribute her ideas to the drama’s progression. The show’s directors, Gareth Bryn and Chris Foster, were also invited to contribute to development in earlier stages than season one.

Siân Reese-Williams as Cadi John

“Siân is such an integral character and I can really trust her opinion and her instincts,” Thomas says.

In the meantime, Owen’s coping with life as a first-time father as he and his wife struggle to adjust to their new lives with a newborn baby.

Thomas explains these “profound changes” have reshaped the characters not only personally, but also professionally. “They’re both more empathetic and compassionate because of going through these life changes, which will have some kind of impact and change you.”

Once again produced by Severn Screen with backing from distributor All3Media International, Craith’s latest season has moved away from the previous backdrop of the scary isolated house in the middle of the woods but is still based in rainy North Wales in a town called Blaenau Ffestiniog. While there is more light and shade this season as it is set in different locations around the town, the fact that the events unfold amid a backdrop of mountains and slate quarries adds to the grim feeling of the series.

Detective Owen Vaughan played by Siôn Alun Davies

The constant rain and short days made it very challenging to shoot, especially for continuity. But the apocalyptic feel of the series helped set the tone for the brutal murder and subsequent investigations.

“It’s really jagged and austere, and it suffocates you because the mountains are all around,” Thomas says. “What’s really interesting is, in North Wales you are in some places that are extremely beautiful but then telling a dark story like this one against that backdrop is quite incongruous and it really stays with you.”

Another on-set challenge is the fact that the series is shot back-to-back in English and Welsh, with S4C airing the Welsh version and BBC1 Wales and BBC4 airing a bilingual cut. Young actress Annes Elwy (Little Women, Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams), who plays the troubled teen Mia Owen, expected the transition between languages to be far more complicated, except for when it had been a long day on set.

“Sometimes if you’re really tired you get confused… and you see the other actors’ faces and you can tell you’ve probably gone for the wrong language,” she says.

Her character also has a different backstory in the Welsh and English versions purely because of the language choices. But Elwy admits there is a different approach to the same scenes because of nuances in the languages and for the actors it can have a completely distinct feel.

Annes Elwy plays troubled teen Mia Owen

One example is that in the Welsh version, she attends a Welsh school and speaks Welsh at home and with friends. But in the bilingual edition, “Mia comes from an English-speaking home and goes to a Welsh school but chooses to socialise in English with people who do speak Welsh,” she says. “So it’s quite fun to play those different versions.”

Her co-star and chief protagonist, Reese-Williams, agrees. She says memorising a four-page interrogation scene in two languages can be difficult, but that challenge keeps it fresh for her as an actress.

“There’s a different vibe to the two languages, which I think is imperceptible onscreen. There’s a different flow to the people you’re playing and it’s quite exciting,” Reese-Williams says.

Thomas points out that the English version is actually bilingual as viewers will get to see characters converse in their first language as well as English, arguing it accurately reflects how the Welsh use language every day.

“Craith is obviously the Welsh version and Hidden is the bilingual version and it’s lovely because it’s reflecting the makeup of Wales and how we actually speak the language,” she says.

The cast and producers clearly have a good relationship that translates onscreen, especially for the two detectives who have a respectful and honest professional partnership. It was important to foster good onset chemistry to help each other through filming under extreme weather conditions, while portraying some very morbid story lines.

Thomas believes the strength of Craith lies in the fact it doesn’t judge any of its characters, but rather the show allows viewers into their lives.

“Exploring every character in depth and their motivations shows nothing is black and white in life –I don’t think there’s such a thing as a good person or a bad person,” she adds. “We’re all various shades of good and bad. That’s what’s great about this show – it explores those nuances.”

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Myles keeps Faith

Filmed back-to-back in Welsh and English, eight-part drama Keeping Faith (Un Bore Mercher) tells the story of lawyer, wife and mother Faith (Eve Myles) as she fights to find the truth behind the sudden disappearance of her husband.

She comes to discover that her idyllic hometown, set on the estuary, harbours many dark secrets that threaten her and her family’s lives. Faith’s ordeal transforms her from a stay-at-home, fun-loving and carefree mother to detective, action hero and lover. She takes risks and gambles and finds a new inner strength.

The series debuted on Welsh-language channel S4C before launching on BBC1 Wales. Work is now underway on a second season, with BBC Wales putting a script into development.

In this DQTV video, Myles reveals the appeal of playing a flawed character such as Faith and talks about how she prepared for the energetic role and built relationships with her on-screen family.

The actor also talks about how she had been disillusioned with acting until the chance to star in Keeping Faith came along, and how director Pip Broughton kept her out of her comfort zone during the production.

With an eye on the future, Myles outlines what she looks for when she accepts a role and explains why she enjoys being challenged when she goes on set.

Keeping Faith is produced by Vox Pictures for S4C and BBC Wales and is distributed by About Premium Content. APC’s financial partner UK-based Nevision gap-financed the show.

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In plain sight

Dark and broody drama Craith (Hidden) looks set to keep the international spotlight firmly on Welsh drama. Co-creator Ed Talfan discusses making the bilingual crime series, which goes against the grain by revealing its villain from the beginning.

The landscapes in North Wales are breathtaking. With lush green hills and mountains standing on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, overlooking the Menai Strait, a stretch of water that separates the mainland and the island of Anglesey, the region must be a director’s dream.

Point the camera in any direction and the scale and atmosphere of the environment surely fills the lens. At least it would if you could see it. On the wintry November day DQ travels to Anglesey to visit the set of S4C drama Craith (known as Hidden in English), the weather is biblical. Rain and gale-force winds are lashing down on anyone that dares to stray outside, turning roads into rivers and largely hiding the towering peaks from view.

Unperturbed, the cast and crew soldier on, seemingly unaware of the conditions surrounding them. The day’s filming is taking place at the Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon) Garage, which offers passing motorists the chance to refuel and pick up supplies from the small shop adjacent to the forecourt, found a short drive from the village of Dwyran.

When the cameras start rolling, a small blue van pulls up in front of the shop. Inside sit a man and a young girl, Dylan Harris and his daughter Nia. After a short conversation, Dylan gets out of the van and comes into the shop, its shelves stocked with a range of household items and an array of Welsh flags adorning all corners of the single room.

Craith stars Siân Reese-Williams as DCI Cadi John

It’s a small but important scene, providing a window into the home life of Dylan, who, in contravention of typical murder-mystery rules, is revealed at the start to be the show’s villain.

The story juxtaposes the viewpoint of Dylan, played by Rhodri Meilir, with that of DCI Cadi John (Siân Reese-Williams), a police officer drawn back to her childhood home due to her father’s ill health. But after the body of a local woman is found in a remote mountain river, her world – and the world of those around her – is changed forever when it transpires there may have been more than one abduction.

Produced by Severn Screen for S4C and BBC Wales, the gritty crime drama is executive produced by co-creators Mark Andrew and Ed Talfan. The producer is Hannah Thomas and the series is distributed globally by All3Media International.

“Dylan’s a guy who’s had a terrible lot in life,” explains Talfan. “He’s had a very difficult domestic situation and comes from a family that’s toxic. The series doesn’t seek to use that as an excuse for what he does; he pays the price for what he does. Hopefully across the series we see a portrait of somebody who is in his own agony and inflicting that agony on others.

“There are moments, particularly in the first half of the series, where what comes across is a vulnerability and, within that, there is a flicker of likability, which is uncomfortable – it should be uncomfortable – but in the same way the best baddies always have their own charisma about them. We spend a lot of time investing in him and the world he inhabits because often these characters are people at the fringes of the drama. We just wanted to go on a journey with him.”

Co-creator Ed Talfan (left) with Rhodri Meilir, who plays Dylan Harris

In contrast, Talfan describes former army officer DCI John as a straight-talking detective who’s comfortable in her own skin and extremely good at her job.

“There’s a version of the crime genre where detectives have super powers, these magic moments where they’re better than everybody else,” Talfan continues. “Cadi is someone who’s bloody good at her job, is really hardworking and does the hard yards. All the police you talk to, it’s not about eureka moments. It’s about putting the work in and actually visiting the evidence, revisiting it and being like a dog with a bone. There’s a tenacity in her that’s real, rather than a Captain Underpants flies in and says, ‘I know what the problem is here.’ For me, that’s reductive and a bit tedious.”

The creative approach to the series is a far cry from 2013 Welsh drama Y Gwyll (Hinterland), which has gone on to become a global success. Many of the crew who worked on that show have now reunited for Craith, which dispels Hinterland’s case-of-the-week format.

Talfan, who also co-created Hinterland, says it was clear from the outset that they didn’t want to conceal the killer in Craith. “That’s not the game we’re playing,” he explains. “We’re up front very early on about who the abductor is and the question is getting to understand that character because he’s not just a two-dimensional evil-doer. We get to understand his world and see how he works and how he lives alongside his mother and his daughter, and the dynamic that unfolds when he loses a girl [who becomes the first victim], which is what kicks the series off, and then abducts a new victim. It’s a portrait of an unfolding crime from the point of view of the police and the criminal.”

Part of the reason behind following this format was a desire to do something completely different to Hinterland, in a way that allowed the creators to delve deeper into the cast of characters than is usually possible in a single 90-minute procedural.

DQ visited the Craith set on a grey day for a scene set at a petrol station

“It was great to be able to get a really good ensemble and know that all of those characters were going to travel across eight hours,” Talfan says. “It made it more fun to write, more fun for the actors to play and more satisfying for the directors as well, because they sometimes find it frustrating when they’ve got a visiting actor who’s got two days on set in which to film four scenes.”

While the story format differs between Craith and Hinterland, the two dramas are united by the way they are shot, with filming taking place back-to-back in Welsh and English. The Welsh version will debut on S4C on January 7, 2018, before a bilingual version airs later in the year on BBC Wales. BBC4, which previously acquired Hinterland, has already snapped up rights to Craith and will also air the bilingual version in 2018.

Quite simply, each shot is filmed in Welsh and then, if required, it is immediately repeated in English. “It’s an organic process that comes from the creators,” Talfan says, noting that there are no stipulations requiring a certain amount of the bilingual version should be in English.

“Actually, certain characters in the story world will speak Welsh and some won’t. So you might have an episode that balances 60/40 English but then you might have one episode that is considerably more Welsh, just because that’s where the story is at. It’s true bilingualism, rather than a country where some people speak English and some people speak Welsh.”

Notably, some scenes play out with no dialogue at all, but that wasn’t a conscious decision to avoid reshoots, Talfan insists. “It’s genuinely the kind of drama Mark and myself and director Gareth [Bryn] love, so those elements are shot once. For me personally, because my experience of being Welsh is bilingual, if you were making a single version it would possibly be the bilingual version because that’s reflective of how I live in the country. But there are people in Wales who speak Welsh pretty much all the time and you may find some programme makers would love to make solely Welsh programming.”

Meilir’s Dylan is revealed as the show’s antagonist from the offset

Development began in December 2015, with Andrew leading a scriptwriting team that includes award-winning Welsh novelist Caryl Lewis and Bafta Cymru-winning writer Jeff Murphy. Treatments and a script bible were completed in 2016, with all eight scripts finished by early 2017.

“It’s been quite intense,” Talfan admits, though he describes shooting in North Wales as a joy, despite the changeable weather. “We shot some of the series in South Wales for practical cost reasons and then some of it in North Wales, so those are the logistical challenges. Then because it’s a bilingual show, you need a bilingual cast and we’re always trying to bring in new faces. You’ve got no baggage with them [from previous roles] so you surrender to the characters. Celebrity casting applies to a lot of high-end drama. I understand why it happens, and there are very good reasons for it, but there’s a lovely sense of quality between the ensemble and the fact the audience don’t know them.”

Since its launch in 2013, Hinterland has certainly helped to put Welsh drama on the map, drawing comparisons to the wave of Nordic noir crime dramas over the last decade. But beyond the creative or production process, Talfan says the biggest game-changer for Welsh drama in the post-Hinterland landscape has been a psychological one.

“If we wanted to do something with a certain level of ambition, which requires a certain level of budget, we would always go to London and ask a broadcaster for their support and the green light,” he explains. “If for any reason they passed, usually you would get back on the train to Cardiff and think the project was dead in the water. But on Hinterland, the thing that changed everything was the back-to-back production that had first been done in the early 90s and doing it in tandem with a partner like All3, because they could see the show would sell and they believed in how we would deliver it.

“It’s completely changed how we approach projects now. If you get a ‘no’ from one organisation, you don’t think all your work’s in the bin; you think there is a way of financing this, you just need to be internationally minded and look at where those partnerships are. So for people working in the regions, it’s been hugely important because it used to feel like you could only get a ‘yes’ out of London. It doesn’t feel like that anymore.”

A seriously dark, broody and compelling drama, Craith is well placed to repeat Hinterland’s international success and, together with other recent S4C dramas such as Bang and Un Bore Mercher (Keeping Faith), ensure the international spotlight continues to shine on Welsh drama, whatever the weather.

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Off with a Bang

Hinterland gave Welsh-language drama recognition on the international stage. Now, writer Roger Williams hopes to repeat that show’s success with Bang, a taut bilingual thriller set and filmed in the town of Port Talbot.

When it first aired in 2013, Y Gwyll (Hinterland) marked a watershed moment for Welsh drama. Capitalising on the moody visuals also seen in Nordic noir hits, the series was filmed simultaneously in Welsh and English as part of a deal between broadcasters S4C and BBC Wales.

Distributor All3Media International subsquently sold the crime series, which ran for three seasons, to Netflix, ARD (Germany), KRO (Netherlands), NRK (Norway), YLE (Finland), VRT (Belgium), RTV (Slovenia), Dizale (France) and DR (Denmark).

S4C and BBC Wales have now ordered two follow-ups, Un Bore Mercher (Keeping Faith) and Craith (Hidden), both of which will be filmed back-to-back in Welsh and English.

Roger Williams

But before those programmes air on S4C in November this year and January 2018 respectively, the Welsh-language broadcaster is going solo on another original series that aims to follow in Hinterland’s successful footsteps.

Bang, created and written by Roger Williams, is the story of loner Sam (Cuffs star Jacob Ifans), whose life is transformed when he comes into possession of a gun and starts to break the law. Meanwhile, his ambitious police officer sister, Gina (Stella’s Catrin Stewart), is on a mission to find the owner of the weapon, against the backdrop of the shooting of a local man that raises questions for Sam and Gina about their father’s murder.

From the opening episode, which debuts this Sunday, Bang is a gripping thriller that slowly unwraps Sam’s decent into a life of crime, reflecting his own hope for a better life with that of Gina, who is constantly seeking a higher role in the local police force.

“For a long time, I have felt like a lot of Welsh drama doesn’t really tackle story. It has been about the aesthetic of the show and tends to be very slow in that Nordic way,” creator and writer Williams says, admitting he hadn’t aspired to write a crime drama when he first started Bang. “But one of the things that made this project attractive was the idea that we’ve got a gun that comes in and changes people’s lives in a very human and hopefully real way.”

Eyeing the new status Welsh drama enjoys in international circles, Williams was keen make the series accessible to non-Welsh speakers. From the outset, however, his company Joio and production partner Artists Studio (The Fall) knew they didn’t want to follow the Hinterland model, which involved essentially making the show twice on the same budget.

That meant Williams wrote his bilingual script in a naturalistic way, mirroring the blend of Welsh and English that is used in day-to-day life in Port Talbot, the South Wales town where the series was filmed and set.

Bang stars Jacob Ifan and Catrin Stewart as siblings Sam and Gina

The production took over a disused building beside the town’s railway station and turned it into a production office with room for edit suites and the make-up, hair and art departments, firmly rooting the series within the community that would form the backdrop of the eight-episode drama.

“We didn’t do that thing where we went down there for a couple of weeks and only shot certain scenes,” explains Williams. “We decided we were going to establish ourselves in the town, so we moved in in March and just finished in August. We very much wanted to root ourselves in the town because, for me, Port Talbot is a very important character within the series.

“This is a town that, for the majority of people, the only relationship they have with it is when they travel on the M4 motorway over the town. They don’t really go into the town or visit the seafront. It was very important to us that we saw the area and the town and found those places that people haven’t necessarily seen on TV before. That becomes important then when you’re trying to give it an identity for an international audience.”

When Williams first began developing the show, it was set in an unspecified location. But the writer’s connection to Port Talbot – he has lived there for 12 years – meant it became a natural setting for the drama that plays out.

Describing the decision to place the series in Port Talbot, Williams echoes some of the sentiments made by UK journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow during his MacTaggart lecture at last month’s Edinburgh International TV Festival, where he spoke about the media’s responsibility to reflect a greater level of diversity.

“I was down on the beach one day with the dog, looked up and thought, ‘I haven’t seen this place on TV. I haven’t seen this environment on TV,’ and I saw an opportunity to be the first to reimagine the town in a TV drama,” says Williams. “One of the things I learned very quickly was if we had any hope of [Bang] being an international success, it needed that visual identity, and that sense of place then becomes very important.

Williams already has plans for a second season

“What people generally think about when they think of Welsh TV is Hinterland and these wonderful vistas and views and landscapes. The challenge for us, then, was going in a different direction. For people who live in South Wales generally, Port Talbot is a place they don’t know about, and that certainly fed into this idea that it’s a place of secrets, a place where, under that motorway, there are things going on that you don’t know about.”

Williams speaks of a creative harmony on set that is central to the founding principle of Joio, which takes its name from the Welsh word that roughly translates to ‘enjoyment.’ “One of the things that drove us to set up the company was that we wanted to allow creative people to get on with what they do well. Certainly from the feedback I’ve had from the people who worked on the show for us, it was a very pleasant change from the way other companies operate,” he says.

“We very much brought on people we knew were capable, talented and creative and then gave them permission to create in a way they wanted to, and that’s something we’ve done with every single project.”

A former chairman of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Williams is already developing a second season of Bang, which would continue to follow the “unfinished business” between Sam and Gina while still set in Port Talbot. In fact, he says he has imagined what happens to the siblings over three seasons – and believes writers should spend more time future-gazing when it comes to bringing a new drama to television.

“Often writers do that trick of not knowing where it’s going to go, creating uncertainty and an opportunity to go somewhere surprising in the second or third season, but they haven’t actually worked out where they’re going to go,” he says. “So when they get to it, it’s never going to be that satisfactory because you don’t have the same plan that you did for the first season. I spent two-and-a-half years on this project and I know the second season, if it happens, won’t have the same gestation. So a lot of people chuck a curveball in at the end and it becomes a bit of a curse as they move forward and have to write the second or third season.”

Series in the US, however, have a better sense of momentum, as writers are often challenged to map out where the show will head in later seasons.

“We don’t generally do that in the UK,” Williams continues. “There’s that thing of development hell that a lot of writers find themselves in because it takes two, three or four years to get that commission. You get it and the show’s successful, and then the commissioner is like, ‘Right, let’s have another one.’ The writer is often so exhausted having produced that amount of work under that much scrutiny.”

For now, at least, Williams is hopeful Bang can become the next international hit series to come out of Wales and continue Hinterland’s legacy, with Banijay Rights on board as the international distributor.

“Hinterland was a bit of a game-changer,” Williams adds. “There are three shows being made for S4C at the moment and they’ve all got distributors attached, so there’s a definite change in the way people are looking at the work that’s coming out of Wales.”

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