Cymru Noir: ‘Keeping Faith’ reviewed

❉ At eight hour long episodes, this is a slow burner of a serial and needs commitment to reach to the end but it is worth sticking at.

“The setting is a Welsh town called Abercorran, one of those places where everybody knows everybody. If it wasn’t being showcased by its main director Pip Broughton it would have been a crime and we do see a lot of it. The Welsh Tourist Board must be rubbing their hands with glee.”

Keeping Faith is a bilingual production with a Welsh version transmitted on S4C, and then the English edition found its way onto the BBC iPlayer, and was later shown on BBC Wales prior to making a successful transition to BBC One this Summer. It has been called BBC Wales’ answer to Broadchurch.

When the happily married lawyer and father of three children Evan Howells stops returning his calls, misses a court appearance and then does not return home that night, his anxious partner Faith, played by Eve Myles (Torchwood, A Very English Scandal), goes through a range of beautifully framed pouts and frowns, as she – and the rest of her extended family – wonders where the hell is he?

The possibilities are explored. Has he had an accident? Is he with another woman? Has he just done a runner because the family firm is approaching bankruptcy? Just where is he? And by episode four his body has not been dragged out of an impressively lit quarry, supposedly dumped in by some criminal clients he had successfully freed from a murder charge the previous year.

In many ways, this is a familiar plot to viewers of a certain vintage or, as in my case, had to research for a biography of a director named Douglas Camfield. His final masterpiece, which was broadcast just after his sudden death in 1984, was a six-part serial called Missing From Home. The final episodes hit number one in the TV charts, beating Coronation Street. In those days there were no mobile phones, just those archaic rotary dial/push button types that anxious people would sit near in case there was news.

The difference between Missing From Home and author Matthew Hall’s Keeping Faith is that in the former, the investigation into his disappearance stops after the first episode. There was no murder, espionage or criminal element. He has just done a bunk leaving behind a distraught son and a confused wife who simply could not understand why her husband has abandoned his family. High time this was released on DVD.

Eve Myles as Faith Howells (Photo: Aim Publicity)

In Keeping Faith, there are two young daughters who each deserve an Oscar for their performances. Television drama has a habit of portraying kids as anything but immature and selfish – just watch any recent Doctor Who with a juvenile character. These two seem to control their mother in a way you end up suspecting that they are the ones who pay the bills and run the household while their mother behaves like a hedonistic teenager, especially when she prepares for a rare night out on the tiles. The baby she lugs around some of the time (in between depositing it on other people to look after) is, I suspect, her sat-nav and guidance councillor in between scenes.

The setting is a Welsh town called Abercorran, one of those places where everybody knows everybody. It could be anywhere in Britain really, providing the scenery surrounding it is stunning as we see here. If it wasn’t being showcased by its main director Pip Broughton it would have been a crime and we do see a lot of it. The Welsh Tourist Board must be rubbing their hands with glee. Scenes are shot in cinematic wide angles and the houses of our comfortable family are very big and spacious giving little feeling of claustrophobia, yet they feel vulnerable all the same especially at night. Who is outside, posting clues, threats or bullets through the letter box?

Faith has a habit of staring into the distance, feeling the breeze on her face, or – in one scene which was unintentionally amusing – collapsing into a wobbly heap on the edge of a cliff after having talked back a vicar from jumping. Perhaps someone had slipped a bottle of gin into her pocket. The helicopter or drone pilot filming these operatic wide-sweeping shots then decides to give us a vertigo moment as it flies over the cliff itself, showing us it is a long way down to the sea. There are many such sweeping shots, such as one over a police search of the fields, looking for a body.

The police are represented Faith’s her brother-in-law, played by a magnificent yet uncertain bushy beard which can be found on the face of Matthew Gravelle, and his CID boss (played by Eiry Thomas) is the familiar type who just knows Eve has done in her old man and resorts to some unpleasant tactics later in the series.

By the fourth episode, things are turning nasty and the strain of the past couple of days is beginning to show on our Faith as revelation after revelation paints a different picture of the man she thought knew. That is something else familiar to Missing From Home. Eve’s husband had recently heard a confession from his mother about his parentage. So, not only does Faith have little idea who her husband is, neither does he.

We tend to assume we know our partners better than we think. My ex did but had no idea I am really a ticket parking machine in Scunthorpe and only take human form on weekends.

Laurence Love Greed and Grammy award-winning songwriter Amy Wadge’s music is superb, one for a soundtrack collection, and helps to mask another staring into distance shot where you are wondering just what Faith is thinking…

At eight hour long episodes, this is a slow burner of a serial and needs commitment to reach to the end but it is worth sticking at, although there are some emotionally very unpleasant moments to watch. Anyone hugging their children that much is bound to be a signal that something horrible is going to happen to the family unit.

Having been shown on three different channels or platforms, it has become a word-of-mouth sensation and a second series has been commissioned.


❉ ‘Keeping Faith’ Release Date: 3 September 2018, Acorn Media International.
Cat No: AV3420 RRP: £24.99.
Running Time: 480 mins approx. on two discs Certificate: 12

❉ Bonus Features: Behind the Scenes feature and five mini-features: Wales; Two Languages, Couples, A Small Town, An Introduction to Welsh.

❉ Michael Seely’s biography of director Douglas Camfield was published by Miwk Publishing in May 2017.  Click here to order.

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