It’s tricky to mine humor from the dark shroud of mental illness, but “In My Skin” takes a sensitive approach to the subject — and pulls it off with aplomb.
The five-episode BBC series, premiering Thursday on Hulu, follows 16-year-old Bethan (Gabrielle Creevy), a Welsh high-schooler who’s best friends with Travis (James Wilbraham) and the outrageous, game-for-anything Lydia (Poppy Lee Friar). At first blush, Bethan appears to be a well-adjusted, talented student with a flair for writing poetry and a keen, sometimes bawdy sense of humor often targeted at the school’s authority figures.
But Bethan’s sunny facade masks a secret she’s kept from her friends: her home life is a shambolic mess. She tells Travis and Lydia that her mother is “really shy” and that her father is a harmless “tax officer.” In reality, Bethan’s mother, Katrina (Jo Hartley), is mentally ill and given to violent, psychotic episodes (including washing her car in the dead of night) that land her in a locked hospital ward. Her father, Dilwyn (Rhodri Meilier), is a loutish, drunken biker with no discernible income who doesn’t lift a finger to help his sick wife — or Bethan, who hates him. Only her warmhearted grandmother, Nan (Di Botcher), has her best interests at heart. She wants Bethan to come and live with her for the time being and extricate herself from her chaotic situation.
Creevy’s chemistry with co-stars Wilbraham and Friar is believable and heartfelt.
As the series progresses and Bethan’s journey continues, we get a deeper sense of the pain and humiliation she carries around with her, even as there are some bright spots along the way, vis a vis her poetry and expanding her circle of friends with Poppy (Zadeia Campbell-Davies), one of the school’s “popular girls” whose flirtation with Bethan — at first seemingly shallow and trivial — morphs into something deeper.
There are several reasons that “In My Skin” won a 2019 BAFTA award in Wales for Best Television Drama. To start with, Creevy provides a multifaceted prism through which the series, created and written by Kayleigh Llewellyn, refracts its darkness and light. You can feel Bethan’s pain and embarrassment while reveling in her successes and in her everyday teen angst, which include her brushes with knucklehead class bully Stan Priest (Aled ap Steffan) and her tenuous relationships with the school faculty. Creevy’s chemistry with co-stars Wilbraham and Friar is believable and heartfelt; the trio communicates in that insular way only close friends can, and Di Bothcher’s Nan is the kind of grandmother any young adult would like to have around.
None of this would work, of course, without Llewellyn’s sensitivity as a writer; her ability to mix pathos with humor is the biggest reason that “In My Skin” makes for an enjoyable, thought-provoking series.
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