It’s only been a year since our last feature on the film and TV industry in Wales, but a lot can happen in a year: from S4C landing a major Netflix distribution deal to hit Channel 4 dramas, Rhiannon Farr surveys the recent past, present and looks to the future of Welsh film and TV.
With the recent milestone of S4C’s Dal Y Mellt being sold to, and distributed by, Netflix – the first solely Welsh-language show to air on the platform – it’s a good time to consider the recent momentum Welsh-made TV and film has gained. Worldwide audiences have picked up on productions in both English and Welsh, ones not merely filmed in Wales but which make their national identity clear.
The uptick in international recognition for Welsh-made dramas, documentaries and everything in between is a testament to the industry’s commitment to both quality and representation. Dedicated domestic production companies and homegrown storytellers to match have left Wales positioned to make an indelible mark on the global entertainment landscape.
One high-profile success that has spliced Wales and Hollywood is FX’s Welcome To Wrexham, streaming on Disney+. In 2020, actors Rob McElhenney (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) bought Wrexham AFC, generating an instant torrent of publicity and a financial boost which gained the club promotion to the Football League at the end of the 2022-23 season. Welcome To Wrexham follows McElhenney and Reynolds as they navigate the highs and lows of running a football club, likewise the lives of Wrexham’s players.
Distributed via Disney+, the documentary has put Wrexham on the map – Wales itself in many cases, you’d imagine – for its global audience, with McElhenney and Reynolds both learning Welsh to boot. The attendant media circus can’t be ignored, either: in the last couple of years the north Wales city has been visited by Hollywood actors, including Paul Rudd and McElhenney’s Always Sunny co-stars. When Reynolds starred in 2021’s Red Notice alongside Gal Gadot and Dwayne Johnson, he also requested Welsh subtitles be provided for the film’s release on Netflix. As a result, Red Notice (which otherwise has no Wales-related content) became the first item on the platform to be subtitled in the language, an accessible and inclusive move warmly received by Welsh viewers.
The Welsh film and TV scene has widened in recent years – what once was just a set for other productions has evolved into homegrown creations that have been distributed across the globe. The Feast (Gwledd in Welsh), available on Amazon Prime Video, is a Welsh-language horror film given UK-wide and American distribution; filmed in Powys, it features an entirely Welsh cast.
The Light In The Hall (Welsh title: Y Golau) is another glowing example of the native language in media. This bilingual Channel 4 drama was largely filmed in Carmarthenshire, with some parts shot in the Tywi Valley and Cardiff; it follows the aftermath of a young woman’s disappearance, focusing on the victim’s grieving mother and the efforts of a journalist trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. Brian And Charles, a comedy set filmed in rural north Wales, achieved global acclaim after its screening at Sundance Film Festival in 2022. The film follows a lonely inventor who creates a primitive artificially-intelligent companion, somewhat like a modern-day Pinocchio.
As mentioned previously, many a production found itself filming in Wales, and if not all necessarily sought to represent their host’s culture, it all contributed to a burgeoning degree of global recognition. Perhaps the most iconic TV show to come out of Wales is Doctor Who, plus its spinoff Torchwood: since its revival in 2005, nearly every episode has been shot somewhere in the country, and boosted Wales’ TV industry. With landmark Welsh locations and various historical sites often featuring onscreen, Doctor Who’s popularity has lured fans from all over the world to Wales on sightseeing missions.
The success of the rebooted Doctor Who led to the creation of spinoff shows set in the same universe, including Torchwood – visibly set in Cardiff Bay, and featuring a character with the decidedly Welsh name of Ianto; when the character died in 2009, a shrine appeared on a quayside wall which remains in place today – and The Sarah Jane Adventures. The franchise’s presence in Wales has enhanced the cultural identity of the country, showcasing Welsh landmarks, folklore and talent.
In 2014, the film Pride opened to acclaim, going on to be nominated for three BAFTA awards and a Golden Globe. Based on actual events, Pride tells the story of the LGBTQ+ community standing in solidarity with striking Welsh miners in the mid-1980s, and the chosen filming locations utilise Wales’ landscapes, villages, and one-time mining areas. A positive, uplifting portrayal of those involved in the movement, the film sheds light on an important moment of Welsh history.
Considering origin stories for a moment, one can’t discuss films set in Wales without mentioning 1941 blockbuster How Green Was My Valley: winning five Academy Awards and named one of Clint Eastwood’s favourite pictures, this film truly gave voice to the people of Wales. Produced during World War II, domestic filming was consequently off-limits, so a replica of a south Wales mining town was built in California’s Santa Monica Mountains.
How Green… depicts Victorian life in the Valleys and the impact of the dangerous mining industry on Welsh communities and families. Despite being an American production, the movie’s narrative reflects the socioeconomic changes faced by Welsh mining communities, seeking to depict the unbreakable Welsh spirit. Beyond its cinematic achievements, the film left an indelible mark on Wales, shaping its cultural identity and inspiring a generation of Welsh storytellers.
In recent news, S4C has pledged to release a new Welsh film every year, with support and funding from Creative Wales, Sinema Cymru and Ffilm Cymru. This could be a huge stimuli for the broadcasting company, moving towards a more developed film industry in Wales while promoting the use of the language in cinema. Dal Y Mellt (renamed to Rough Cut for its English-speaking audience) being picked up by Netflix has had a significant impact on the industry, and it’s been followed closely by Y Sŵn – S4C’s filmic account of its own, politically tempestuous origins – released in cinemas nationwide, to good reception.
Additionally, a groundbreaking partnership has been announced between S4C and film/gaming studio Wales Interactive. This collaboration marks an innovative step forward, merging the realms of film and interactive storytelling. S4C chief executive Sian Doyle has outlined the plans, where three filmmakers will work together to develop scripts and ideas for an interactive film in Welsh; the goal is to explore the possibilities of interactive storytelling and create an immersive experience.
By embracing cutting-edge technology and narrative techniques, S4C and Wales Interactive aim to revolutionise the way stories are told in Wales. The ultimate goal of this collaboration is to select one exceptional project for commission, ensuring the chosen interactive film reaches audiences worldwide. By embracing this interactive format, S4C and Wales Interactive wish to propel the Welsh film industry forward – and position Wales as a pioneer in the realm of immersive storytelling.
words RHIANNON FARR