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ITV recently showed a three-part short series The Pembrokeshire Murders, based on the real-life story behind the conviction of serial killer John Cooper.
The series, which included a cast led by Luke Evans and Keith Allen, showed the brilliance of Welsh storytelling, and offered ITV its biggest drama launch in five years. It has even led to the reopening of further cases previously deemed unsolved.
The Pembrokeshire Murders was the first time in a while a television drama led by an all-Welsh cast had been so successful; for many it felt like the first time they’d heard so many authentic Welsh accents in a crime drama since BBC One Wales released Keeping Faith in 2017.
Yet, there may be a reason for this. Although an abundance of TV shows and films are filmed in Wales, very few are actually set here and include Welsh characters.
We all want to see iconic Welsh locations shown on our screens, but very few shows filmed in Wales which may be shown worldwide are, in fact, set here. Although there are many brilliant Welsh programmes on our screens, very few will make it to homes outside of Wales.
There has been some change, at least, in the past few years. In 2008, the BBC launched the ‘Beyond the M25’ initiative, to solidify a more sustainable production base across the nation, in an attempt to ‘bring production closer to the audiences they serve’.
Shows like Hinterland, Keeping Faith and The Pembrokeshire Murders have been testament to the telling of incredible, Welsh-centric stories. When The Pembrokeshire Murders launched on January 11, it saw an immense 6.3 million viewers, with a third of people watching television across all channels tuning in to the first episode.
Keeping Faith saw around 9 million BBC iPlayer downloads after its initial Welsh-language release earlier in 2017 and prompted the BBC to show the programme on all BBC One channels across the UK, as opposed to simply BBC One Wales, as was the case when it first aired.
Programmes such as Belonging and Baker Boys have since been forgotten but were further examples of the representation of Welsh communities from a fervently Welsh lens.
Wales does get some representation on our television screens. However, the problem is that it is often kept to one character, or the programmes depicting Welsh life and culture are shown only in Wales.
A lack of representation is an issue for many groups, and so a lack of representation of Welsh life and culture should, of course, not take precedence over more representation for other groups, though it does feel important.
Often, it seems as though we rely on channels like S4C and BBC One Wales alone to provide authentic Welsh representation.
We’ll often see Welsh characters in television and film, but it seems as though the roles go to actors from other countries, leading to dodgy accents and a personality filled with stereotypes.
Sometimes, even within shows written by Welsh writers, such as Russel T. Davies’ Years and Years on BBC One, and his upcoming Channel 4 drama It’s a Sin, only one Welsh character is shown in each. It’s better than nothing, and at least the actors in both shows truly are Welsh, but it feels slightly as though this was a battle Russell T. Davies had to fight.
Even without talking about dramas, Wales can often feel like the butt of the joke for showrunners eager to get ratings. ITV’s most recent series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! was filmed in Gwrych Castle in North Wales, and ahead of its release ITV were warned of the impact of using cheap Welsh stereotypes to fuel its script.
Thankfully, the public were listened to and ITV were sure to give Ant & Dec Welsh lessons and stereotyping was rare. There were, of course, the odd annoyances, such as the Joker’s poor attempt at a generic Welsh accent and the whole ‘Tecwyn’ fiasco, but on the whole it was respectable.
Although Wales is the smallest of the four nations, with only 3.1 million residents, it can still seem unfair to limit our screen time. For a nation which is used as the backdrop for hundreds of stories, it seems unfair we don’t often get to use those backdrops for stories of our own. Have you seen the quality of the Mabinogi? A series on them alone could gain you millions of viewers, I’m telling you.
Perhaps the success of The Pembrokeshire Murders could indicate to TV bosses that Welsh storytelling is just as valuable as any other nation. If a show set in Wales with a Welsh-led cast can attract such a large viewership, there’s incentive there to commission more programmes; I’m sure Michael Sheen would be happy to be part of a show if the problem was a famous lead!
As a country part of the four nations, with so much history and culture, Wales is bursting at the seams with stories to share. It’s time we started seeing more of them.