If you’re looking for a life-affirming drama devoid of seasonal sentimentality this Christmas, Men Up can rise to the occasion. Unlike its cast.


But let’s stop the cheap gags right there. Because this is the true story of an anonymous group of middle-aged men in Swansea who, in 1994, took part in trials for a new impotency drug that was launched four years later as Viagra.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of humour generated by a stellar cast of Welsh talent led by Iwan Rheon in this one-off BBC drama executive-produced by Russell T Davies.

“Obviously it’s a subject that’s a bit funny,” acknowledges Rheon, most recently seen on telly in bonkers thriller Wolf and most famous as Game of Thrones’s psychotic torturer Ramsay Bolton. “People do tend to laugh – it’s a bit ho ho, nudge nudge, Viagra.”

But while there are comic elements in Matthew Barry’s pin-sharp script, “it’s not based around base humour and silly knob jokes. This is a film about these [fictionalised] men, their loved ones and how erectile dysfunction can deeply affect people psychologically".

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Diabetes-related complications have left Rheon’s character Meurig no longer able to “entertain” his wife Ffion (Alexandra Roach). Steffan Rhodri’s Colin hasn’t been the same since the death of his wife of 27 years. Tommy (Paul Rhys) is gay and the shame of being unable to be public with his partner is crushing the couple’s sex life, and the beery bravado of burly roofer Eddie (Mark Lewis Jones) masks deep insecurity about impotence that takes him to a very dark place indeed.

Colin White (STEFFAN RHODRI), Tommy Cadogan (PAUL RHYS), Meurig Jenkins (IWAN RHEON), Eddie O’Connor (MARK LEWIS JONES), Peetham ‘Pete’ Shah (PHALDUT SHARMA) pose for a press shot for Men Up. They are looking at a pile of blue pills which are Viagra.
The cast of Men Up.

As Rheon puts it: “Every storyline, every character is so well fleshed out and beautifully written that you really get a sense of these men and what they’re going through.”

After Men Up, Rheon is starring alongside Anthony Hopkins in Amazon Prime Video’s new epic Those About To Die – a sprawling series about gladiators in Ancient Rome. He plays Tenax, “a bit of a wheeler dealer” who “runs the gambling and underworld of Rome”. Did his GoT sword training come in handy? “Well, Tenax is more of a knife guy. He’s subtle!”

Filming the series straight after Men Up and a plane ride away from his London home has left Rheon looking forward to a quiet Christmas – or two. “I’ll do one in Wales, then one in London – my parents will come to us.” Although, when you have a five-year-old son, “quiet” is relative, Rheon points out.

Life for the 38-year-old seems to have changed significantly since he shot to fame in Game of Thrones ten years ago. He can scarcely believe it’s been so long. But he agrees that it was a reputation-making role.

“There’s no other way of looking at it. Because of the magnitude of the show, it did loads for my career. But it brought a lot of barriers as well. All of a sudden you’re just getting offered lots of parts where they want you to do the same thing.”

More psychopaths? “Well, exactly!” he says, laughing. “I was like: ‘Can I play a nice guy, please?’"

Men Up airs on BBC One on Friday 29th December at 9pm. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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