First broadcast on BBC Wales in January, four-part crime drama Hinterland clearly intends to bring some Scandinavian darkness to the coast of Ceredigion, Wales. However if this first episode is any indication, the beautiful but austere rural landscape harbours sinister shadows of its own.
DCI Tom Mathias (Harrington) might have expected to ease in to his first day in a new job with a regional police force, but instead is called to a gruesome crime scene. A local minister has found a parishioners home empty but covered in blood. Initial clues lead the detective and his inspector Mard Rhys (Mali Harries) to the grisly discovery of the woman’s body in a gorge known as ‘The Devil’s Bridge Falls’. Further investigations uncover the victim’s dark past. Helen Jenkins ran a notorious children’s home by the falls, now a shabby guest house. The building’s dark history of abuse and victim’s leading role throws up a generous selection of suspects, motives and a few red herrings along the way.
Chief among Hinterland’s virtues is a tremendous sense of place that immediately sets the drama apart from a photo-fit British cop drama. Shot in the cold blue light of what appears to be early winter – there is snow on the high ground, and the leaves of the trees are ochre – director Marc Evans (who has a few theatrical features to his name including the interesting horror films My Little Eye and Trauma) captures the beauty of his Welsh locations, but also the isolation and threat inherent in the landscape. This contrasts with the shabby interiors common in an out-of-season seaside town. We first meet Mathias living an a mouldy static caravan, the police station from which he works looks like it has barely entered the 20th century let alone the 21st, the guest house conceals an murky upper floor where the sins of the past have been locked away. Horrible wallpaper abounds.
This is a dark tale dealing with the lingering stain of institutionalised abuse, a subject that is all too real. Crime fiction is about damaged and fractured individuals but often the most flawed is the central investigator. If there is a criticism of this first story it is perhaps that it reveals only hints of what is going on behind Mathias’ impassive gaze. He does not appear to be the classic ‘cop who doesn’t play by the rulebook’ (is there such a book, and has any fictional detective ever cracked the spine?). Yet there is a certain passive aggression to his exchanges with his superior, a hint he is consciously reining himself in.
There are clues to a back-story that will no doubt be revealed as the series runs its course. Who are the children pictured in a photo in his wallet? Why does he say he didn’t choose to come to Wales? Why is he living in such wretched surroundings? We are given little, but Richard Harrington makes an impression in the role. Perhaps the real mystery, will be Mathias himself?
Director: Marc Evans
Writers: David Joss Buckley and Ed Thomas
Cast: Richard Harrington, Mali Harries, Hannah Daniel, Alex Harries, Aneirin Hughes, Sara Lloyd-Gregory, Sara Lloyd
Follow Stuart Barr on @maxrenn
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