The Owl Service
The helpful recap establishes that Nancy was gifted the plates by Bertram (if this was stated earlier, I missed it). Should the adult themes of the serial have failed induce parental qualms over its suitability, then the strong language of this episode probably decided the case. Gwyn tells Nancy, “Drop dead, you miserable cow!” to which she replies “Is that what they teach you at the grammar?” Later he’s even more disrespectful, referring to Alison’s mother as a “Dirty minded bitch!” It’s enough to make you choke on your Rich Tea! This might be construed as evidence enough that he is the “yob” Roger now refers to him as.
The threats of an existence behind the counter at the Co-op are ever present as Nancy’s now had her fill and given 48 hours’ notice (due to Clive harping on about the locked stable door). To be honest, and I know it’s a central theme, the class stuff does get a bit repetitive. At times a show not tell approach might be more effective; there’s an awful lot of telling going on, right down to Gwyn’s attempt to flee the valley at the climax, scrambling up a slate hill with “I told you, he’s a yob” echoing through his mind.
Much of this episode’s impact comes from Roger being a frightful stinker to Gwyn. His disgust at the latter crying on the stairs is another moment where Wallis successfully carries across the emotions of the previous episode. He refers to Gwyn’s public display as “absolutely embarrassing”. Because no one saw him blubbing the previous week, he’s able to lie to Alison that he hasn’t shed tears since he was a child. Their argument effectively character assassinates each other’s parent. She snobbily notes his “rough diamond dad” and he lays into her “bank book mum”.
Roger has now retreated so much from the unexplained phenomena theory that he refers to earlier events as a “put-up job”. And, like any teenager on the defensive, he picks on Gwyn’s most painful insecurity and launches an offensive; his class. He’s learnt to be a horrible snob from his father, of course, and with the lines now drawn he’s free (after tentatively showing friendship for Gwyn in the early episodes) to mock him.
Roger: He’s not one of us. He never will be. He’s a yobbo. A clever yobbo.
He considers that the house will be better without “those two weirdos” and dismisses Gwyn’s future life with “He’ll become a teacher or something equally wet”. But again, these are his own insecurities coming out; he has a job lined up in the family firm that serves no vocational purpose. As Alison says, he should become a photographer (but he has a thousand and one reasons why he would fail at it). Later, he brings up the elocution lessons, which Alison mentioned sympathetically, to ridicule Gwyn (“How now, brown cow”).
And there he is again, framed between Alison and Gwyn. The problem is, as I’ve mentioned before, that Wallis is a much better cad than Holden is a wayward hero. Cruel as Roger is, Gwyn comes off with so little nuance that we don’t really feel for him; or not nearly enough. And the streak of wit Wallis lends Roger occasionally lights up the screen. He does a great comedy accent, and his “Or is it the very nerve centre of the illicit Welsh whisky trade look you” is very funny, whatever Alison says to the contrary.
Alison is found blowing in the wind (“I’m one person for mummy and another with you. I can’t argue”) but in spite of generally coming across as more sympathetic (less judgemental) than Roger and Gwyn her shallowness is highlighted when she admits why she stopped meeting Gwyn (the threat of leaving the choir and the tennis club).
Plummer pulls some interesting visual choices in the scene where Gwyn comes across Alison sketching. Her reaction is from his point of view, lending the proceedings a threatening quality. Later he pulls a reverse of this, with Alison putting her hand in front of her (the camera’s) face when she asks Gwyn to “stop looking at me like that!”
After the meandering narrative of the last two episodes, this one is blessed with meaty dramatic fireworks. The fantasy element remains subdued, even though Huw has a more substantial role. He continues to preside over the re-enactment of the legend, distracting Clive from discovering Gwyn and Alison (“Do you like my bonny-fire?”), leading Clive to reminisce over his working-class roots (baking potatoes over an open fire).