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 (Richard 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
What did you think of Hinterland series 1 episode 1? Let us know in the comments below!
Still catching up on Hinterland series 1 episode 2? Read Stuart’s review of episode 1 here.
After anonymous call alerts police to a lonely crime scene, DCI Mathias (Harrington) and his team investigate a fresh murder. The victim was killed in a remote mountainside farmhouse where he had lived a solitary life. The investigation will reveal shady land deals stretching back to the obfuscated history of the Ceredigion region during the Second World War.
A keen photographer, the victim’s hobby presents Mathias with his first line of enquiry when it is noted that the cottage is filled with photographs but no cameras. Another line of inquiry involves the ownership of the farm, which had clearly not been worked for some time. This causes Mathias to incur the displeasure of his superior when he aggressively interrogates the leader of an Aberystwyth business guild who owns the property.
The second episode of Hinterland – Y Gwyll – BBC 4’s new multilingual Welsh ‘Celtic noir’ – built on an impressive initial installment. The sense of place that sets the series apart from urban crime dramas became a crucial part of the plot of this episode in which the darkest of deeds seem to be driven by the desire of men to claim ownership for either wealth or blood. Crucial clues are found hidden in landscape photographs and in the shifting property boundaries of maps. The sins of the present are the culmination of events put in motion decades in the past by instigators long dead.
This was a tremendously well paced 90 minutes of television which marshalled nuts and bolts crime story elements into a satisfying whole. Common Hinterland tropes seem to be emerging, again there was a good selection of peeling wallpaper and mouldering locations, Mathias got to pull out his torch, and another on foot chase showed the wisdom of the detective’s cardio regime.
The series takes a less-is-more approach to its characters and tantalising details of their back stories continued to be drip fed to the audience. We now know that Mathias is not the slob he might have first appeared to be, having given his static caravan a serious spring clean. However this may have actually made the detective’s temporary home more depressing as it emphasised how Spartan his quarters are. The only personal touch being a photograph of two girls. Are they his daughters? Are they twins? Who is the Meg Mathias sending back his letters and failing to reply to his phone messages? A wife?
We also found out more about Inspector Mard Rhys (Harries), meeting her parents and what appeared to be a teenage daughter with whom she had a strained relationship. We also found out Rhys has some ex-boyfriends in academia, but are no closer to finding out why she is so frosty with the younger, lower ranking and conspicuously blonde DCI Sian Owens (Hannah Daniel).
Mathias’ capacity for empathy, both with the victims and the perpetrators, was demonstrated in this story. In time-honoured detective fiction fashion it seems that Mathias’ own psychological scar tissue gives him a capacity for understanding that some of his colleagues lack.
Shot on a tight budget, Hinterland is emerging as a visually ambitious crime series, well told, and excellently acted.
Director: Gareth Bryn
Writers: Ed Talfan
Cast: Richard Harrington, Mali Harries, Hannah Daniel, Alex Harries, Aneirin Hughes, Steffan Rhodri
What did you think of Hinterland series 1 episode 2? Let us know in the comments below…
Still catching up on Hinterland series 1 episode 3? Read Stuart’s review of episode 2 here.
This third episode of bilingual Welsh crime drama Hinterland turns its jaundiced eye away from the bustling streets of Aberystwyth – apart from occasional scenes in the now familiar police station with its seventies décor and rancid coffee machine – and looks inland to rural Wales. While the previous episode revealed middle class corruption hiding in shady property dealings we now travel to a rural working class community and find dark secrets lurking on the back roads.
As is becoming a trademark of Hinterland the episode opens with DCI Tom Mathias in his static caravan. But the composed detective is in a state of emotional distress, in fact throughout the episode Mathias seems in a fragile emotional state. This manifests with harsh words to co-workers and even aggression towards his superior officer. The cool control of the previous episodes is shown as a mask barely hiding a deep well of turmoil. This fragility and pain will be key to solving the mystery of this episode.
The police are called out when amateur divers discover a months old body hidden 10 feet underwater in a disused and fenced off quarry. The investigation narrows on a nearby farming community when it is discovered that the victim is a young teacher who had been working at a local school. The young man had not been reported missing because locals believed he had simply left, his camper van having disappeared.
The investigation slowly uncovers dark streams of jealousy, infidelity and violence running through the community. There is also a very obvious suspect, Wyn Bratton a loner with a history of violence who lives alone in a forest. Bratton has served time for burning down the home of his estranged wife with his sons inside. The boys escaped and Bratton claims he believed the house had been unoccupied. Understandably he is now denied access. Mathias sees uncomfortable parallels with this man, especially when he finds a sad faded photograph of his sons pinned beside his bed at a horizontal angle so he can gaze at them as he sleeps.
As the story plays out it is how it reflects Mathias’ mental state that is most interesting. Secondary characters take a step back in this episode. Viewers looking for major revelations would be disappointed but more shading is added to the character. At the beginning as he is seemingly on the verge of weeping Mathias mistakes the young and pretty DS Owens for someone called ‘Meg’. Previously (in episode 2) we have seen mail addressed to Meg Mathias returned to sender. This is more reason to think this is an estranged wife. Mathias connects with Bratton’s pan over his estrangement from his children and he fights the suspect’s corner when his violent past is used to cast him in a villain’s role. But what does Chief Superintendent Prosser mean when he says that the last time he trusted Mathias’ intuition someone died? There is more going on here than a messy divorce (and even that is an assumption).
Hinterland continues to intrigue, although with one more episode in this season it will be interesting to see how much is revealed in the finalé.
Director: Rhys Powys
Writers: David Joss Buckley and Ed Thomas
Cast: Richard Harrington, Mali Harries, Hannah Daniel, Alex Harries, Aneirin Hughes, Heledd Baskerville, Ifan Huw Dafydd, Richard Elis, Matthew Gravelle, Rhys Griffiths
What did you think of Hinterland series 1 episode 3? Let us know in the comments below…
Still catching up on Hinterland series 1 episode 4? Read Stuart’s review of episode 3 here.
Two boys walking a horse through a marsh discover a dead woman. The body shows little signs of violence and has been carefully placed in a striking red dress that serves to emphasise the bloodless pallor of her skin. As DCI Tom Mathias investigates he and his team uncover the sad story of a family broken long before this murder.
As the police build the narrative of the victim’s final hours from CCTV footage, the case comes down to several blank hours between her last known sighting on the platform at Borth rail station and her time of death. Suspects include: the girl’s father, who has a history of violence; an attractive older University lecturer who may have be rather too fond of attractive students; a dubious drug dealing on-off boyfriend who works as a cashier in a penny arcade; a helpful station attendant with a model train hobby.
Mathias finds uncomfortable personal parallels with the dead girl’s family. Her father is an alcoholic and former policeman whose life spiralled out of control due to his obsession with a case – is this the same situation that made Mathias’ return to Wales. At the same time he forms a strange, sad bond with the victim’s mother based on common loss and pain. The relationship becomes physical but their connection is never verbalised – it is also beautifully played by the actors.
The true central character of this excellent series has been the landscape of Ceredigion region of Wales. This episode was one of the most visually striking to date, making great use of the Borth marshes and Welsh shoreline as locations. Previous stories have moved from autumn through winter, this fourth episode moved out of the dark into the light of spring, but this only served to cast deeper shadows. In this case the darkness is a killer’s obsession, and dark undercurrents of conspiracy and corruption from the past.
The opening broke with the series tradition of starting with Mathias and his morning run across coastal moors to foreground the crime and set up a battle of wits with a killer. The detectives are running to catch up throughout, but are often two steps behind their quarry, out-manoeuvred by a cunning and callous intelligence. Hinterland signatures were still much in evidence: Mathias’ caravan, Inspector Mard Rhys’ stylish yet practical outerwear, and much more horrible wallpaper.
Played out at a pace as deliberate but also as devastating as the glaciers that once carved out this ancient landscape this was a melancholy conclusion to the series. Fans hoping for grand revelations about Mathias himself will have been disappointed. Throughout the four episodes hints of the detective’s past have been dropped like breadcrumbs baiting a trap. It was a bold move to deny viewers the dramatic revelations they craved, opting instead to serve up a few crumbs of fresh information before closing in a haunting and ambiguous style.
The gamble has paid off, and a second season is to be shot later this year – hopefully picking up the story threads left hanging.
Director: Ed Thomas
Writer: Jeff Murphy
Cast: Richard Harrington, Mali Harries, Hannah Daniel, Alex Harries, Aneirin Hughes
What did you think of Hinterland series 1 episode 4? Let us know in the comments below…