At the risk of being a little cheeky, I’m reposting a tweaked review from January. Originally published as just one part of an article about three new series that week, now that Hinterland is finally getting a national broadcast this week on BBC4 it seemed only right that it gets a fresh airing in a post all of its own.
Technically Hinterland is not a new show: the Welsh language version Y Gwyll was originally broadcast in October and November on the the S4C channel, while the alternate English/Welsh version made at the same time began its run on BBC One Wales on January 4. Although it’s possible to get both Welsh channels on satellite and cable platforms, it was actually via the BBC iPlayer that I saw the latter version back in January.
Essentially another police procedural, Hinterland has clearly been heavily influenced by the stylings of Nordic Noir, so much so that it’s a surprise to see it in a different time from the usual Saturday 9pm slot usually reserved for the likes of The Bridge, Borgen and The Killing. The first 93-minute episode of Hinterland follows newly appointed DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) on his first day in Aberystwyth which begins with the bloody aftermath of a home invasion and the disappearance of the elderly homeowner, who used to run a nearby children’s home which has since closed and become a guest house.
Despite being well played by Harrington, Mathias is a fairly standard-issue morose character with a clearly haunted and tragic past that seems to have involved the loss of his own family and sees him now living alone in a rundown seaside caravan. His deputy DI Mared Rhys (Mali Harries) initially takes an somewhat resentful and antagonistic line on this outsider coming in and taking over, but that subtly and skilfully shifts by the end of the first case. The other detectives never really manage to stand out or distinguish themselves, and indeed everyone seems to be going out of their way to simply fit in and not draw attention to themselves. That’s very unlike the Nordic thrillers with their compelling and unique characters; even the suspects in this first case really do no more than the rather slender and slightly over-stretched storyline requires them to.
That said, the atmosphere of the piece is truly captivating and beguiling, and the way that the cinematography captures the Welsh landscape is truly exceptional especially as it’s given the time it needs to weave its spell and record every small little detail. The location for the deep ravine below the former children’s home is particularly stunning, but there’s plenty more to marvel at as the series goes on.
The first story about an old case of institutionalised abuse seems somewhat self-consciously ‘ripped from the headlines’ in Wales; the second is awkwardly similar to the first in its initial set-up, starting with the death of another elderly person that links back to an old crime from decades past and also ties in with corruption in the local land planning department. After this the series thankfully branches out, with the third episode revolving around the murder of a young man who had been staying in a close-knit rural community; and the fourth and final story of the first series (a second has already been commissioned) sparked by the discovery of a young girl’s body strikingly posed in the middle of marshland near a converted former railway station, a case that is rather too close to home for Mathias especially when the killer strikes again.
It all certainly makes this worth sticking with and is one of the classier productions I’ve seen from a UK broadcaster in recent months, which makes it only more irksome that this didn’t get a proper BBC network roll-out in prime time until now. It clearly deserved much better, and I hope the change to a new timeslot doesn’t disconnect it from being picked up by the Scandi-crime fans to whom this should certainly also appeal.
Hinterland is airing over four weeks on BBC4 at 9pm on Mondays starting on April 28. It will be released on DVD on May 26, 2014.