‘A real moment’: Cymraeg’s the star as Netflix buys Welsh-language drama

Streaming service’s purchase of heist series Dal y Mellt shows Wales ‘can stand on world stage’

There is a pleasingly twisty plot, a ragtag mob of great characters and some wonderful landscapes, but the star of a heist series nabbed by Netflix is arguably Cymraeg – the Welsh language.

In a landmark moment for the creative industry in Wales, the thriller Dal y Mellt (Catch the Lightning) has become the first Welsh language-only show to be bought by the streaming service.

Welsh language campaigners are delighted; tourism officials hope fans of the show will head to Wales to visit some of the places featured; arts bosses hope it will pave the way for many more Welsh-language dramas.

“It feels like a real moment,” said Siân Doyle, the chief executive of the Welsh-language channel S4C, which commissioned the drama. “It shows we can stand on the world stage. In Dal y Mellt I think the language adds to the personality of the drama. The landscape is a character but I think the language is too.”

Doyle said the success of Cymru reaching the football World Cup, when some players gave interviews in Welsh and the defiant Welsh-language folk song Yma o Hyd (Still Here) became one of the sounds of the tournament, had helped promote Cymraeg. “There was a lot of confidence following the World Cup,” she said. Netflix’s investment was a further boost. “It’s an affirmation. We are a small country but we can be noisy.”

Ident shot of Daly Y Mellt
Dal y Mellt is the first Welsh language-only show to be bought by the Netflix streaming service. Photograph: S4C

The series director, Huw Chiswell, said he was proud and excited at the drama’s success, though making the series on a relatively modest budget had been a challenge.

“It felt like a mountain to climb. There was some trepidation. Basically we had 50 days to film six hours. We ended up on the summit all smiling and it was a wonderful experience,” he said. “I think the language in the show is interesting; the Welsh in it is quite varied. Sometimes quite rough and ready, sometimes practical and often very beautiful. We were striving for authenticity, wanting to keep it real.”

Chiswell said viewers around the world were used to watching shows with subtitles, as shown by the success of the German-language film All Quiet on the Western Front and the Irish-language film The Quiet Girl, both of which have been nominated for Baftas and Oscars.

“Subtitles are becoming second nature in film and TV, which is very encouraging for minority-language programming,” Chiswell said. “I hope we pave the way for others.”

Iwan “Iwcs” Roberts, who wrote the book on which the show is based and the script for the series, said: “A good story is a good story in any language. I’m so proud that our output will show the world there is a bit more to Cymru than Welsh sheep on rugged mountains and male voice choirs singing Land of My Fathers. I think we should set the bar a bit higher for ourselves sometimes and go for it.”

As well as the language, the settings for the series are striking, from the backstreets of Cardiff to the hills of Snowdonia. Beloved pubs and hotels including the Celtic Royal Hotel in Caernarfon and the Brigands Inn near Machynlleth have starring roles, as does the A470, the snaking road that links north and south Wales.

Adrian Greason-Walker, who owns a holiday business not far off the A470 and is a policy advocate for the Welsh Tourism Alliance, said the show would help put Wales’s landscapes, language and culture on the international stage. “It’s great news for our tourism industry,” he said.

Other interesting Welsh-language projects are in the pipeline, including a film called Y Sŵn (The Noise), which tells the story of the civil resistance that led to the setting up of S4C.

Mark Lewis Jones as Mici, left, with Gwïon Morris Jones as Carbo in a scene from Dal y Mellt in the National Museum, Cardiff.
Mark Lewis Jones as Mici, left, with Gwïon Morris Jones as Carbo in the National Museum, Cardiff, in a scene from Dal y Mellt. Photograph: S4C

There is excitement that filming is about to begin of what is being billed as a Welsh answer to Fleabag – Anfamol (Unmotherly) – and S4C is working in partnership with the Welsh government to develop a Welsh feature film every year.

Toni Schiavone, a prominent member of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society), said the success of Dal y Mellt showed Cymraeg was a rich, modern, living community language, albeit one under threat, as shown last month when it emerged that the percentage of residents in Wales able to speak Welsh had dropped to the lowest proportion ever recorded in a census.

Schiavone said: “It shows that the Welsh language culture has its particular identity and this has enabled writers, actors, musicians and others to express this uniqueness from their own lived experiences in Wales. For many viewers from outside Wales, I have no doubt that it will enrich their understanding and interest in the language and country.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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