Six of the Best: Gwenllian Gravelle

Six of the Best: Gwenllian Gravelle

June 5, 2023


The head of scripted at Welsh-language broadcaster S4C picks half-a-dozen series that have had the biggest impact on her career, which has included producing Keeping Faith and commissioning The Light in the Hall.

Press Gang
This 1980s kids’ show revolved around a gang of teenagers running a newspaper. It was one of the first series written by Steven Moffat, and it was created by his father Bill. While a lot of children’s shows, particularly in the 80s, were extremely patronising, this was a really intelligent, gritty and witty series. It had a great young and untapped cast, including Nadia Sawalha and Dexter Fletcher, who had fantastic chemistry. It was like Moonlighting for kids. It was also shot on 16mm film, which was unheard of. Commissioners are now clambering to attract this demographic, and recent successes like Stranger Things and Wednesday tap into the intelligence and savviness of young people. That started with Press Gang.

Cagney & Lacey
This show marked a change in the traditional detective genre. It was about two female cops in gritty 1980s New York City, realistically portrayed by Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly. They were friends as well as partners but led very different lives at home. Cagney was a single, career-minded woman and Lacey was married with kids. It was extremely rare to see female cops on TV, and the male-dominated shows were prone to stereotyping and tokenism. What you saw in this drama, in addition to them going after the bad guys, was that they also had to deal with sexism in a male-dominated workplace. It was revolutionary. The crimes were mostly McGuffins – it was their lives outside of the job and the social realism that made it so compelling.

The Bridge
I loved the interplay between the two leads, Danish detective Martin and his Swedish counterpart Saga. He’s really liberal and goes on gut instinct, whereas she’s all about the facts and is unable to empathise or interact with people. It was a very interesting character trait I’d never seen before on screen. Most people say, regardless of the genre, you have to create an empathetic protagonist, so Saga was really going against the grain. To have Martin as her foil gave you the right balance of likeability, vulnerability and pragmatism. Along with other innovative series like The Killing and Borgen, it also showed you could have a riveting and suspenseful drama that wasn’t in English. Thankfully, the audience has started to recognise that subtitles are no longer a barrier to enjoy some exceptional non-English-language dramas. Similarly to our Welsh-language dramas, the location also becomes a character in itself.

The White Lotus
It’s the really sharp satire on privilege and a nightmare version of paradise that I love. These characters are unapologetically unlikeable, yet engrossing, and completely unravel as the series goes along. It’s just such a new twist on the whodunnit and it’s so deliciously heightened. The casting is brave and surprising. In the first season, Murray Bartlett’s hotel manager is like a demented Basil Fawlty. I can’t believe how playful and cheeky the series (also pictured top) is. I love that you’re transported to different countries each season. It could just run and run because the format’s so good. I can’t wait to see which idyllic destination they go to next.

Happy Valley, with a nod to Mare of Easttown
There are obvious similarities between these series – they both portray the realities of their communities and they put the human impact of crime under the microscope. They can both be really bleak but have warmth and humour. It’s also refreshing to see middle-aged women in lead roles, giving really naturalistic performances. It’s not all about being make-up free! They’ve both got terrific ensemble casts and are masterfully written and plotted. That’s why even though there are similarities, we’re blessed with two completely different shows.

Breaking Bad
I stumbled upon this show around 2008 on FX in the UK and just loved having found this hidden gem before the rest of the world cottoned on. The decision to cast against type was genius. Bryan Cranston, who was known for comedy Malcolm in the Middle, helped the audience sympathise with Walter White, and he could convincingly play a nerdy chemistry teacher and a fearsome meth dealer. There’s also such a pick and mix of other compelling characters. The spin-off, Better Call Saul, was also glorious, but you could have chosen any of the characters for a spin-off because they were all so richly developed and crafted. Creator Vince Gilligan’s attention to detail, the air-tight plotting and the stylised realism of the cinematography makes it a sublime and iconic show.

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