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Y Sŵn (The Noise) ★★★★



Director: Lee Haven Jones

Cast: Rhodri Evan, Sian Rees-Williams, Mark Lewis Jones, Rhodri Meilir, Lily Beau Conway, Arwel Gruffydd, Dyfan Dwyfor, Sion Eifion

Release Date: 10th March 2023

Following the huge success of their eco-horror film The Feast, Lee Haven Jones and Roger Williams are back with a timely and ambitious film that is sure to attract a new audience. There’s certainly a specific goal to their films, one that looks at giving the Welsh language a wider audience – a goal that the hero of their latest film, Y Sŵn, would have approved of.

Y Sŵn is a fictional story but is based on historical events that were vital in the campaign to establish a Welsh language television channel. This channel has since given the language a voice and a platform for over forty years. Behind the success of this campaign was one of Wales’ most iconic and influential political figures, a figure who was ready to sacrifice his life for the cause. This man was, of course, Gwynfor Evans.

1979, the Tories and Margaret Thatcher are in power, and the people of Wales have just voted against devolution.

 Over a sequence of photos and archive clips, we hear the voice of Ceri Samuel (Lily Beau Conway) – an employee of The Welsh Office – who offers some context to a period full of political and cultural change. This brings us to the opening frames, where trouble, outrage and uproar awaits.

It soon becomes apparent that the Tories have made a sudden U-turn on a promise made in the previous election. This promise would have enabled Wales to establish a Welsh-language television channel. William Whitelaw (Mark Lewis Jones) and Nicholas Edwards (Rhodri Meilir) are the villains playing with the future of Wales in Whitehall. In a stylized – Tarantinoesque – sequence of scenes, we see how Whitelaw comes to this controversial, spineless, and undemocratic decision – that’ll make your blood boil.

As the news of the U-turn spreads, there is an intense discussion in The Welsh Office about how Plaid Cymru and The Welsh Language Society will respond to the situation. The parliamentary secretary for The Welsh Office, Wyn Roberts (Arwel Gruffydd), goes to Whitelaw warning him that protests will happen; a warning that Whitelaw refuses to acknowledge “the nationalists will be too busy licking their wounds following the loss of the debate over devolution”- Whitelaw is, of course, foolish to think this.

Through archive footage, freezeframes, and music such as Rule Britannia, director Lee Haven Jones successfully conveys a rebellious and punk response that is true to the fierce and passionate protests that took place as a result of the government’s U-turn. There is a confidence in this film, one that’s willing to play and experiment with different styles while conforming to the traditional narrative structure of a period drama.

Dafydd Wigley (Dyfan Dwyfor), Dafydd Elis Thomas (Sion Eifion), Gwynfor Evans (Rhodri Evan) and the rest of Plaid Cymru are the first to stand against the sudden change to the Tories’ manifesto.

After Gwynfor Evans loses his seat as the member of parliament for Carmarthen, he goes through a period of self-reflection. We see him connecting spiritually with political figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King “your actions will see results”. From their influence and wisdom, he comes to a notable decision, one that proves to be a significant turning point in the campaign to establish a Welsh language channel for Wales: Gwynfor threatens to go on hunger strike until the government yields, a method that the Iranian director, Jafar Panahi (No Bears, Hit the Road) – who was wrongfully imprisoned – had to turn to recently to protest against the authorities in Iran. 

Following Gwynfor Evans’ momentous decision, we get a true sense of his character; Rhodri Evan succeeds in conveying a determined, passionate, thoughtful, and unyielding character who is ready to sacrifice his life for the language and his country. His wife, Rhiannon Evans (Eiry Thomas), is the glue and the strength that enables him to go to such extremes. There is an obvious tenderness and love to their relationship, which emphasizes how seriously he took his decision too fast.

Gwynfor Evans’ inspiring story takes centre stage in Y Sŵn, without a doubt. But it is the broad perspective of The Welsh Office workers, the politicians and the nationalists that offer a different angle to the story, one that gives us an idea of the mindset and the influence of the people that worked behind the scenes at the time.

I don’t need to describe how the story ends and the decisions that resulted from the protests and campaigning. But Y Sŵn will broadcast on S4C in March on our Welsh language channel – diolch, thanks to Gwynfor Evans.

Y Sŵn brings a timely and important message to our screens this year. In a time of uncertainty regarding the future of the arts, our channel, and the language, it is important for us to remember the individuals who fought for the future of the language and our identity. It is important that we take responsibility for the language, the channel, and the things that we take for granted from time to time.

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