The inexorable march of the Welsh crime thriller continues, thanks to this new, six-part series on S4C.
Penned by the prolific Fflur Dafydd, the brilliant creative mind involved with the likes of 35 Awr and 35 Dirwnod, Yr Amgueddfa (The Museum in English) threatens to provide another neat spin on the genre.
Quietly, Welsh crime drama has developed into a varied, rich and hugely satisfying melting pot. You’ve got the neo-Welsh Westerns of Y Gwyll (Hinterland) and Craith (Hidden), as well as high-concept and pacey affairs from Daffyd’s body of work. And we haven’t even mentioned Un Bore Mercher yet (Keeping Faith).
But here we go with Yr Amgueddfa, and its main character, Della (Nia Roberts), a high-flying executive in the arts world who has just received a promotion to director of the national museum in Wales. During her celebratory bash (where various government ministers are gathered, as well as her husband Alun (Steffan Rhodri)), her son Daniel introduces her to his ‘date’ Caleb (Craith’s Steffan Cennydd).
Sweet, handsome but with an intense way about him, he was straight on to her, trying to impress Della with his knowledge of art and scultpure and all things worldly. She was impressed, but she wasn’t really clicking in to his mode of conversation.
And then… while the two were in the car waiting for Daniel to come out of the museum, Caleb leaned over and the two started… well. Let’s just say they indulged in some very heavy petting.
It was quite the shock to the system.
On the face of it, Della had everything – a high-profile job, a successful husband, two grown-up children and a beautiful home. But, of course, all of this was superficial and soon her life began to unravel.
And at the heart of it was Caleb.
A lightning rod, perhaps, or a conduit for change, or even a human hand grenade, Caleb was the one that was set to change her forever. In the very opening scene we saw a tearful Della recording a statement to camera. We knew something bad was going to happen.
What was his game? Was he nothing more than an arch-seducer out for a bit of hot MILF action? Or… was there something else? Was he manipulating Della and, if so, to what end?
Is he a Welsh Tom Ripley?
As we found out more about Della’s family (an unhappy husband, and a daughter that was involved in a serious incident of some description), we suddenly – and rather intrestingly – switched to Caleb’s point of view to recap the events of the first half of the episode. We saw an eager, nervous young man who seemingly searched out Della’s son Daniel, and flirted with him in order to engineer an invitation to the museum, and – even more interestingly – saw a much more flirtatious version of Della. She was touching and playing with his lapel, laughing at his jokes and making eye contact during their conversations.
Caleb’s point of view was very different from Della’s.
More questions: was Caleb delusional and seeing what he wanted to see?
We also saw Caleb’s home during this segment. A family home, with a baby’s cup and plate on the kitchen counter. Someone lived there other than Caleb. We also saw a flash flashback, one of him struggling to free himself from a sinking car.
Was this an accident? Was Della involved in some way and was he out for revenge?
In the final act, we saw Della make a big mistake. Wherever she turned she saw Caleb, and in an excellently choreographed scene, the two edged around a sculpture in the museum like two chess pieces being moved around. It was seduction as movement, almost hide and seek. Show and tell.
She agreed to see him again, and agreed to sleep with him. Once. Just the once, and then he was to leave her and never come back to the museum again. They were Della’s instructions.
Armed with what we now knew about Caleb, this felt like a very bad mistake indeed.
As first episodes go it was nicely balanced, with more of a psychological thriller feel to it than the whodunits we’ve received from Wales recently. In fact, there’s a pleasing touch of old-school noir and new-school domestic noir to this story (think The Postman Always Rings Twice). Good characters, good performances, an intriguing set-up and a story that beckons you in seductively, Yr Amgueddfa is one one to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes us.
Yr Amgueddfa is on S4C in the UK and BBC’s iPlayer