Michael Sheen: The Way echoes the reality of the Tata steel factory

When Michael Sheen was filming clashes between steelworkers and riot police in his hometown of Port Talbot, he didn’t know that 2,000 jobs at his steelworks would be at risk when it was released.

“When we were developing the story we had no idea what would happen at the steel mill when this came to light,” he said.

“It is incredibly unfortunate that the story we have written has come eerily close to the truth.”

Speaking ahead of the premiere of The Way at Port Talbot’s Reel Cinema, he insisted the three-part BBC drama, originally conceived in 2016, was a fictional story and not about the Tata steelworks.

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“But obviously knowing the city, knowing the relationship that the city has with the steel mills, knowing the insecurities and anxieties that have always been present in my life around employment and working there, that was part of what attracted us to set the story in this city,” said Sheen, 55, who directed and starred in the drama.

He said the Port Talbot steelworks was the “spiritual center of the town” and “part of our DNA” and that news of job losses had been “devastating”.

The Way is written by James Graham, created by Sheen, Graham and documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis and stars several Welsh actors.

The cast includes Steffan Rhodri (Steeltown Murders and Gavin & Stacey), Mali Harries (Hinterland), Sophie Melville (The Pact), Callum Scott Howells (It’s a Sin) and Mark Lewis Jones (Men Up and Keeping Faith).

The first episode sees growing concern about the future of the steel mill, leading to protests, which then turn into riots.

Some take to the streets to join the fight, others frantically try to escape or hide in their homes while helicopters fly overhead.

The streets become a war zone and armed police shut down the city.

With Port Talbot facing an uncertain future, could life imitate art?

“It’s not that we’re saying ‘this is what you should do as a result of what’s happening’ by any means, but I obviously have a lot of sympathy for steelworkers,” Sheen said.

“This is by no means a model for how people should react, but you don’t know that, do you? I have no idea how people will react.

“I imagine people will try to be as witty and positive as possible about it, because that’s the spirit of people in this place, but at the same time you don’t know it and people are also very angry.” “.

For Sheen, “everything” is political.

A long-time supporter of the NHS, in 2015 he was applauded for giving an impassioned speech at a pro-NHS march in Tredegar, Blaenau Gwent, and is currently rehearsing for a National Theater production about NHS founder Aneurin Bevan.

In 2019, he sold a property to fund the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff when funding for the £2m project fell through at the last minute.