A superb, frenetic telling of the battle for a Welsh-language TV channel, S4C: now so much a part of the cultural landscape in Wales that it’s inconceivable to think of cultural life without it. Written by Roger Williams and directed by Lee Haven Jones – whose previous feature, lyrical horror The Feast, created a worthy awards stir and screenings all over the world – Y Sŵn is another beast entirely. An in-your-face, anarchic trip through the years 1979-1982, it has the feeling of capturing a moment in time, despite its opening quote from R. Williams Parry – “The dramatist with all their fictions is closer to the truth than the historian”.
This film does not play strictly by the rules. Fourth walls are broken, bold credits introduce characters, toilet roll is denied to Margaret Thatcher, documentary footage is cleverly inserted and the cream of Welsh language talent and new faces are brought to the fore in a funny and moving tale of triumph.
Y Sŵn follows the story of Plaid Cymru politician Gwynfor Evans, played by an excellently restrained Rhodri Evan. A lifelong activist for his native tongue, when the new Conservative government renege on their election promise to create a Welsh-language TV channel Evans decides he has no option but to go on hunger strike, much to the worry of his wife (the brilliant Eiry Thomas). With this threat looming, criticism mounting from fellow language activists and firebombings of Welsh holiday homes on the rise, an initially deaf Tory government (Rhodri Meilir and the always-superb Mark Lewis Jones as Nicholas Edwards and William Whitelaw) are forced to take notice. The rumblings are felt throughout the Welsh Office, too: there, young staff member Ceri – played by Lily Beau Conway – is also forced to reassess her values.
Vibrant and free from cliché, beautifully shot, switching ratios and moving from monochrome to colour at moments that enhance the storytelling via Kevin Jones’ kinetic editing and shifting seamlessly from humour to potential tragedy, this is an incredibly ambitious and confident piece of work. The Welsh film and television industry is now thriving – thanks not just to S4C but a growing list of independent companies, including this film’s producers Joio, making Wales-based, Welsh-language content for a global audience. With the recent Dal Y Mellt having just sold to Netflix, Y Sŵn should be another feather in Wales’ cap.
Dir: Lee Haven Jones (12A, 90 mins)
Y Sŵn is screening in cinemas across Wales from Fri 10 Mar
words KEIRON SELF
Want more film?
Get reviews, previews, interviews, features and more, from Wales and beyond.