Review: Hinterland (Y Gwyll), the series so far

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Review: Hinterland (Y Gwyll), the series so far

By John Ruberry

Much well-​deserved crit­i­cism has been lev­eled at the BBC for com­pelling Doc­tor Who to go trans­gen­der by hav­ing, after 41 years, a woman take the lead role. Not because, as DaT­e­chGuy him­self noted two months ago, the best per­former was hired, but because the Doc­tor Who fran­chise appar­ently needs more diversity.

Keep in mind that the most recent com­pan­ion of the Doc­tor was a black les­bian with a Colin Kaepernick-​style afro. Oh, I am not auto­mat­i­cally opposed to a female Doc­tor. Let’s say Judi Dench wanted the role. Would I watch? Sure, I would. It would be the same for me if Meryl Streep grabbed the con­trols of the TARDIS. But that last one can never hap­pen. An Amer­i­can play­ing the Doc­tor? And one from New Jer­sey? Imag­ine the uproar!

But I’m here to review a dif­fer­ent TV show.

Y Gwyll, which is Welsh for The Dusk, is called Hin­ter­land in Eng­lish. It’s a pro­duc­tion of S4C, a Welsh-​language pub­lic tele­vi­sion net­work in Britain. So far three sea­sons have been released. Hin­ter­land is also broad­cast on BBC Wales – which iron­i­cally pro­duces Doc­tor Whoas part of its com­mit­ment to pro­vide more Welsh cul­tural offer­ings there. And BBC One offers the show too.

So does a polit­i­cal agenda and enjoy­able tele­vi­sion view­ing mix? In this case, yes, they do.

Hin­ter­land is a noir crime drama, a genre that is very pop­u­lar in Scan­di­navia, where some of the fund­ing for the pro­gram comes from. It’s an expen­sive series to shoot as every scene with dia­logue is filmed twice, once in Welsh and then in Eng­lish. And there is much out­door film­ing which costs more than con­trolled stu­dio shots.

After ten years work­ing for the Lon­don Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police, Detec­tive Chief Inspec­tor Tom Math­ias (Richard Har­ring­ton) relo­cates to the coastal town of Aberys­t­wyth in west­ern Wales after a fam­ily tragedy. The laconic and brood­ing char­ac­ter lives in a car­a­van, what the Brits call a trailer home, in front of the stone ruins of pre­sum­ably an old farm­house. Does this sym­bol­ism mean that Math­ias can­not rebuild his life?

In the Doc­tor Who spin­off Torch­wood, which is set in Cardiff, we see a gleam­ing mod­ern city, which is not sur­pris­ing as the Torch­wood alien-​hunting team is led by a post-​American time trav­eler from the 51st cen­tury. The Wales of Hin­ter­land is one of col­laps­ing old homes, crum­bling walls, and fail­ing farms. Yes, I love the cin­e­matog­ra­phy here, but remem­ber, I’m some­one vaca­tioned in Detroit two years ago to snap urban explo­ration pho­tos. And in every Hin­ter­land episode it seems to be early March – a still­born spring. The coun­try­side is gor­geous, rem­i­nis­cent, to me at least, of the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Detec­tive Inspec­tor Mared Rhys (Mali Har­ries), a sin­gle mother is also bur­dened by a com­pli­cated past, is Math­ias’ pri­mary assis­tant; he is also ably aided by Siân Owens (Han­nah Daniel) and Lloyd Elis (Alex Harris).

Hin­ter­land is a slow-​moving pro­gram – if car chases and gun bat­tles are your Jones, then move along, there is lit­tle here for you. And it takes a while for the series plot to play out as a mur­der in the first episode of sea­son one doesn’t begin to expand into other crimes until the end of that sea­son. It builds from there as Math­ias con­fronts Iwan Thomas (Geraint Mor­gan) who used to hold his job in Aberys­t­wyth and whose past is as trou­bled as his own. Chief Super­in­ten­dent Brian Prosser (Aneirin Hughes), Math­ias’ recon­dite boss, dis­cour­ages him from pur­su­ing the Thomas angle in his investigations.

Sea­son three was my favorite, as many loose ends are tied up. There are no plans for a fourth Hin­ter­land batch – but the series hasn’t been can­celled either. But as Hin­ter­land also receives fund­ing from the Euro­pean Union, pol­i­tics could push the show out of its still­born spring and into per­ma­nent winter.

Ah, pol­i­tics. It really does ruin everything.

All three sea­sons of Hin­ter­land are avail­able on Net­flix in the United States and in DVD form on Amazon.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

By John Ruberry

Much well-deserved criticism has been leveled at the BBC for compelling Doctor Who to go transgender by having, after 41 years, a woman take the lead role. Not because, as DaTechGuy himself noted two months ago, the best performer was hired, but because the Doctor Who franchise apparently needs more diversity.

Keep in mind that the most recent companion of the Doctor was a black lesbian with a Colin Kaepernick-style afro. Oh, I am not automatically opposed to a female Doctor. Let’s say Judi Dench wanted the role. Would I watch? Sure, I would. It would be the same for me if Meryl Streep grabbed the controls of the TARDIS. But that last one can never happen. An American playing the Doctor? And one from New Jersey? Imagine the uproar!

But I’m here to review a different TV show.

Y Gwyll, which is Welsh for The Dusk, is called Hinterland in English. It’s a production of S4C, a Welsh-language public television network in Britain. So far three seasons have been released. Hinterland is also broadcast on BBC Wales–which ironically produces Doctor Whoas part of its commitment to provide more Welsh cultural offerings there. And BBC One offers the show too.

So does a political agenda and enjoyable television viewing mix? In this case, yes, they do.

Hinterland is a noir crime drama, a genre that is very popular in Scandinavia, where some of the funding for the program comes from. It’s an expensive series to shoot as every scene with dialogue is filmed twice, once in Welsh and then in English. And there is much outdoor filming which costs more than controlled studio shots.

After ten years working for the London Metropolitan Police, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) relocates to the coastal town of Aberystwyth in western Wales after a family tragedy. The laconic and brooding character lives in a caravan, what the Brits call a trailer home, in front of the stone ruins of presumably an old farmhouse. Does this symbolism mean that Mathias cannot rebuild his life?

In the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, which is set in Cardiff, we see a gleaming modern city, which is not surprising as the Torchwood alien-hunting team is led by a post-American time traveler from the 51st century. The Wales of Hinterland is one of collapsing old homes, crumbling walls, and failing farms. Yes, I love the cinematography here, but remember, I’m someone vacationed in Detroit two years ago to snap urban exploration photos. And in every Hinterland episode it seems to be early March–a stillborn spring. The countryside is gorgeous, reminiscent, to me at least, of the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Detective Inspector Mared Rhys (Mali Harries), a single mother is also burdened by a complicated past, is Mathias’ primary assistant; he is also ably aided by Siân Owens (Hannah Daniel) and Lloyd Elis (Alex Harris).

Hinterland is a slow-moving program–if car chases and gun battles are your Jones, then move along, there is little here for you. And it takes a while for the series plot to play out as a murder in the first episode of season one doesn’t begin to expand into other crimes until the end of that season. It builds from there as Mathias confronts Iwan Thomas (Geraint Morgan) who used to hold his job in Aberystwyth and whose past is as troubled as his own. Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser (Aneirin Hughes), Mathias’ recondite boss, discourages him from pursuing the Thomas angle in his investigations.

Season three was my favorite, as many loose ends are tied up. There are no plans for a fourth Hinterland batch–but the series hasn’t been cancelled either. But as Hinterland also receives funding from the European Union, politics could push the show out of its stillborn spring and into permanent winter.

Ah, politics. It really does ruin everything.

All three seasons of Hinterland are available on Netflix in the United States and in DVD form on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.