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Michael Sheen's latest drama, The Way, is a unique and exhilarating addition to television.
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Michael Sheen’s latest drama, The Way, is a unique and exhilarating addition to television.

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The Way is a three-part drama directed by Michael Sheen, marking his first time behind the camera. After nearly ten years of development, this series tells the tale of civil unrest brewing in Port Talbot, Sheen’s hometown in Wales known for its strong labor unions and fierce working-class spirit. The show was written by James Graham (known for his work on Brexit: The Uncivil War, Quiz, and Sherwood) and documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis.

The first episode is unique and original, and even if you are not actively enjoying it (although I was), the intensity and goals of the show, the unapologetic quirkiness of the direction, the mysteriousness of the story, and its slightly surreal or unsettling quality will definitely capture your attention. It has a clear and easy-to-follow plot, but its style is rare and unique.

This is a story of societal dissatisfaction, triggered by the tragic death of a young person in a vat of molten waste at the steel mill and their father’s act of setting themselves on fire – a display of both grief and protest. The labor union holds management responsible, citing years of neglect and insufficient funding. In response, management offers to repair a furnace as a symbolic gesture to appease the heightened emotions, rather than addressing the real issues at hand. One of the new investors expresses confusion and annoyance, stating, “We didn’t realize we were inheriting a disgruntled atmosphere.”

The unrest unfolding in the story primarily centers around the Driscoll family, who have been established in the local community for a long time. The patriarch of the family was a dedicated striker in the 1980s, and his death is largely attributed to the failure of the strike and the subsequent suffering and struggle endured by the family. His son Geoff (played by Steffan Rhodri, who was last seen in the excellent Men Up at the end of last year) takes a different approach when dealing with management, which can be seen as either practical, conciliatory, weak, or treacherous depending on one’s political beliefs. It is revealed over the course of the following episodes that Geoff is separated from his wife and children for reasons that will become clear. The family’s specific tensions are also brought to light, including the strained relationship between Geoff’s son Owen (who struggles with addiction and petty drug dealing) and his daughter Thea (a police officer).

The town experiences an internet shutdown, causing an increase in tension and the implementation of curfews. This leads to riots between the townspeople and the police. The Driscolls are blamed by both the media and the police for the chaos, and are eventually compelled to leave their home and town with Owen’s girlfriend, Anna (Maja Laskowska), who is from Eastern Europe.

Interwoven throughout this growing, but not entirely believable, dystopian landscape are snippets of real-life news and CCTV footage, likely influenced by Curtis. These clips add to the feeling of disconnection and further tie together the themes of the drama. Graham, and perhaps Sheen’s strong sense of Welsh identity, bring a more mystical and ancient element to the story. The town’s reverence for the works’ pilot light, the sword made from its first steel, and the red-hooded figure all add to the otherworldly atmosphere. Sheen’s character also appears as a ghost or manifestation of conscience, haunting him as they flee. And as the borders of Cambrian become more heavily guarded, there is the presence of the Welshfinder, dressed in a mix of pastor, Clint Eastwood’s adversary, and Matthew Hopkins’ finest attire.

The first episode is impressive and bold, with a clear sense of purpose and a willingness to challenge. It accurately portrays the tense atmosphere of a town on the brink, reflecting the growing division within Britain. It also offers a glimpse into the potential future. Some may even see it as a model to follow. The drama follows in the footsteps of esteemed creators such as Bleasdale, Loach, Alan Clarke, and Jimmy McGovern, though it does occasionally succumb to agitprop. Overall, it stands out among the typical shows.

The show may not live up to its own high standards in the remaining episodes. While it does touch on the topic of displaced people and the challenge of handling large numbers of desperate individuals, it becomes too focused on the personal conflicts within the Driscoll family and their past to be as groundbreaking or exciting as previous episodes. However, the first hour is still captivating and can sustain interest for a while.

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Source: theguardian.com