WELSH TV: Why I watched 35 AWR and came back every week

I have no idea how I ended up watching 35 AWR. I saw a particularly enthusiastic tweet about it before Episode 1, I seem to recall. Those ads on the side of Cardiff buses were nice and graphic, too.

It’s true I have loyalty to certain creators, particularly if they’re working with Welsh material. But for example, I never sat down for PARCH or GWAITH/CARTREF and still haven’t finished watching BANG since it went off the iPlayer. Obviously WALES in the MOVIES is a film thing not TV, but more than else, it’s a Wales thing. I’ve tried to get into TV over the last few years. Nothing has really, you know really got me straight away. Somehow I found myself watching 35 AWR Episode 1 and after a few minutes I knew I was into it. Why did this happen? More on that later.

Whose story is it?

You can rarely be sure of which individual takes the credit or responsibility for end result on screen. For film auteurs like Tarantino you know where the buck stops, but with most it gets lost in collaboration. Think STAR WARS back in ’77; it’s widely thought that without Marcia Lucas’ edit reshaping of husband George’s messy film narrative, his movie wouldn’t have spawned a saga and would have likely gone the way of THE BLACK HOLE or something similar. Now try imagining it without the music John Williams. Or Christopher Walken as Han Solo. “Faaast…… Ship?”

S4C is not 20th Century Fox obviously, and a Sunday night murder mystery set in Bridgend is a galaxy far, far away from Tatooine (although a night out in Maesteg shares similarities with the Moss Eisley Spaceport)

Despite all these factors at play in crafting a work of drama, one person often takes the rise or fall, which is part of the risk/reward equation of collaborative works, I guess. In my reviews of 35 AWR so far, the bulk of the credit has gone to writer Fflur Dafydd. It’s clear that it’s her baby, but now we know how the show ends, it’s time to share the love a little bit. Other writing credits go to Paul Jones, Rhys Powys and Will Roberts.

Off Screen Love

This show also has two directors: Rhys Powys (CASUALTY, BELONGING, PARCH, 35 DIWRNOD, HIINTERLAND) and Eryl Huw Phillips (GWAITH/CARTREF, LIVING A LIE).

What stands out about the direction is how it has given scope to a confined and limited space, making it accessible. Characters are often found on the periphery of the frame on the side or at the bottom, particularly in the earlier episodes directed by Rhys Powys.

I’m sure there are many clever paradigms as to why a director (or DoP – who gets the credit, see?) would do this. For me as an individual viewer, the often ‘dead’ areas on screen give a vital feeling of space and freedom within what is essentially, a very busy narrative filled with subplots and ensemble cast. It also allows me the room to speculate and imagine what is going on outside the rectangle world – surely a very welcome audience freedom in a story such as this. It breaks the old rule of photo composition by characters often facing away from space.

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But none of these techniques are isolated, there’s plenty of symmetry too. Usually from a smartphone or laptop PoV, or at moments of clarity of discovery for the characters. At other times the ensemble cast fills the frame. Mixing up the compositions keeps me guessing, preventing any boredom or security to set in and giving it a visual flair and tempo.

Eryl Huw Philips took over the directing from Episode 6 onwards. I’m not sure why that decision was made, perhaps it might have been a bit risky to fly-flop between directors as the series progressed? This seems like the obvious answer, as the 8 Episodes have a solid unity about them in terms of style.

The hotel and jury room setting could get claustrophobic quite easily. It’s something I felt when watching Y LLYFRGELL – the Welsh language movie adapted by Fflur Dafydd from her own novel – but I’ve never felt that in 35 AWR.

This just flows better. Editing must have played a part in the shaping of the story. This role can be ambiguous in terms of responsibilities – is Dafydd Hunt an editor for hire, simply pruning beginning and end of scenes to maintain tempo, or has he helped shape the sequence of events that created such intrigue from Episode 1? For a bit more insight into the writing and creative process of 35 AWR you can listen to Fflur Dafydd talk on a podcast for The Killing Times here.

On Screen Love

So, why did the show get me into it from the outset? Well, there are twelve reasons.

It’s these guys. They are why I’ve been looking forward to the last seven Sundays. I love and hate them. I admire them. I’m frustrated and scared by them. I’m jealous of them. I fancy them.

The actors on the fringe (Sion Eifion, Ioan Hefin, Aled ap Steffan, Lowri Palfrey, Rhian Morgan, Janet Aethwy, Ieuan Rhys), are all good value. But at the end of the day, our twelve angry jurors have totally owned their characters from the first moments. The writing, of course, plays a huge part in their ability to do that. But the chemistries, contrasts and relatability of the twelve is the beating heart of the series. There’s an effortless about their shorthand and their humour. I could watch ’em all day. I’ve cared enough to want to see what happens to them. When you break it down, that’s all you can ask for in a story.

Taz (Iestyn Arwel) – that moustache is luxuriant beauty. I just googled Iestyn today and I can say the muzzy makes all the difference. Surely it’s gotta stay on his face now? His stylish, cynical camp makes a great advert for 21st century Welshness. Christine Pritchard’s Moira makes a perfect foil for his worldview as she tries to come to terms with her husband’s homoerotic cheating. Val also (Gillian Elisa, hilarious) fits nicely into this platonic threesome and you could honestly imagine these three getting their own spin off series. You heard it here first.

Lisa Marged is just the right amount of scary and wounded as Nadine. I absolutely believe that she’s messed up enough to carry her late husband’s ashes in a ring on her finger. And also that’s she’s mad enough to make it up. The chemistry with Dafydd Llyr Thomas is on the money, and plays again on the relatable quality of the characters. Poor Carwyn even looks confused when he’s asleep, and come on – we all know someone like him don’t we? He’s exactly the type of guy who’d get rumbled for having an affair before he even had it.

Meredid, played by Tara Bethan, is an empathetic bit of characterisation. If there was anyone who’d be likely to yield to a wanker like Peredur (Carwyn Jones) it would be her. Meredid is the mother of a mentally-ill child and anyone who has experience or insight into parenting special needs knows how consuming that is for your domestic relationships. Her guilt at her actions comes across in her every word and glance, especially considered how convincingly odious Peredur is. You can tell how much I dislike him right? Good acting, that. Good writing too. Let villains be villains is my motto.

Matt (led Pedrick) is another who falls into the “we all know one” group. never at any do you consider that you’re watching a fictional character. He is Matt and Matt is the type of nerdy pedant who’s not likely to be getting in on any of the sexy action.

That leaves Ree, Haydn, Lynwen and Fuming Steve. Rebecca Hayes is all attitude as Ree and her hair is not the only thing about her that’s fiery. She’s the juror who is visibly upto no good from the first episode and does a very good line in I-don’t-give-a-fuck. You get the impression she’d rather be speaking English too. I find her a bit of a dick to be honest. Good performance then. Conflict between her and head juror Haydn (Jâms Thomas) was set up in about 5 minutes of Episode 1. Lisa Victoria’s Lynwen is probably the most underwritten out of the bunch. I wanted to see more of her and her backstory, and I got it at the end. Fuming Steve’s dramatic goal was introduced just at the right time, and it feels as though the story ended well for him. Gareth John Bale plays it just right. He’s just an angry man. His face when Val offered him a shag was pure quality.

On screen Lust

Ah yes, I’ve said for years that the Welsh language needs sex. For too long Welsh language drama has been about the rural; the hills, the farms, the elderly, the church. You can’t expect to attract young people to using a language which won’t go near drugs, rock n roll and sex. Preferably, dirty, naughty sex which doesn’t take place on a farm or between a brother and sister. 35 AWR is absolutely pumping with it. Sex defines the show, its characters and their motivation. The murder which the show is based on, the backstories of the jurors, their friendships and motivations all originate below the waist. From its opening prologue to the last word, the lord’s days have been raunchy. Praise be.

What next?

It’s not until writing this that I discovered it has a sister show – 35 DIWRNOD. Time to check that out perhaps. While watching the show I was grateful for a self contained narrative, but as it reached the climax, I found myself being very open to the idea of 35 AWR 2. The story is by no means over, although I feel a sequel-baiting epilogue might have been to on-the-nose.

What this show has done for me, apart from give me the horn, is give me enormous hope for the future of Welsh drama on screens of whatever size. It’s made me want to associate myself with the language more than ever. I may even be open to the idea of a moustache. Now that is a game changer.

Da blydi iawn.


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