Still the One

Still the One

By Michael Pickard
February 16, 2024

The Writers Room

Elen Rhys and Richard Harrington play detectives and former lovers who reunite when a murderer strikes in Welsh drama Cleddau (The One That Got Away). Writer Catherine Tregenna tells DQ how she created the six-part series.

When police officers come together to solve a cold case, they are usually tasked with picking up a historic murder or other unsolved crime when new evidence comes to light years later.

But in six-part Welsh drama Cleddau (The One That Got Away), the cold case at the centre of the story is a romantic one, as two detectives – and former lovers – find themselves thrown back together to lead a new investigation while also facing up to their old feelings.

Combining a murder mystery with a love story, the series is set in the coastal town of Pembroke Dock where the shocking murder of a nurse opens old wounds in this small-town community, throwing a past conviction into doubt and raising the horrifying prospect of a copycat killer.

It also reunites exes Ffion Lloyd and Rick Sheldon, who are tasked with finding the killer.

Starring Elen Rhys (The Mallorca Files) and Richard Harrington (Y Gwyll/Hinterland) in the lead roles, the series comes from writer Catherine Tregenna, who has previously worked on crime dramas such as Lewis, DCI Banks and Law & Order UK.

Catherine Tregenna

The series is built on Tregenna’s interest in the psychology behind why good people do bad things, with a story that shines a light on mental health issues facing young men in a post-industrial town. Each suspect for the central crime has a different reason why they might have done it, whether it’s depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or steroid abuse (known as ‘roid rage’).

But the origins of the series actually began with another type of forensic analysis – that of an old love affair.

“It started with the detectives and what went wrong, hence [English title] The One That Got Away,” the writer tells DQ, speaking as filming is underway on the show’s third block ahead of its debut on Welsh broadcaster S4C later this year. “I wondered why their love story was interrupted and what it would be like if, 12 years down the line, you met that same person and had those same feelings, but your lives had moved on in different directions.

“I wanted to start with the love story, and we built the cases around that, so we gave them a case from 12 years ago that was particularly devastating in different ways. Then we introduced the idea of a copycat or someone emulating the crime in order to deflect from who they are. It reunited these two people who had been separated quite abruptly and who were once engaged. Rick stayed behind, remarried, got a family and is quite comfortable in Pembroke Dock. Ffion moved on and is a bit of a kickass, ballsy detective in the city with no real personal life because it’s all about work and no play. So she’s catapulted back home because this case is rooted in the past, and she’s reunited with her ex-lover to work on it.”

A fan of atmospheric crime series such as True Detective and the Scandi noir genre, Tregenna found Law & Order UK to be a “crash course” in solving a crime across a compact, 45-minute running time. Now with Cleddau, she has more time to explore the personal lives of the detectives and the suspects they come to meet.

Elen Rhys and Richard Harrington star as former lovers in Cleddau (The One That Got Away)

“What I love is character and being able to get under their skin,” she says. “I’m not a huge fan of dangling suspects and keeping people guessing. I like to tell their truth, so I like to get under the skin of why someone is a prime suspect and what they’re hiding. It’s taken a lot of wrangling but ultimately we’re true to the characters. The actors that come in aren’t asked to play a guessing game. They’ve got an emotional truth running underneath.”

That’s not say Cleddau doesn’t have hooks, twists and turns. Tregenna promises plenty of those, but she says every suspect identified through the investigation can be justified, rather than simply being a red herring thrown to the audience.

“You have emotional hooks as well, with the will-they-won’t-they aspect of the two lead cops coming back together,” she continues. “That isn’t a separate story. It’s affected by the case, which is locked in the past. We’ve also got a character, Ffion’s father, who’s got dementia and he’s stuck in the past, believing they’re still together. Maybe this is my Torchwood and Doctor Who background, but we time travel, which is true to life really, so Ffion goes back to a town she never thought she’d work in again. All the ghosts and buried secrets come to light.”

Like Ffion in the series, Tregenna has recently returned to her hometown of Llanelli after living in Cardiff for many years, and her experiences have helped to shape the sense of place in the series, where people living in post-industrial towns are dealing with a lack of jobs or difficulty getting on the property ladder, leading to mental health issues like depression.

The crimes at the heart of the story have also left a “scar” on the town, with Ffion and Rick risking opening up old wounds in their search for the truth.

Harrington is best known for his starring role in influential Welsh drama Hinterland…

“Because of the past reawakening, the police want to shut it down so the town trusts them, and that can lead to cover-ups and various things to deflect attention,” Tregenna says. “Those are our areas of interest and, hopefully, because of the love story at its heart – it’s a love triangle because Rick is happily married – that keeps you invested as well. We didn’t try to be too different; we tried to mine the truth.”

Writing the drama, Tregenna partnered with Phil Trethowan and Ben Bickerton, executive producers at series producer BlackLight Television, to “talk and talk” about the characters and the plot. “But inevitably there comes a time when you have to suck it up, lock yourself away and see where you can go with it,” she says.

To make her task more difficult, Tregenna also chose to highlight a different genre within each episode. “There’s the coming home episode, the high chase episode, the siege episode, and then the psychological horror one,” she reveals. “It was quite fun separating these episodes without disturbing the story, and writing all those genres that we love. It was very collaborative, but ultimately you’re on your own when you have to buckle down and write.”

Like many Welsh dramas that have been produced over the last decade, Cleddau is also following a back-to-back production model, where every scene is filmed in both Welsh and English. All six episodes are directed by Sion Ifan (Y Gyfrinach/The Secret), with Banijay handling international sales of both versions.

Tregenna herself is a Welsh speaker, having started learning the language when she was 10. But initially thinking and hearing dialogue in English, “with a Welsh accent,” she decided to write the scripts in English before producer Mared Swain translated them into Welsh. She then found some of her favourite English quips didn’t make sense in Welsh, but the most important thing was that the translated lines carried the same intention, even if they didn’t translate directly.

…while viewers may recognise Rhys from The Mallorca Files

“It’s been really well done, but it’s a tricky one for the actors,” the writer adds. “Very often, just before the take, you hear, ‘What language?’ Sometimes one actor’s speaking English and the other’s speaking Welsh! But it’s really interesting because there is a difference. When you hear the scenes in Welsh, you can’t explain it but it’s a different rhythm, a different energy, and it’s lovely. The reality is in places like Pembroke, not everyone speaks Welsh, so we do have characters that only speak English, trying to reflect what happens now, but it’s challenging.”

Tregenna is now hoping Ffion and Rick might get to reunite once more on a new case, with meetings already being held to “tease” ideas that could form the basis for a new season.

“We always want to keep the personal strands running, and that engages people, so we are hoping to do more,” she says. “We’re thinking ideally three seasons and then we can resolve it. There’s plenty of mileage in the stories.”

It’s been more than 20 years since Tregenna last created a series – 2001’s The Bench – and she says the chance to now be in control of her own story, and tell it with her own voice, has been “incredible.”

“It’s psychologically driven and it’s a thriller, but it’s the personal thing everyone can identify with,” she adds. “We’ve all had a lost love we’ve wondered about, and when they’re brought back and are working alongside you, what does that do to you and to everyone else? That to me is what it’s about. Ffion is on the run from past pain and when she comes home, she has to deal with it all.”

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