Summer at The Senedd in Cardiff Bay. The Assembly Members are on recess but a whole new political drama is taking shape in the debating chamber. Byw Celwydd (translation Living a Lie), is set to be one of S4C’s biggest shows in 2016. This eight-part series reimagines the political landscape in Wales governed by a new rainbow coalition. As such, rivals come from many angles both inside and outside of the debating chamber.
Two cast members trying to keep the peace (so they tell us) are Cath Ayers and Matthew Gravelle. Cathy you may remember from S4C drama Tir and Matthew, well, he’s the bad guy from ITV’s Broadchurch.
Byw Celwydd has been described as the Welsh House of Cards. A fair assessment?
Matthew Gravelle (MG): There are duplicity and double dealings, there are poker faces and politicians being played off against one another so in that sense, yes it is fair. In as much as it’s a fair assessment to compare our First Minister with the President of the United States? Er...no.
Cath Ayers (CA): Although Byw Celwydd is set in a political environment and has lots of intrigue, it’s probably more of a realistic and accessible depiction of political life and of life outside politics. Although like House of Cards both stories have central Machiavellian characters, Byw Celwydd follows the story of Angharad, whose life is personally affected by the political machinations of others, in a similar way to Borgen.
What made you want to get involved in the series?
MG: The inside workings of the world of politics was something I knew nothing about, and I enjoy researching and finding out as much as I can to try and work out who a character is. So this was a perfect opportunity to try and get to know more about politics and play an interesting and conflicted character in Harri.
CA: Having read Mike Povey’s script, I was drawn to the intelligent storytelling, which doesn’t underestimate the audience, and I wanted to tell the story of Angharad who is such a strong and relevant female character. I’d also worked with (producer) Branwen Cennard before so I knew this was going to be a classy drama with real integrity.
Welsh politics takes a dramatic twist
Give us a little more insight into the character you both play.
MG: Harri is a newly appointed SPAD (Special Advisor) to the leader of the Nationalist Party, Rhiannon Roberts. The party is part of a coalition running the country with Tories and Lib Dems and Harri’s job is to help steer Rhiannon towards the top job, and manipulating people and situations on the way.
CA: Angharad is a journalist who embodies the struggles of contemporary career women who strive to balance their professional and personal lives. She is a strong-minded and career-driven woman who will stop at nothing to expose the truth. What makes her even more interesting is the fact that she has a dark secret that threatens to destroy everything she has worked so hard for.
How was it filming at the Senedd?
MG: Filming in the Senedd, especially knowing the new James Bond film had been turned down, was pretty special. It certainly helps give the series authenticity and credibility. We didn't see many
AMs around the place as they’re on summer break but we did catch the First Minister in the back of one shot, which got our First Assistant Director more excited than I’ve ever seen him!
CA: Having access to the Senedd as a location added complete credibility and gravitas to our story, and it helped me as an actor to completely emerge myself in my character’s world. Fingers crossed Carwyn’s back makes the final cut!
Filming in Cardiff Bay must’ve been more pleasant than filming in that court room for Series 2 of Broadchurch, Matthew!
MG: I’ve got to say it was wonderful being able to speak to my fellow actors on and off set instead of having to sneak around like I’d really committed a heinous crime. I’d forgotten that’s what it was supposed to be like, you know, normal!
Does the political landscape in Wales interest you?
MG: There’re definitely some interesting things happening in politics. Jeremy Corbyn’s got a lot of people fired up with his old Labour values - it’ll be interesting to see how that impacts on the Welsh Labour Party. Scottish independence will either show us a way to go, or not to go. And with the Welsh Assembly Elections not too far off for us, there’s plenty to keep an eye on, I think.
CA: Before working on Byw Celwydd, I hadn’t appreciated the complexities of politics in Wales but having lived in that world through Angharad, I now feel that I have a clearer understanding.
Do you think Byw Celwydd has the potential to repeat the international success of Y Gwyll?
MG: Y Gwyll, I think, has opened a lot of doors and shown the world the Welsh language as a living, working, vibrant language, and it would be terrific if we could capitalise on that success and sneak in through one of those doors. It’s definitely a high enough quality drama to catch and hold a wider audience’s attention. If Borgen can do it after The Killing, there’s no reason we can’t too!
CA: Definitely! Although Byw Celwydd is set in the Welsh political world, it’s really about the lives of the characters which can be appreciated and enjoyed in any language. There is no reason why a series in the Welsh language cannot hold its own in other countries, in the way that Borgen or The Bridge does. Byw Celwydd is every bit as engaging and stylish.
Byw Celwydd will be broadcast on S4C in January 2016.
For more information visit: s4c.co.uk