This review contains spoilers.
You’ve heard the fuss. Welsh drama Keeping Faith aired last year on BBC Wales, where it was huge. Then it arrived on BBC iPlayer earlier this year, where it became that rarest of things—a word-of-mouth hit you heard about by actual word of people’s mouths. (Personal count: at a wedding, at my dentist’s, at an awkward state of dishabille in the leisure centre changing room.)
The day of its iPlayer expiration date in May, the skies filled with the tap-tap-tap of frantic downloading. Keeping Faith was requested by so many people, the BBC even granted it a bank holiday weekend stay of execution.
Now, for those of us who couldn’t stay ahead of a trend even if it was tucked into our back pocket, the eight part drama is being shown in a primetime BBC One spot. Which is brilliant, because early evidence suggests that Keeping Faith is, yes, brilliant.
It’s the story of Faith Howells, a solicitor nearing the end of her maternity leave, whose husband drives off to work one morning and never arrives. Is he playing silly buggers (Faith’s first thought), or has something happened (the thought that sinks in steadily through this stage-setting opening hour)?
By the end of episode one, it’s clear from the phone call that spooked Evan Howells before he left, and the fake ID and disguise Faith discovers hidden in his wardrobe that something’s afoot. But what?
Part of me doesn’t much mind. It could be an affair. It could be a jewel heist. It could be aliens. As long as Eve Myles is playing this role, I’ll be watching.
Faith Howells is one of those TV characters who, like Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus, is immediately alive in a way that others never are. Her life and family and voice are drawn with such naturalism that you even feel a tiny bit guilty watching. As if, at any moment, Faith might turn, notice you, widen her eyes, put her hands on her hips and tell you to piss off and mind your own business. She’s been conjured out of people you see and know. From her very first appearance, she’s undeniable, which is the quality that’s drawn in viewers in their millions.
The rest of it doesn’t hurt of course. The mystery, which gets off to a slow start here but I’m told quickly picks up pace, is an obvious hook. Whatever the reason is that Evan has an Austin Powers accessories kit hidden under his boxer shorts is sure to keep us guessing.
The locations too, are beauty stacked on top of more beauty. The Welsh coastline setting (the exteriors are largely Laugharne in South Carmarthenshire, if you’re thinking of booking a holiday) provides a Broadchurch balance of picturesque and stark.
More central though is the feel of the thing. Director Pip Broughton creates a sense of intimacy and naturalism with overlapping dialogue and room-to-breathe shots around Faith and Evan’s home and workplace. Faith is a busy woman, but this isn’t a busy drama. Episode one allows us time to get close to its characters and establish a sense of them before they’re dragged into this mess. The home, the marriage, the kids, the jobs… all of it convinces in a flash. Add Amy Wadge’s dreamy original music, and the whole hour feels like being happily welcomed inside a bubble.
Instantly engaging, Keeping Faith or Un Bore Mercher was filmed as a bilingual drama in both English and Welsh (which Myles, as a non-Welsh speaker, had to learn for the part). Remember that old line about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels? Well, Keeping Faith does everything the very best crime dramas do, but twice and in Welsh. Bravo.
Keeping Faith continues next Thursday at 9pm on BBC One.