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Tuesday, 16 November 2021

REVIEW: Tender, sweet and deeply human In My Skin is the Best BBC drama of the year.

The second series of Kayleigh Llewellyn's coming of age comedy-drama In My Skin IS the best BBC drama of the year. Available now in its entirety on the BBC iPlayer, the second series is one of the most tender, moving and deeply human dramas to air on the BBC in years.

The series follows teen Bethan (superbly played by Gabrielle Creevy) as she grows up in Cardiff. Bethan is loud, brash, and has a tight group of friends. She's loyal and a bundle of fun. When she talks about her family she paints the perfect family, almost to the point of boasting. But, Bethan is hiding her true self from everyone she knows. Only her Nana (the brilliant Di Botcher) knows the truth that lurks behind Bethan's front door. Bethan's mother Katrina (Jo Hartley) suffers from bipolar which sees her experience manic highs and lows. Her father Dilwyn (Rhodri Meilir) is an abusive drunk who has done unspeakable things to Katrina when her bipolar has spiralled out of control. In the second series, Bethan admits to girlfriend Cam (Rebekah Murrell) that she's ashamed of her family. She loves her mum to bits and would do anything for her, but ultimately, she's ashamed. 

In essence, Bethan is playing a character when she's around her friends in school. She's playing the role of a girl with the perfect home life.  Even her closest friends Lydia (Poppy Lee Friar) and Travis (James Wilbraham) are kept in the dark. 

The series is semi-autobiographical with writer Kayleigh Llewellyn telling The Guardian in 2020, “I lived in fear that kids in my school would find out my mum was frequently being sectioned. I thought they would make fun of me, ostracise me – or even worse, make fun of my mum.”

The first series saw Bethan dealing with her school life whilst visiting her mum secretly at the unit she was staying in. Whilst becoming Head Girl and falling for popular girl Poppy (Zadeiah Campbell-Davies) who at the very end of the first series, much to Bethan's horror spots her at her mum's unit. 

What I admired so much about the first series was how together Bethan seemed. Gabrielle Creevy makes Bethan instantly likeable. Even her teachers Ms Morgan (Alexandria Riley) and PE teacher Mrs Blocker (Laura Checkley) see-through Bethan's facade to the bright girl she's hiding away.

When we meet Bethan, Travis and Lydia at the start of series 2 they are in their final months of school and considering university. Bethan falls for Cam (Rebekah Murrell), a new girl who she first encounters in a debate class. In lots of ways, Bethan's life is a far better place. Her mum is well, and working alongside her mum at the local Bingo hall and Cam comes into her life at exactly the right time. With her mum well, Bethan doesn't feel ashamed to let her Cam meet her, even if the sing-song to Cliff Richard's Devil Woman in a giddy Bingo hall is slightly mortifying. Cam is the first person Bethan allows round to the family home and into her bedroom. She's the first person she calls when her mum takes a downward spiral and needs to be re-admitted to the unit and she's the first person she tells about her mum's condition. Bethan has shied away from opening up through fear the people closest to her will view her differently or abandon her completely. Cam doesn't. She wipes the tears from Bethan's eyes and tells her she has no reason to be ashamed. 

The relationship between the pair feels so real. Like everything else within the series, it's tender and dealt with a lightness of touch and humanity that Llewellyn threads throughout every character. Cam is a much better match for Bethan than Poppy ever was. They understand each other, enjoy spending time with each other, and most importantly, Bethan is comfortable in her company and finally able to be herself, not the version of herself she has been living most of her life. Gabrielle Creevy is a revalation. To be fair, she was in the first series, but this series sees her playing a new Bethan. When things are good they're great and it's wonderful to see Bethan blossom, open up and be excited about her future (a plan to follow Cam to France where her father works) but sadly when the inevitable lows come they hit with a greater emotional heft that I wasn't prepared for. Creevy handles the highs and lows of Bethan's life with ease. I teared up many times, my heart aching for Bethan as she sat alone in her house after her mother is sectioned again, switching off her phone and detaching herself from Cam and her friends. 

It hurts even more because Katrina's life is improving too. She's enjoying her work at the Bingo Hall and finds new love with Steffan Rhodri's Perry, something Bethan is immediately in turmoil over. She worries that her mum is heading back into a manic high, but when she meets Perry and discovers how wonderful he is and how loving he is, she worries that her dad will kill them. When Bethan tells her mum, "Dad's going to kill you" she means it literally. Jo Hartley is at her very best as Katrina. It's utterly heartbreaking to this woman who is so happy and loving turn on her daughter when her condition deteriorates. 

Like the first series, this second series consists of five half-hour episodes. It's a testament to the performances and  Llewellyn's writing that you never feel short-changed by the length of the short episodes. These half-hour episodes pack in more drama, character development and laughs than any other BBC drama this year. We live in an era of BBC drama where everything is BIG, bold but ultimately soulless and forgettable, In My Skin, is a sweet, character-driven, heartbreaking drama that will stick with me for a long long time. It's an under the radar gem that the BBC should be shouting about a lot more than they are. The final episode ends with a caption dedicating the series to Llewellyn's mother. "To my mother Janet Llewellyn, thank you for everything". I can't think of a more fitting tribute.

Gabrielle Creevy deserves to be a huge star and I can't wait to see what she does next. Please, please seek out this beautiful show for yourself and then we can talk about it together!

                          In My Skin is available on BBC iPlayer

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