As regular readers of this website will know, I’m a big fan of S4C’s Welsh-language dramas. Over the years, we’ve had the likes of Y Gwyll/Hinterland, Craith/Hidden, Yr Amgeuddfa/The Museum… the list goes on. So far, the channel’s output has fallen into two camps – the slow, thoughtful procedurals of Y Gwyll and Craith (heavy on emotion and social commentary, with an almost spaghetti western pace), and the high-concept, contemporary stylings of Yr Amgueddfa.
Besides the cast, the first thing you see and feel with Y Golau (The Light), is the pacing – it’s definitely more in line with Y Gwyll and Craith in that respect, even though showrunner of the aforementioned shows – Ed Talfan – is not involved in this six-part series.
But while we’re here let’s talk about the cast, because it really is tremendous. Recent BAFTA winner Joanna Scanlan takes the lead role of Sharon – a middle-aged mum who is still coming to terms with the disappearance and supposed death of her 15-year-old daughter, Ela, 18 years ago. The man who has been doing time for this crime – and has indeed admitted to killing her – is Joe Pritchard, played by Iwan Rheon (a global name thanks to Game Of Thrones). We see him in this opening episode tortured by flickering of memories of that fateful day as he sits before a parole board, awaiting its verdict.
There’s one problem – although he admits killing Ela, due to an amnesia condition he can’t tell anyone (not least himself) what he did or where he hid the body.
In the middle of all this trauma, grief and heartache is Sharon’s other daughter Greta, who still lives at home with her mum. Together they’ve recovered as best they can, help others who have experienced the same kind of losses they’ve experienced and are trying to carry on and live their lives.
But of course, before Ela’s body has never been found there has been no closure. Without a body they can’t say goodbye, or give Ela the send-off she deserves.
Also skirting the story is journalist Cat Donato (the always excellent Alexandra Roach), who’s after a meaty story to reinvigorate her career. As is the way of this world, she wants to write a true crime story, but the one subject matter that’s staring her in the face she doesn’t want to take on – she was one of Ela’s best friends at the time of her disappearance.
But when Pritchard is released from jail, Cat decides to confront those memories from the past and takes a trip back to her home town of Llanemlyn to try and persuade Pritchard – now in a halfway house – to give her the big interview. Also converging on the safe house is Sharon, who is still – after all these years – desperate for answers.
It’s a fine, intriguing premise that’s just ripe for good drama, and it’s beautifully played. Episode one – like some of its S4C predecessors – doesn’t go for the jugular like other shows on other channels perhaps would but instead takes its time to really explore Sharon’s grief and horror that the man who killed her daughter is now free. There are moments in this first episode when Sharon walks around her empty house that are genuinely affecting – she can still sense, see, her daughter from years gone in a shard of sunlight through the window, still desperate to retain that contact with her; still desperate to feel the connection. As you would expect, Joanna Scanlan is just terrific in these scenes, showcasing the range and the kind of believability and naturalism that has finally gained her the plaudits she deserves, and has deserved for many years.
So where is this going? There’s a sense – thanks to something Greta said in passing – that Ela may not be dead, and she still keeps her sister’s diary hidden from everyone. Does she know something about Ela that we don’t? And what of Cat’s investigation into the case and Pritchard’s assimilation back into society? You get the sense some buried secrets are about to be uncovered.
A strong first episode.
Y Golau is available to watch on S4C Clic or BBC iPlayer