I don’t watch much television. I don’t watch soaps, I dip in and out of a few American series but there are very few shows I watch religiously. I read in my spare time, as the abundance of book reviews on this site attests. However, I have watched the Sky One bittersweet comedy, Stella, written and directed by the fantastic Ruth Jones, since the very first episode and I haven’t missed an episode since. Last night I watched the final episode of season five and I was so profoundly emotional by the end of it, I felt compelled to write this post.
For those who haven’t seen it, Stella follows the fortunes of 40-something year old single mum of 3, Stella Morris, and her friends and family. Set in the Welsh valleys in fictional Pontyberry, regular viewers have been treated to antics that have guaranteed much laughter and a few tears along the way.
In the first two seasons, it was all about getting to know Stella, her past, present and potential future. Following the return of long, lost love Rob Morgan, who emigrated to Canada with his parents at 16, while Stella gave birth to their son, Luke, Stella’s new found love with a young biker is threatened by her feelings for her ex. The following three seasons have been filled with more hilarious japes and emotional moments, with new characters each series and the introduction of Patrick Baladi as hapless lawyer and Stella’s love interest, Michael Jackson.
Now, I realise that I have given a very quick and vague overview of the five seasons, mainly because this would be a ridiculously long post if I didn’t. What I actually want to do is tell you why I was so emotionally drained after watching the last episode of season five and more importantly, why I think there should be another series.
If you haven’t watched the episode yet, you might want to stop reading now, as there are a few spoilers in this next bit. It has been widely surmised that this may be the last season of Stella, and certainly, the way it finished last night could, in theory, have drawn a line under the series, as although there was plenty of room for future storylines, a lot of loose ends were tied up in that last episode. I believe there is a Christmas special if the fan forums are correct, which would be brilliant, but I want another series.
In Tuesday’s final episode, the viewers finally got their answer on whether Rob and Stella would find there way back to each other. Despite making it through a risky heart operation, Rob passed away suddenly, leaving Stella and son, Luke, devastated. I bawled like a baby, I don’t mind telling you. In fact, as I write this, I could cry again, remembering how beautifully shot the death and funeral scenes were to “How Long Will I Love You?”by Ellie Goulding. (Literally have tears in my eyes writing this, almost 24 hours later!!) These scenes put paid to any idea of them finally finding happiness with each other. Even the fact that Stella had asked Michael to marry her still had viewers who were Team Rob thinking there was still a chance! In poignantly understated scenes, the viewer was smiling then stunned as the hospital staff sped past the joking family to try to restart Rob’s heart.
Now here’s the thing. On one of the fan forums last night, there was real anger that Rob had been killed off from some fans, with cries that said fans would never watch Stella again. These, apparently ex-, fans were not appreciating the artistry involved, not only in that episode, but on the whole build up throughout the series, which I have to admit, did seemed geared up to be leading to Rob’s demise. They were furious that their imagined thought process that Stella and Rob were going to be together in the end had been so cruelly take away from them.
In the interests of full disclosure, I was also Team Rob from the start. I was gutted that Stella didn’t go to Canada with Rob at the end of season 2 and the arrival of the, quite frankly, gorgeous Patrick Baladi did nothing to abate my irritation that Rob wasn’t even on the scene to tempt Stella. In fact, it was the end of season four before we got a visit from Rob. I was very vocal about this on Twitter throughout season three and I just couldn’t get used to the pretty pathetic Michael Jackson. However, as season four got going, I was Team Michael. I accepted, with a slightly heavy heart, that his appearance in that final episode of season 4 indicated they had made peace with each other as being just good friends.
However, Rob was back in the fifth series and I was torn. I genuinely didn’t know what I wanted to happen. I was gutted to find out that Rob was dying. I was excited when, mirroring a scene from the first series, they found themselves in a clinch after a gripping birth scene. Yet I’d had enough time to get used to the bizarre relationship between Stella and Michael and really wanted them to be happy together.
Looking back over the five series, I wonder if Ruth Jones has had this long game planned from the beginning. She has managed to generate in the fans of Stella such a depth of feeling for all these characters that the emotional rollercoaster that was that final series five episode was so profoundly affecting. There has been a bit of a chatter that perhaps the storylines are a bit tired and that perhaps the ideas are running out. However, I think the fans who are of that opinion are missing the point. The true value of Stella isn’t found in the storylines or plots, it is in the characters themselves. Ruth Jones has developed these normal, unspectacular characters into become part of the viewers extended family.
Stella herself is completely average. She has missed opportunities because she became a young mother, yet she plods on, being completely lovely to everyone, a little bit mad at times but a real treasure of a character. Rob offers her a departure from the drudgery of her day to day life, but ultimately, he is asking her to abandon everything she knows, and loves, and hates, which is just too much to ask of her, and after all, he doesn’t give up his life at the end of season two. The two seasons that followed show Stella taking control, supporting her family and friends, finding new love and starting her training to be a nurse, after Rob had reminded her of her childhood ambition.
The juxtaposition of Stella to Rob, the what could have been, is enticing to the viewer but if she had gone to Canada, she would have missed and been missed, not only by the viewers, but by the other characters in the series. Michael is happy to be with her in Pontyberry, where she belongs, and he has ingratiated himself into Pontyberry life perfectly.
Every character has their own contribution to the Pontyberry life that fans know and love. Rhian “cocking” Evans is usually only on screen for a couple of minutes most episodes but she kills me with every sentence. She is hilarious and Maxine Evans plays her so perfectly vulgar. Aunty Brenda, played by the fantastic Diane Botcher with her “oo-arr”, “watchamacalls” and her “whatsinames” is such a strong presence for guaranteed hilarity ever episode, she could stand in an empty room doing nothing but rant and be entertaining. Big Al was sorely missed this series as Steve Spiers took a step behind the camera but he is also a brilliant character on screen that can be a absolute scream by doing very little. Bobby Gittings, the gay, bitchy funeral director and gasping gossip extraordinaire is a wonderful character who is so endearingly funny. Even George the Butcher is funny, and he’s only ever on for a minute or two at a time. And who can forget Daddy! Couldn’t understand a word he was saying yet he was brilliant to watch.
The new funeral director, whose name has provided a challenge for the Pontyberry residents, Ivan Schloss, has been a fantastic addition to the cast, just as Pesh the marriage guidance counsellor was in series two. His back-to-front English has provided much amusement and was such an easily likeable character that I actually didn’t mind that dippy blonde Nadine Bevan, another force majeur, ditched her loveably thick husband Karl for him. I did want to give Karl a big hug at the end but still, she had tried so hard to deny her feelings for her dance partner, it felt really sad that she originally left him at the train station to go to the “historic town of Middlesbrough” on his own. Nadine herself, played by the amazing Karen Paullada, is such a vibrant character, so Pontyberry but wishing she was Mayfair, she could be doing almost anything and could be a joy to watch.
Whilst Stella, Michael, Luke and Rob are the main characters in terms of the plot and storylines, all brilliant characters in their own right, there is an abundance of eccentric characters with their little indiosyncracies to fill the episodes. The combination of multi-faceted straight characters and comedy characters makes Stella magical to watch and I think that this is why this show could run and run. The straight characters provide enough seriousness to make it a drama that can hold its own with the best of them and the comedy characters bring the funny when emotions run high. I haven’t even mentioned mad nurse Cheryl, lovely Celia and odd Ianto!
The quality of the actors in this show is phenomenal. Craig Gallivan, who plays Luke, has had some real tearjerker scenes from series one and has played them beautifully. It was Luke’s reaction to his father’s death that finished me off last night. Being the first to notice the emergency trolley being pulled through to his father, the dash to his father’s room and the total devastation written all over his face as he watched Rob die was so heart-wrenching, I was a blubbering wreck. He played it so beautifully, even the scene earlier in the episode where Rob told Luke he loved him, was so understated but incredibly poignant, I was tearing up right there!
Ruth Jones has also shown her wonderful acting talent throughout. She is incredibly funny, wonderfully sassy and plays the emotional scenes so perfectly as Stella, there’s a hell of a lot of mileage left in her character. Her reactions to Rob this season have been brilliant. One scene that springs to mind is when they are sat in the car outside her house when he tells her he has been told he is inoperable, she loses her cool, showing just how much the thought of her first love no longer being there scares the hell out of her. I love the dynamic between Stella and each of the other characters but particularly Rob. I will miss this, and fully intend to revisit their episodes regularly!
Mark Lewis-Jones has played Rob brilliantly too this series. I always had a soft spot for Rob Morgan, having bought into Stella’s emotional connection with him from the beginning and to see him come back from Canada, his swagger from the previous seasons not quite lost but not quite in tact, was especially poignant to watch. His vulnerability on show, if only for Stella, was particularly endearing and while I never really thought they’d get back together, I did like that they continued to have a strong connection.
Patrick Baladi has come into his own this series, I think, too. He had a tough act to follow and Michael Jackson has always been just a little bit pathetic but he seems to have found his strength this series, after his mid-life crisis and affair with his baby-mama Beyoncé Evans (another vibrant and excellent character). He has often been the voice of reason this series and has stood up for himself against some particularly strong female characters. He quite rightly claimed Stella’s heart and I, for one, am happy it ended with their marriage and news that a baby is on the way for them. (Have to say, I’m surprised no-one asked her if she had done a test this time, after mistakenly thinking she was pregnant before!)
It’s also educational. What a fantastic word cwtch is! I was very smug in telling my ace author friend, Matt Johnson (author of Wicked Game (Orenda Publishing) – if you haven’t read it, you really should) that I actually did know what cwtch meant! I was even proud enough to say I learned it from Stella! (Could have done with a cwtch myself after watching that final episode!!)
I’ve harped on a bit here, I know. Apologies for that! However, I hope that I have illuminated my point that the characters in Stella are what makes it so special. It is a beautifully written, fantastically performed comedy drama set in the beautiful backdrop of the Welsh valleys. If the characters just did everyday things in their own inimitable way, I’d tune in every time and rewatch every episode. I could even stand to have Rob Morgan visit Stella in ghost form to give her a few sarcastic rebukes every now and then. I thought the voice over at the end of the episode was beautifully done, and had me crying again! I could stand some more of that. I want to see Stella and Michael have their baby. I want to see more Mayor Aunty Brenda antics, odd guttural noises and all. I want to see Luke and Zoe be happy with their little family. I want to know if Nadine Bevan has gone for good. I want to see Big Al and Little Al reunited. I want to see Jagadeesh get married. I want to see what Emma does next. I want to see Bobby be the campest funeral director in town, and get a love life. In short, I want more! I hope that those who were disappointed that Rob died can see that it had to happen for Stella and Michael to evolve. I hope they realise how wonderfully unique this show is and that it has more to give, with Rob Morgan gone but never forgotten. I implore Ruth Jones to continue to make this series. When I write book reviews, character is always the big seller for me. That is what I love about Stella and what has compelled me to write this blog post (potential biography, if I don’t stop writing!!) If Stella finishes with that last episode as it’s final goodbye, then it was a bloody good one. But I really hope it doesn’t. Ruth Jones, my plea to you, please write another series!