BILINGUAL DRAMA GOING FOR SCANDI-NOIR AUDIENCE
ANEW bilingual TV drama is hoping to attract international audiences in the same vein as Scandinavian shows like The Killing and The Bridge. Set and filmed in Port Talbot, Bang, which started on S4C last week, follows the story of policewoman Gina, played by Catrin Stewart, and her brother Sam, played by Jacob Ifan, who has his life transformed when he comes into possession of a gun.
The show has been billed as the first major bilingual Welsh show of its kind with characters speaking in both Welsh and English, reflecting how language is used by many people in Wales in 2017.
Bilingualism and subtitles have become a distinctive style within the Scandinavian noir genre, born from the success of crime dramas like The Bridge and The Killing.
Like the Scandi-noir hits, Bang follows a similar model.
For producer Catrin Lewis Defis, the combination of the two languages was simply reflective of the world we live in.
“Having a bilingual commission for Bang made it very exciting for me because it’s the way we speak today in Wales,” she said.
“I move between speaking Welsh to Welsh-speaking friends and English to English-speaking friends almost within the same paragraph and that’s how we’ve produced Bang.
“I think we switch really naturally between both languages and it shows the way that Wales and the Welsh language is today.
“It’s brilliant because we can take the Welsh language further, rather than making an excuse for it and dubbing it in English, we’re going to take the Welsh out there with the English and that makes this project really fresh and innovative.”
Director Philip John from Newport, who directed six of the eight episodes of the Welsh series, wasn’t hindered by his inability to speak Welsh.
“I am Welsh, very proud to be Welsh, but it’s not part of my background and when I was approached to maybe direct a bilingual series, I figured that I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I can tell what emotions are being put over or put across in performance,” he said.
“So as long as I know what’s being said, then I can deal with the emotional side of it.
“I had a translation to learn and work with so I knew what the actors were saying to each other when they’re working in Welsh.
“I was a little bit nervous to begin with, but then once we started doing the auditions it calmed those nerves.
“Everybody was given a Welsh version and an English version, because I thought, ‘Well, I’d like to hear it in English at least,’ and then after a day I just thought, ‘Forget the English, we’ll just keep doing it in Welsh, because I can understand what the emphasis is on what the emotion is,’ and I could direct. So it was fine.”
For actor Jacob Ifan, starring in a bilingual show felt “completely natural”.
“I feel that the way we have filmed Bang is actually reflective of how people do exist and speak in Wales,” he said.
“Not everyone speaks perfect Welsh, so there’s Wenglish too you know!
“I’ll be doing a scene and I’ll be speaking one language to one person and then we’ll switch.
“I think we need to trust audiences because we’re plenty used to doing that with TV shows now: programmes such as The Bridge or Narcos where people are far more open to subtitles and the like.
“In drama, I always feel that the duty of the production is to reflect the societies that we live in.
“I hope people in Wales react to the Bang approach well. It makes it different but I think, hopefully, people relate to it.”
It’s not the first Welsh drama which has found an international audience.
In 2014, rights to crime-thriller Hinterland were sold to Germany, the USA and Canada.
Rights to the show’s third series were sold to Iceland, Australia, Holland, Finland, Norway and New Zealand before it was even commissioned, with viewers in Brittany and Belgium also able to watch the original series.
It was also available on Netflix in the USA, Canada and Scandinavia.
Back in 2014, Kaare Schmidt, acquisitions executive at Danish TV network DR, said Hinterland could open the door for more Welsh dramas in the international market.
He said at the time: “If anything I think Hinterland could show even more of the Welsh language to highlight its own identity.”
Now Bang’s bosses hope the show can replicate Hinterland’s success – and it’s already proving to be a hit, with the rights to the show already being sold to Sweden.
More countries are expected to follow.
“People are now aware of the quality of work available here,” said Bang’s creator, writer and executive producer Roger Williams.
“There are media distributors in London who don’t even know where Wales is but because Hinterland was sold to a large number of companies, it means people will have conversations with us about other programmes.
“Of course, our show is different to Hinterland. We have only got one version of our show and that is a predominantly Welsh version.
“There is a percentage of English but it’s basically a Welsh show.
“It’s unknown territory to an extent. But people are far more prepared to watch subtitled shows – The Killing was the breakthrough in that.
“But there was a big opportunity for us to say we’ve got this series which is in Welsh but it’s got a good story. People have to take a risk with it.”
Bang airs on S4C tonight at 9pm.
‘I think we switch really naturally between both languages and it shows the way that Wales and the Welsh language is today’ – producer Catrin Lewis Defis on new S4C drama Bang