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TV: Joanna Scanlan says her Welsh was no laughing matter in psychological thriller Y Golau

© Alistair HeapThe Thick Of It’s Joanna Scanlon stars as grieving mum Sharon in Y Golau
The Thick Of It’s Joanna Scanlon stars as grieving mum Sharon in Y Golau

Bafta award-winning actress Joanna Scanlan knows the language of acting well. Best known for her starring roles in The Thick Of It, The Larkins and Notes On A Scandal, the 60-year-old actress’ latest project, Welsh psychological thriller Y Golau, took her out of her comfort zone with a new language.

Translated into English as The Light In The Hall, the gripping, dark six-part drama centres around murdered teenager Ela Roberts. Scanlan plays Ela’s grieving mother Sharon, while Killing Eve’s Alexandra Roach is former friend and journalist Cat Donato, and Game Of Thrones star Iwan Rheon is convicted murderer Joe Pritchard.

Some of the script is in Welsh, which Scanlan couldn’t speak when she first signed on.

“When I was asked to do this, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is an incredible honour to be asked to act in Welsh!’ It was a kind of dream I’ve had since I was a child,” she said. “I did lots of drama at school in a Welsh language environment, but I was never a Welsh speaker. However, when we actually got going, I was useless at it.

“Completely hopeless and pathetic. My niece came down to stay with me and she just drilled me. She’s North Walian, and that’s where my character’s from.

“I started to eavesdrop on things, so it got a lot better. But there were times when I’d have to sit there with the stinging humiliation of public failure, because I would say things that were so wrong, and so laughably ridiculous. They were very polite. They never laughed at me.”

Scanlan describes Y Golau as one of her career highlights and “one of the hardest things” she’s had to do.

Her character is faced with the torture of knowing her daughter has been murdered but, as her body was never found, is unable to properly grieve.

“It’s a very important piece of television because it talks about the way our memories and our prejudices can misguide us – from the truth, looking at ourselves, and from our own responsibilities,” she explained.

“A lot of the people in this story are wrong about what they think is the truth. And that, I think, chimes for me in real life.

“It’s a very timely and important piece of drama, because one woman is killed every three days in the United Kingdom. In 2021, 21 women were murdered in London. The impact on their families and loved ones is huge. So, I think it’s a very important story to talk about – and the consequences of murder, how we look at the truth, and where we find the truth.”

Y Golau on BBC iPlayer now