A group of ordinary middle-aged Welsh men take part in an extraordinary, life-changing experience. Based on true events, Men Up is a comedic yet candid drama about masculinity, mental health, family and relationships.
At Morriston Hospital in Swansea, 1994 an unconventional event took place that changed the lives of millions across the globe. In this feature-length BBC film, we watch as a group of well-established Welsh actors take on the story of the first clinical trials for an unknown drug…that later became known as Viagra.
Curated by Quay Street Productions and Boom for BBC One and iPlayer in a co-commission with BBC Wales, it is important to tell Welsh stories and shine a light on a narrative some might deem inappropriate or crude. Wales helped advance medicine and as a country, we should be proud.
Men Up stars the likes of Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones), Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk), Phaldut Sharma (Sherwood), Paul Rhys (A Discovery of Witches), Steffan Rhodri (House of the Dragon), Mark Lewis Jones (Gangs of London), and Joanna Page (Gavin & Stacey). Written by Welsh screenwriter Matthew Barry, directed by Ashely Way and executively produced by Russell T Davies, Men Up has some of the best artists Wales can offer.
Although Men Up is based on true events, the details of the story are fictionalised for the screen. Originally, a drug was founded and tested in Merthyr Tydfil, the town of steel. During Merthyr’s industrial decline in the early 1990s, men found themselves volunteering for an unknown drug trial which later helped discover the foundations for the drug we know as, Viagra.
Later, these tests moved to Swansea which is where Men Up takes place. Each character has their inner turmoil regarding their romantic relationships and ultimate happiness. The feature sets out to diminish taboos and highlight real issues men can face in everyday life around the topic of erectile dysfunction.
Iwan Rheon plays Meurig, a character whose marriage is crumbling around him. Unable to talk to his wife, he is willing to try anything to regain intimacy. Tommy, played by Paul Rhys, is a gay man who doesn’t allow prejudice to stop him from participating in the drug trials. Colin, played by Steffan Rhodri is a quiet man since his wife’s passing, longing for love again but anxious about what might happen when that day comes. Phaldut Sharma plays Pete Shah, a confident man who finds himself in denial about his impotence. Eddie, played by Mark Lewis Jones is a ‘proper bloke’. On the outside, he’s as hard as nails but on the inside, he is unable to please his wife and willing to try anything.
Men Up explores the concept of suffering in silence. Men in this story can be considered outcasts or broken but this feature attempts to change those stereotypes and show audiences men can be vulnerable. Impotence is not the punch line. This film delves deeper into the emotions of each character’s story and tries to convey their struggle by truly understanding their bodies whilst reclaiming their sexual freedom.
Although funny at times, this film is necessary and informative. Welsh audiences should be intrigued by our involvement in such a largely influential time in medicine history but also watch with admiration towards the real men who partook in the trials. The drug quickly became one of the most controversial in history and of course, profitable. Viagra reshaped how we talk about sexual and mental health, not just for men but for everyone.
Available to watch HERE on BBC iPlayer.
Written by Film Probe – Lydia Bowen Williams