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Best of 2021: A selection of cultural highlights from the last 12 months

03 Jan 2022 7 minute read
The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper

Today we finally wrap up the cultural highlights of the last year selected by the great and the good of Welsh culture – and some of the Nation.Cymru gang.  Enjoy!

Shirish Kulkani

This year, I reconnected with my love of Fantasy. It’s perhaps understandable that we would seek comfort in imagination, given the way our reality has become so strange, disorientating and unsettling.

The highlight was Denis Villeneuve’s expansive, thrilling and strangely topical film adaptation of Dune. It’s a book about prescience but, more than fifty years after it was written, its themes and concerns show just how far ahead of his time Frank Herbert was himself.

Questions of climate, religion, colonialism, gender and populism could not be more current, and the real triumph of Villeneuve’s film is that it gives all Herbert’s ideas space to breathe, avoiding the rushed and shallow treatment that let down David Lynch’s 1984 failure.

I also loved retreating into the comforting fantasy favourites of my childhood – re-reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. These are children’s books full of very grown-up ideas. Both pick up on the theme of Fate v Free Will, also central to Dune, and I see now how all that childhood reading shaped my own thoughts on human nature, and the ways in which we can affect the world and hopefully make it better.

Talking about making the world better, I normally prefer a bit of challenge and edge in my culture but this year I fell in love with the soft, warm cuddle provided by Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso”. Again, when our lives are currently spent worrying about the very worst that might happen, it’s very welcome to be able to watch something where the jeopardy is very strictly limited and you’re always confident everything’s going to work out for the best. It’s the anti-”Succession”. Where one is full of horrible people doing horrible things, “Ted Lasso” is almost entirely good people doing good things. This year I needed that.

Shirish has worked as a journalist of more than 25 years’ experience in journalism – initially in TV newsrooms at ITN and SKY, before returning home to Wales to go freelance. His work uncovering the British Steel pensions scandal won a Wales Media Award and led to a parliamentary inquiry and a ban on pensions cold-calling. He’s currently working, amongst other things, on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s People’s Newsroom initiative.


Megan Angharad Hunter’s masterpiece Tu ôl i’r Awyr

Lefi Gruffudd

*English follows below*

Heb os, mae camp anhygoel y band MR o gyhoeddi pedair albwm ardderchog o fewn dwy flynedd yn haeddu gwobr o ryw fath. Mae’r bedair albwm wedi bod yn gyfeillion triw i fi yn ystod cyfnodau clo – ma nhw’n amserol, llawn hiwmor tywyll ac yn cynnwys sawl gwireb am ein bywydau yn y cyfnod rhyfedd yma.

O ran llyfrau, dau uchafbwynt oedd gweld Megan Angharad Hunter yn cipio Llyfr y Flwyddyn am ei champwaith Tu ôl i’r Awyr a gweld Lleucu Roberts yn ennill y dwbwl am yr ail waith yn yr Eisteddfod rithiol.

Ond o fethu mynd i lawer o ddigwyddiadau byw, rhaid cyfadde mai’r digwyddiad celfyddydol mwya cyffrous oedd canu ‘Yma o Hyd’ yn y dorf orfoleddus wedi’r gêm yn erbyn Gwlad Belg yn stadiwm dinas Caerdydd ym mis Tachwedd.

MR’s incredible achievement of publishing four great albums within the last two years deserves an award of some sort. The four albums have been true friends in the lockdowns – timely and full of dark humor, they contain many truths about our lives in these strange times.

In terms of books, two highlights were Megan Angharad Hunter winning the Book of the Year award for her masterpiece Tu ôl i’r Awyr and Lleucu Roberts winning the double for the second time at the Eisteddfod.

Unable to attend many live events, I must admit that the most exciting cultural event of the year was to sing ‘Yma o Hyd’ with the jubilant crowd after the match against Belgium at Cardiff City stadium in November.

Lefi Gruffudd is an author and is Head of Publishing at Y Lolfa. He’s fond of sports, music and drinking, and has a weekly column in the Western Mail.

Sitelines, The Salt Path & Outrun book covers

Tawny Clark

At times confined to life indoors, I’ve found myself exploring the abundant, broad-leaved canon of nature writing. Among my favourite reads this year have been Kathleen Jamie’s collection of provocative essays in Sightlines, Amy Liptrot’s compelling memoir The Outrun – which charts her recovery from addiction, and Raynor Wynn’s intrepid ‘pilgrimage’ in The Salt Path.

For a much needed ‘curl up with a cuppa’ soothing hug back in February, Radio drama Murmuration by Christine Entwhistle on BBC Radio 4, was a touching tale of a shared passion for birds and the power of friendship.

Wonders of the Celtic Deep by Dale Templar, Sally Weale, Anne Gallagher – published by Graffeg

My stand-out screen highlight has been the phenomenal Wonders of the Celtic Deep, on BBC1 Wales. Narrated by the inimitable Dame Sian Philips it’s an epic love letter to the extraordinarily diverse and jaw-dropping wildlife which exists in and around the coastal waters of Wales. The series is a testament to the incredible talents and determination of its filmmakers, who masterfully capture the tumultuous might of the omnipotent ocean and succeed at creating something truly remarkable.

Fresh from Swansea University’s MA Creative Writing programme, Tawny is a freelance writer and ecologist who’s on a mission to bring nature to the people, and people into nature. When she’s not wandering around the woods smiling at trees and writing on nature, she writes commercial fiction and radio drama, along with building the occasional willow dome.


Mark Mansfield

Farewell 2021. You were meh on so many different levels.

But there was some cultural colour amongst the Covid beige – particularly the bright green of the Duolingo owl.

I decided early last year if I wanted to learn Welsh, I really needed to put some effort into it and actually make learning a habit.

Duolingo has been brilliant for that. It’s easy to use and engaging and my current streak is up to 323 days. I’ve got to admit I was very chuffed at being in the top 3% of Duolingo learners worldwide.

The German teacher who faced the near impossible task of helping me nab an O-level would be astounded.

On the film front, I loved The Toll, a very entertaining Fargoesque Welsh Western. Border, a dark Swedish fairytale was compelling, sad, and unsettling. One reviewer described it as ‘a mating between the mind of David Cronenberg and something that crawled out of a compost heap.”

There was a lot of good TV over the year – with the late winner of my favourite show gong going to Sky’s excellent Landscapers a brilliantly inventive love story/true-crime dramatisation.

Also mentioned in dispatches is the creepy and unsettling Serpent and Doom Patrol, which tells the story of a team of ill-matched and downtrodden superheroes and is a hoot. WandaVision is from a similar mould and is also great.

I listened to a huge amount of music, as always, over the last year. If I had to pick as favourite track it would be Dry Cleaning’s ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ from the album New Long Leg.  I love Florence Shaw’s deadpan delivery and the songs wonderfully odd lyrics. It’s album of the year too!

Mark Mansfield has worked as a journalist and broadcaster for over 30 years, including as sports editor at Millennium radio in London. Since starting his career as a film reviewer he’s reported on over a thousand football matches, covered international cricket, rugby and American football and edited a handful of magazines, including the UK’s first weekly football newspaper. He has been CEO for Nation.Cymru since 2017.



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