Gary Raymond takes a look at Keeping Faith season two, Welsh television’s great success story of 2018 starring Eve Myles.
Eve Myles is back, energetically grasping the eponymous lead character by the horns in season two of Keeping Faith. Myles won over many hearts and minds in the first season, not to mention the cock-a-hoop commissioning editors at BBC Wales who saw the show unexpectedly become the most downloaded non-network BBC drama ever, with around eight and half million downloads to date. Keeping Faith has been, in no uncertain terms, a roaring success on many levels. Apart from the heart-thumping stats, online reports abound that it has altered the view of Wales for many abroad, with its gorgeous shots of Laugharne and its quirky upbeat characters at odds with the recent grimness of hit shows like Hinterland, where every farmer was hiding secrets of suicide and drug-dealing, or Hidden, the cop show which gives Taggart a run for its money on periods between smiles, or even Requiem, the befuddled and befuddling countryside cult drama. Keeping Faith is a beacon.
So, much to live up to with season two, the difficult second album, the ill-advised return to the scene of the glory. It’s not so easy for a creative team to pick out what made a surprise hit such a hit, and to do it accurately, and then sprinkle that gold into some new storylines. If Keeping Faith was compared often to Broadchurch (which incidentally welcomed Eve Myles into the cast on its second outing) then its creators must have become acutely aware of the diminishing returns of that show, and how arguably, its second season was the low point of its three.
Season two of Keeping Faith seems fully aware of its main strength: Eve Myles. Season one was hers and hers alone; she moved around inside a story that held few surprises, surrounded by characters whose only illumination was the reflected light of Faith. Creator Matthew Hall is tantalisingly ready to trot out the tropes for the plot, but he is most at ease when exploring Faith’s character, her home life, her idiosyncrasies. It is unusual for the highlight of a crime drama to be the domestic scenes of the protagonist, rather than just some filler to signpost our hero’s demons, but Faith gets as much screen time with her children as she does in court.
Season two starts boldly, not with a plunge into the action as every scriptwriting tutor in the country would advise, but a gentle scene of Faith and her kids going about the morning rituals of breakfast and school/work prep around the kitchen. So, Keeping Faith knows what the viewers came for, and that was more of Faith; the plot can wait.
And the initial movements into plot are promising. We’re in for some corporate intrigue, the big bad wolf will be a faceless company that controls all the evils through a series of shady humourless surrogates. Be very afraid. Hall is clearly following his nose here too, and branching out from the immediate domestic drama of a missing husband. There is a murder on the beach, we all immediately know the person the police have in custody didn’t do it, no matter how solid the initial evidence might be.
There are noir-ish elements here, something suggesting a downward spiral, but also, like Polanski’s unparalleled noir Chinatown, the feeling is that the mundane world of corporate greed is hiding something very human, very dark. In Chinatown’s case, a complicated story of a corrupt waterworks company hides the ugliest story of murder and incest, and nobody would be more surprised than the BBC commissioning editors if Keeping Faith quite went as dark as that, but even in the first episodes, as they trip lightly along, there is something bubbling under the surface.
Season two does still have the same shortfalls as the first though. In the case of the syrupy soundtrack, plugged in straight from the playlist titled “The Death of Creativity”, directors Pip Broughton and Judith Dine have gone full immersion. Barely five minutes go by without us being lifted out of the action by a song that just makes everything seem like a Lloyds Bank advert. Similarly, those characters charged with supporting the whirlwind that is Eve Myles are on the whole cardboard cutouts. Sometimes the acting makes up for it. Mark Lewis Jones, for example, is so brooding and inert he had me worried that he might be getting paid by the word. (Why do Welsh screenwriters seem to be so obsessed with this idea of brooding, stagnant pool Welsh men? I don’t know a Welsh man – myself included – who couldn’t benefit from shutting up every once in a while – from where came this idea that Welsh men are handsome, silent, thoughtful, conflicted?).
But there is nothing in the first few episodes of the second season of Keeping Faith to suggest it will spiral down like Broadchurch did. It’s laying down the foundations for a solid story over which Eve Myles can do her thing, and that will no doubt prove just as successful as the first outing.
Keeping Faith is available for catch up iPlayer, and is showing on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC One.
Gary Raymond is an editor and regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.