For the last eight weeks, we’ve been following the trials and tribulations of Faith Howells as she attempts to sort out the mess of intrigue, corruption and loss that happens after her husband, Evan, disappears. That is, we’ve been watching a Welsh TV drama called, Keeping Faith, on BBC 1. Faith’s trying to discover what’s happened to Evan, with not much help from the police or her community, but she’s attacked each new obstacle with grit, ingenuity and warmth, so we’ve mostly cheered her on.
I’m not saying she’s got it right all through. There have been moments of blatant idiocy when we’ve shaken our heads, agreeing that no mother would do that. In the first episode she drove off into the night leaving her three small children alone in the house, for at least an hour. ‘Really? Would she?’
The answer was yes, she had to. ‘Get used to it,’ this incident warned us, ‘we’re dealing with a woman who’s impetuous.’ She’s generous and loving and loyal, but she sticks her neck out and trusts. Of course she does, we should have got that from the title, ‘keeping Faith’ is about playing with all aspects of the meaning.
And, do you know what? We began to like her all the more for it once we’d accepted who she was. Faith is a clever lawyer, but she’s been away from work, having children and looking after the family. She doesn’t know what’s happened with Evan and their law partnership. His disappearance forces her back to the office. As she picks up the cases Evan should be dealing with, we see how capable she is. When she begins to untangle the clues we are on her side, sharing her confusion and trusting her intuitions.
The odd’s against Faith got darker each episode, her list of potential allies diminished, and what did she do? She grimaced, sucked in a breath, painted on a fresh smile as required, and turned back to her battle.
Maybe what our outrage really meant was, no mother should do that. It’s easy to sit in judgement when we’re safe, but drama is about what happens when the supports are taken away.
One of the first pieces of writing advice I remember being given in script-writing classes was, ‘Put your characters on the edge of the cliff, then make them find a way back from it.’ That’s where Faith’s been, episode after episode. Each of the people she thought she could turn to have failed her at a crucial moment. She’s been driven to the edges of literal and metaphorical cliffs, by ill-will, indifference, fear, prejudice, resentments and avarice.
What keeping faith has meant for Faith, is that help has come from unexpected quarters, as a result of her generosity and goodwill. Characters are not simply good or bad, daft or smart, they’re more complicated. They don’t all keep tidy houses, sometimes they get drunk, they make questionable choices, they take risks, and too often, the past impacts on the way they make decisions.
I was involved in the action, wondering what, how and when, and willing everything to work out comfortably for Faith and her children. It’s only in retrospect I see the shapes of this drama.