NB: SPOILERS INSIDE
Welsh crime drama Craith – only available on S4C at the moment (accessed for the likes of me in England via iPlayer) – has, in its seven previous episodes, proved itself to be one of the best of the year so far, telling the story of a dangerous manchild who kidnapped and murdered three young women and the pursuit by DI Cadi John. It’s been engrossing, hugely atmospheric and tense as you like. Hopefully, the series finale would go on to match the rest of the series.
I’m happy to report that this last episode was just thrilling. It was heartbreaking, sickening, tense and, in the end, melancholy in its conclusion and view of the world.
Dylan Harris, the kidnapper and murderer of four young, teenage women, was on the run, with Iona (his mother) and Nia (his daughter) in police custody and hospital care respectively, while the escaped Megan Ruddock was also being cared for in hospital. Harris had managed to get to family friend Mathew Heston’s place, and he remained holed up there for most of the episode – just like his prey in the cellar on the farm, he held Heston cruelly against his will, watching his life ebb away in front of his eyes after he had stabbed him in the stomach with a screwdriver.
Elsewhere, Cadi was trying to get some sense out of Ilona. She was proving to be a tough nut to crack, remaining stony-faced throughout her interviews. But as time wore on so did her resolve, and Cadi, who had been adopting a softly-softly approach, finally teased the full, horrific story from her – she had administered a late-term abortion to Mali Pryce; Llinos Evans was Nia’s mother (thus clearing up one of the big, remaining questions) and was buried on the farm’s land; Anna Williams, she said, was a mistake. It really was a horrid story, but one that was never portrayed in a gratuitous or overly-explicit way – Craith has always been about the different dimensions of psychopathy and was never afraid to ask serious questions: why do psychopathic men like to harm women? What does it take for someone to go so far off-track they resort to kidnap, rape and murder?
As Dylan Harris attempted to explain to the fast-disappearing Mathew Heston why he did what he did, his answers lie in abuse, introspection, self-loathing, delusion and, finally, and the addictive power that comes from controlling someone else’s life. As he told his stories, smiles flickered across his lips.
In the end, Dylan Harris took his own life, jumping off a bridge with the glorious Snowdonia countryside surrounding him, almost swallowing him whole. To begin with, the scenery seemed like it was going to be a character all of its own, but as the series developed, the focus narrowed. Until those final moments, that is – the land almost came back to suck Harris back into its rocks and its earth, like a vengeful god.
Often a lesson in less is more, Craith took its time when it came to telling its story. We’re in an age where crime dramas throw the kitchen sink at a story in a bid to keep the tempo up and to provide as many shocks and twists as they can (oh, hi Marcella). This often has a detrimental effect to the actual drama – the more stuff there is, the more often characters get lost in the whirlwind of narrative devices, and the reasons for the crimes and the effects of crime also become obscured.
Craith was different in every respect.
The crime drama equivalent of slow cooking, everything and everyone was on a low heat – characters (all of them) were allowed to develop and, furthering the food metaphor, simmer away. Each of these characters – from Cadi and Owen to Huw and the Harris and Pryce families all had backstories, all of which were explored. Characters were dealing with, in different ways, alienation, rage and grief, and a dissociation from the world and places and the people they were supposed to be connected with.
For Cadi, she was dealing with the deep-down grief and guilt of the death of her mother in a car crash, during which she was present. For Megan Ruddock it was a feeling of not being good enough and a disappointment to her mother. For Alun Pryce it was a feeling of his class not being taken seriously, and the need to mete out his own brand of justice. For Owen, he was coming to terms with the birth of his first child – and feeling out of place and fearful. Everyone, everyone, everyone had their story and Craith took the time to tell them.
This story could, in the wrong hands, have ended up as a whirlwind, four or five-part series and Dylan Harris portrayed as a cartoon villain. But instead, Craith produced an astonishingly nuanced story and was quietly bold, too – the mid-series interlude, where we spent the whole episode down on the Harris farm was something many crime dramas just would not do. It all added to the deep characterisation of this series, which, I got the impression, was extremely important to writers Mark Andrew and Ed Talfan. It was also bold to present to the audience the perpetrator so early on in the piece – it takes skill and courage to carry off a cat-and-mouse chase with such aplomb.
Another aspect of Craith that aided the characterisation was the performances. I thought Gillian Elisa was extraordinary as the fearsome Ilona Harris, and Gwyneth Keyworth as Megan Ruddock was also fantastic – both played complex, difficult characters. But the star of the show was Sian Reese-Williams as Cadi. I think I’m right in saying that despite appearing in a number of Welsh dramas recently (and a veteran of Emmerdale), this is her first starring role and she carried the whole series with real aplomb, and a quiet confidence. There were no airs or graces with Cadi – she was wasn’t burdened by the kind of trauma or affectations we see in most TV police people (indeed in our interview with Reese-Williams, she told us she explicitly didn’t want Cadi to be the kind of cop who wears her woes on her sleeve), despite having her own tragic experiences and present-day issues. Reese-Williams gave her strength, humour and displayed a real naturalness in her performance.
Let’s hope Craith, and Cadi, come back for a second series because in an age of so much mediocre crime drama, it (and she) was a gem.
For all our reviews of Craith, go here