Review: Bang is back with a high body count – and some very timely subject matter

Photo by Warren Orchard for Joio/S4C,

Jon Gower

Location, location, location.  If these mantric words apply to the world of real estate and TV house makeover programmes then they also apply to crime drama.

This is most certainly true in Wales where series after series claims its part of the terrain.  While ‘Craith’ is set among the geological scars of Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, ‘Y Gwyll/Hinterland’ is located in near Biblical sweeps of mid-Wales while the action of ‘Bang,’ now starting its second series, is set in an industrial strip of south Wales near Port Talbot.

And like those other shows the Roger Williams’ scripted series benefits from a landscape that acts almost as an extra character.  So we have the wind-blasted beach at Aberafan, with its forlorn seaside cafes, the afforested and often claustrophobic Afan Valley, run-down rugby clubs and the sprawling Sandfields estate, all seen through the eye and lens of Director of Photography Bjørn Ståle Bratberg, whose previous Welsh credits include ’35 Diwrnod,’ ‘Hidden’ and ‘Keeping Faith.’

Right from the off we have a strikingly cinematic image, a handsome white stallion pounding free on the beach. Yet this is not gritty, grainy, realistic noir: it is, rather, cinematic, bold and stark, qualities injected into it by Philip John, a director whose recent credits have included ‘Downton Abbey’ and Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist.’  He certainly makes thing go with, well, a bang.

Writer and series creator Roger Williams’ TV work is notable for its heightened quality, an often operatic level of dramatic tension which has been memorably on show in other series such as ‘Tir,’ a sort of ‘Blood Brothers’ set among the barns of west Wales.  That series addressed the effects of non-Welsh speakers moving into Welsh language heartlands and in ‘Bang’ the interplay between languages is again a theme, as this very experienced writer confidently mixes up Welsh, English and sometimes Wenglish as befits the linguistic mix of Port Talbot.

It all feels very natural, very realistic.  And in this second series of ‘Bang’ incident rapidly follows on from incident as the central mystery of an alleged rape after a rugby club function a decade earlier unfolds in a welter of accusation and counter-accusation.

 

Power

It’s also a drama with a very high body count, and the murders certainly pile up in the opening episode and they’re grisly ones, to boot.  A man with his tongue cut out is found in an abandoned horsebox , his body splayed and seemingly displayed.  A local businessman is summarily executed at pistol point after being forced to strip naked and walk into some pig pens, to the accompaniment of some blood-curdlingly distressing squealing and slurping.  There’s a man in a balaclava on the loose with a knife, too.

It all certainly adds to the pressures piling up on detective Gina Jenkins (Catrin Stewart), threatening to disturb her usual sangfroid.  Her brother Sam (Jacob Ifan) – who was the fulcrum of a pivotal relationship with his sister in the first series – has come to stay after being released from Swansea jail.  He’s suffering from PTSD to boot and prone therefore to panic attacks that visually fizz and startle on screen.

Meanwhile, Gina’s relationship with Luke, her oppo in work, (Jack Parry-Jones) has fracture lines running through it, not least because he’s harbouring a secret. In fact, judging from this series it seems as if most everybody in the Neath-Port Talbot area has at least half a skeleton in the closet.

But there’s one local who seems as if he’s got more than most to hide, local businessman and gym owner Jeff Campbell (David Hayman) who oozes menace from every pore. It is as if this Scottish actor, who starred as Detective Superintendent Michael Walker in the Lynda La Plante-scripted cop show ‘Trial and Retribution’ likes nothing more than moving over to the dark side.  His is a sterling, dominating performance: he’s a real tough cookie, the sort that breaks your teeth on first bite.

The first episode was breathless stuff, chock full of incident but after this high-octane, hyper-oxygenating start the series soon settles down into the more familiar rhythms of police procedurals, with the office briefings, door-to-door plodwork and computer checks.  One of the positive new additions to the Afan Valley constabulary is an office support worker called Eve, a lonelyheart who injects some brief moments of welcome humour into the murderous and dour goings-on.

But if location is important, so too is being of the moment and with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein just off to Rikers Island prison – having been found guilty on rape charges in New York – the central theme of the series, being the power of men, and the abuse of that power over women is not only timely but also very necessary.

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