Over the past decade, Welsh drama has enjoyed a real boom, especially on the BBC, where the corporation has invested heavily in facilities, hubs and budgets. A knock-on effect of this investment has been S4C’s commitment to drama and, specifically, crime drama. During the past five years, we’ve enjoyed a number of high-quality, Welsh-language crime dramas like Y Gwyll (Hinterland), 35 Diwrnod and last year’s excellent Craith (Hidden).
This year’s early-year offering from S4C is 35 Awr (35 Hours). Written by Fflur Dafydd, it’s an eight-part series that is set in a jury room, featuring 10 people deliberating over a murder case. Of course, we’ve seen this set up in movies like 12 Angry Men and in books, like 2018’s highly recommended Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh, and it’s a premise that always has the potential to not only explore moral and socio-political differences within the jury members themselves, but also the ins and outs of a case.
All that being said, the opening scenes of 35 Awr don’t take place in a jury room – they take place in a grand, old building. It has an Agatha Christie vibe to it, and there are all sorts of things going on: a couple is having sex in a bathroom, someone is shouting ‘call an ambulance’, a woman is barricading herself in in her room, and a man, burning, tumbles out of the building’s door while being filmed on a mobile by a woman wearing a mask.
Quite the start.
It’s only after that disorientating start that we go into the jury room. The group of 10 people are all different, from different backgrounds and of different ages. Immediately there’s tension: there’s needle between officious foreman Haydn and Lynwen; there’s sexual attraction between married Merired and Peredur (which is consummated in a toilet cubicle later in the episode); Val (played by Gillian Elsa, who we saw play the terrifying Iona Harris in Craith last year) is the comedy outlet; Taz is a hipster who looks as though he can’t be bothered; Steve is brooding and says next to nothing; Ree is a surly young ‘un and snaps at everything and everyone; Carwyn is a bit moody; Nadine is prim, proper and slightly nerdy… and so it goes on.
Throughout this first episode they bicker, they chat and in the case of Merired and Peredur, they shag in a toilet cubicle. But what are they deliberating over?
A vulnerable and, what looks like, mentally disabled young man, Kelvin, has been charged with the murder of an elderly woman and, perhaps, her husband too. We see snatches of the incident in flashback, but what is clear is that Kelvin’s brother – Leighton – believes passionately that he’s innocent. Not so convinced is Leighton’s partner Susie, who recalls Kelvin being violent towards her. We also see in flashback that she caught him masturbating over some of her underwear.
As much as the jury, we’re also deliberating whether this disturbed young man is disturbed enough to commit murder.
There’s a lot going on in this first episode, but once it settles down the jurors start to discuss – argue – the ins and outs of the case it starts to get really intriguing and interesting. Each juror has his or her own prejudices that bleed into the discussion: some think that being mentally handicapped is no excuse and that Kelvin, perhaps even because of his frailty, is a murderer; while others argue compassion and want to give him the benefit of the doubt. And it gets more interesting by the end of the episode thanks to a good, old dramatic twist or two: Susie is run over by the police van transporting Kelvin to court, and Haydn has, what looks like, a heart attack. What does this all mean? The jurors are now forbidden to go home and are to be put up in a hotel for the night… presumably the grand building we saw at the beginning of the episode.
So we know this isn’t going to end well.
These twists and changes of location are clever – they’re like little bombs going off – and you can safely say that 35 Awr is completely the opposite of something like a Y Gwyll or Craith, which were both slow burners and based in the glorious Welsh countryside. Here it’s all about urban settings, fast-paced action and thrillery hooks.
I liked it. I liked it because it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, and I liked it because the characters were intriguing, likeable and unlikeable at the same time. I also liked it because I have no idea where this is going to go, which is a rare thing indeed these days.
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