I have finally relented and let Mr H submit a review for his favorite show. He spent 20 years living in Wales for his sins so consider him our foreign correspondent.
“It’s beautiful, I’m so glad you bought a big new telly” – Sarah Hamstera (1847 – Present)
It’s not often I hear justification for a purchase but there is power in beauty and Hinterland knows that all too well…
Hinterland (Y Gwyll) is an oddity in British television in that it is created and produced primarily for the Welsh audience but filmed once in Welsh and again in English. This means that there are 2 versions available to the tv audience (3 if you include the much rarer and heavily abridged all English version), the all Welsh version (Y Gwyll) appears on BBC owned S4C followed a short while later by the ‘International’ version which is predominantly in English but with key sequences in Welsh with English subtitles. This is the version put out on Saturday nights on BBC4 fitting nicely into their standard Scandi-Noir slot where we get to see just how well we have come to understand and love the genre. In some ways it feels odd that we aren’t watching the Welsh version with intermittent English scenes but, given the core audience, it’s understandable.
For those that haven’t yet sampled the ethereal delights of Hinterland, it is ostensibly a police procedural drama set in the beautiful scenery of the rural Welsh countryside surrounding Aberystwyth. This, for the most part would be enough but there is much darker fayre to be had below the verdant and bucolic surface.
Even before we encounter any crimes there is an unhealthy seam of secrets, lies and deception running through the investigative team. The team is lead by DCI Tom Mathias (played by a ragged, hang-dog and amazing Richard Harrison) and DI Mared Rhys (the brilliantly morose Mali Harries) who are somehow deeply involved in each investigation and yet float around the screen like so much gossamer on the breeze. DS Sian Owens (the most scandi-like Hannah Daniel) is the down-to-earth and stayed action woman of the team and DC Lloyd Ellis (the bookish Alex Harries) is the unsung hero of many of the cases, usually office-bound but certainly the oracle of the team, spewing out facts, figures and overlooked information like some kind of human Siri.
Mathias is a man out of time, beaten down by his emotions as well as more than his fair share of suspects, carrying the burden of his daughter’s death around his neck like an albatross and the relationship between Mared Rhys and her own daughter is distant to the point of estrangement (arguably she is more attached to her ubiquitous red jacket which, to my mind, is a nod towards Sarah Lund’s sweater). This is reflected in some way by the cases they investigate. All of them seem to involve a dead or missing child and all of them are, in one way or another, linked to the very first episode “Devil’s Bridge”.
There are other secrets running throughout the series like letters through a bitter stick of Blackpool rock. How is Chief Supt Brian Prosser (a menacing, overbearing and villainous Aneirin Hughes) linked to the Devil’s Bridge children’s home abuse scandal? What happened to Mathias’ daughters? How is Sian Owens linked to a suspect in one of the cases?
The whole thing adds up to being a slow paced yet gripping drama that begs your attention and series 3 is, thankfully, more of the same. Picking up almost immediately after the explosive ending to Series 3 things feel slightly different. The characters are all following the same trajectory but the writing style feels like it has moved on slightly – thanks in some part to Debbie Moon (writer and creator of the brilliant kids drama Wolf’s Blood). The aesthetic remains untouched; many of the shots are composed in such a way as to make them beautifully artistic, occasionally mirroring famous paintings or photographs. The majority of scenes where personal or important information is revealed are done one-on-one in a style reminiscent of a Beckett play – the players are rarely face-to-face across an interview table but side-by-side or at 90 degrees to each other. There is also a formula consciously used in every scene – 30% silence to 70% dialogue or sound. All of this makes the show feel ethereal, poignant and haunting. The music, while not 100% nailed-down in Series 1, only adds to the disorientation and feeling of vast space. The Beeb have an interactive ‘create your own soundtrack’ applet if you want to try it yourself.
While each episode is self-contained there is an ongoing story line so series 3 is probably not the best place to jump in but, if you don’t have time to go through the delicious trauma of series 1 & 2, the BBC have put together a brief “the story so far” video which helps to lay out any salient points.
This is certainly a show for fans of scandi dramas and isn’t for the faint of heart or easily distracted (each show is feature length). There are layers of depth and recurring motifs that lift Hinterland from what could easily be a simple cop show to a worthy and worthwhile suspense thriller. Love Broadchurch? Try it! Love The Killing and/or The Bridge? Try it! You may just find this journey through sadness, secrets and regrets as entertaining and cathartic as me.
The international version of Hinterland series 3 has just finished it’s run on BBC4 (available on iPlayer) and the box set DVD is out today!
HINTERLAND SEASON 3 is released on DVD Box Set on Monday 29th May by Nordic Noir & Beyond.
HINTERLAND TRILOGY BOX SET is released on DVD on Monday 29th May by Nordic Noir & Beyond.