It seems everyone’s looking for a distraction in these uncertain and worrying times, and between all the different streaming services and Blu-ray shelves, it’s stressful enough just trying to settle on something to watch.
In light of that, here’s a hand-picked list of Welsh films worth your time (and money). These might not be your usual sort of ‘Welsh’ film, nor are they necessarily all happy distractions – some of these are a little close to home considering our current scenario, but hopefully they’ll act as something of a catharsis rather than an opportunity to wallow. If it’s a feel-good time you’re after, I suggest watching Pride (again, probably).
There are so many more great Welsh films out there than just these, and at a time when the creative industries are being hit harder than ever before, it’s vital to support local talent. Hopefully, this list will help make the next few weeks of distancing and isolation that little bit more bearable – and kick start your own dive through the wealth of Welsh film that’s out there.
The Lighthouse (Chris Crow, 2016)
BFI Player, Amazon Prime
No, not the recent Robert Eggers film with Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe, but a simmering chamber thriller from Welsh filmmaker Chris Crow. This one stars the reliably great Mark Lewis Jones and Michael Jibson as the lighthouse keepers trapped on Smalls Island when a devastating storm lands, inspired by the true events of 1801. Charting their isolation and slow descent into madness, this might be one only for those with a steely constitution in the current climate, but nevertheless it’s genuinely one of the finest – if bleakest – Welsh films in recent years.
I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017)
The stunning feature debut from writer-director Rungano Nyoni, I Am Not a Witch is a coming of age tale about persecution and self-identity centred on a child accused of witchcraft in Zambia. The film manages to be both moving and bitingly funny, and features a stunning central performance from Maggie Mulubwa as the accused child. Showcasing Nyoni’s incredible directorial eye, I Am Not a Witch is really an unmissable film, and although it’s far from being a traditional feel-good film, it’s one that somehow still manages to life the spirits.
The Machine (Caradog W James, 2013)
In the not too distant future military scientists are racing to create useful war machines and end up creating sentient AI. This leads to a battle over how best to make use of that sentience: kill or cure? This handsome sci-fi film looks ten times more expensive than its relatively low budget and poses some classic Dickian questions about artificial intelligence and humanity. There’s a cracking central performance from Caity Lotz as the titular AI, and some great stunt and action work too. While the arch sci-fi stuff might not appeal to all, there is at the film’s centre an obsession with notions of family and community responsibility which, at such a time as now, might hit home.
Yr Ymadawiad (Gareth Bryn, 2015)
Gareth Bryn’s chilling drama is a satisfying slow burn set in a timeless and secluded part of Wales. A young couple (Annes Elwy and Dyfan Dwyfor) crashes their car and finds refuge with the strange and stoic Stanley (Mark Lewis Jones), who lives alone in a dilapidated homestead. As tension rises between the three, the secrets the couple share begin to unravel, as does the true nature of their location. There’s an appropriately washed-out hue to Yr Ymadawiad, and its stunning location is a character all of its own. Benefitting hugely from that location filming, and lovely performances from its three leads, it’s best to approach this film without too much expectation of where the story’s going.
A Dark Song (Liam Gavin, 2016)
All 4 (for now), Amazon Prime
Another one that’s not for the faint-hearted, Liam Gavin’s phenomenal horror film is a moving meditation on grief, loss and faith. In the film a woman hires an occult practitioner to help her find closure over the death of her son. A chamber piece again, its leads Catherine Walker and Steve Oram set about on an elaborate occult ritual to contact the dead. Both their performances are absolutely riveting, and while Walker is given much of the emotional drive of the film, Oram manages to imbue a deeply unlikeable character with an impressive degree of grudging sympathy. Even if horror films are not usually your cup of tea, this character-driven and moody piece is well worth your time.
For something completely different…
National Screen and Sound Archive
While we shouldn’t be physically travelling around, why not take a journey across Wales, and through time, by digging into the some of the hundreds of films from the National Screen and Sound Archive? Not your usual popcorn-fest, sure, but nevertheless a hugely entertaining way to spend some time. With footage from every corner of Wales, and covering all sorts of different events and eras, from Eisteddfodau to wedding videos, this is a wonderful treasure trove of archive film. (There’s something delightfully eerie about so many silent, news-reel style films here – and something entertaining about playing your own music over them.)
The film I wish I could suggest…
Canaries (Peter Stray, 2017)
The perfect, under-the-radar, entertaining pick-me-up film, and it’s not available to stream yet in the UK. The makers promise a DVD release soon (fingers crossed the current crisis won’t delay that), and when you finally see it on a shop shelf near you I can’t recommend it highly enough. I approached the film with scepticism when I first saw it (an ultra-low-budget, sci-fi-horror-comedy? Those rarely turn out well, wherever they’re from!), the film is a hilarious, engaging and profoundly Welsh gem.
Recent cinema hits…
Pink Wall (Tom Cullen, 2019) & Mr Jones (Agnieszka Holland, 2019)
I missed both of these in the cinema myself – which is, ultimately, my favourite place to watch a film – and if you did too, both these recent Welsh films are now available to watch on the BFI Player.