Tag Archives: Hannah Thomas

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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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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