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“Brilliant” —The Times (U.K.)
“Engrossing” —The Guardian (U.K.)
What Wallander is to Sweden and The Killing is to Denmark, Hinterland is to Wales: a dark and harrowing detective drama with compelling characters and suspenseful stories. Filmed on location in the starkly beautiful coastal town of Aberystwyth, this “no-holds-barred gritty thriller” (Western Mail, U.K.) was an immediate hit with viewers and critics, hailed as “groundbreaking” (The Observer, U.K.) and “magnificent” (London Evening Standard, U.K.).
Richard Harrington (Bleak House) is DCI Tom Mathias, a brilliant, brooding loner newly arrived in this isolated land of mountainous terrain and close-knit villages after 10 years with London’s Metropolitan Police. Mali Harries (Foyle’s War) is smart, hard-working DI Mared Rhys, a local girl who knows Aberystwyth society inside out. Together they confront a series of mystifying murders that ultimately push Mathias to the edge.
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"Hinterland" is good mystery viewing, but it is definitely dour. The 1st and 4th episodes are actually a bit creepy. I would call the series more seriously-minded overall compared to "Shetland" and "Vera", and about on par with Iain Glen's "Jack Taylor" mysteries. A couple times a sequence gets too drawn out and a tad melodramatic. DI Rhys has an annoying habit of giving long anguished looks. But overall, this is good mystery viewing with interesting plots. There is some really excellent lighting of scenes and faces.
Series 1 originally aired in October 2013 in Welsh. This Welsh production was filmed in full in both Welsh and English, which took extra time. Series 2 originally aired in January 2015 with 5 episodes. A series 3 is in production in early 2016.
The DVD set gives you 398 minutes of mystery viewing. The show is presented in 16:9 aspect ratio and stereo. There are 10 Bonus Extras in the DVD set. They're described after the episodes they follow, as A-J. English subtitles are available on both the episodes and the Bonus Extras.
....Episode 1. "Devil's Bridge" Mathias hits the ground running in his new job, when he drives to meet DI Mared Rhys at a murder site on a Sunday, before he's even been into the office to introduce himself. There is carnage in the bathroom with the tub full of bloody water and a broken tooth on the floor. Instead of a body, though, they find a framed print of Sydney Vesper's "Salem" smashed on the floor. Rhys tells Mathias, "The devil's face is said to be hidden in the folds of the Welsh lady's shawl."
....A. "The Myth Behind Episode 1" This is two pages to read on the screen, describing the legend behind this episode.
....Episode 2. "Night Music" Idris Williams has a farmhouse with a cheerful blue-painted kitchen. That is he HAD a farmhouse, because he is found dead in his kitchen from a mighty blow to his head. Was it because of a photo Mathias finds in Idris' darkroom?
....Episode 3. "Penwyllt" The village of Penwyllt, pronounced pen WIST, has seen better days. Twenty years ago the quarry owned by Tommy James closed, and he surrounded it with a chain link fence. That doesn't stop two amateur divers from breaking in to test the waters in the filled quarry. What they find is the body of a man wearing only his underwear.
A character is described as a typical city kid: 'Thought the countryside was a playground. But it's not. It's where we live and work, and it's bloody hard."
....Episode 4 "The Girl in the Water" Two boys lead their white pony across the knee-high grass of a marshy plain. And there, sitting calmly on the ground in a bright red party dress, a pretty girl gazes upon them. It takes a couple seconds to sink in. Her skin is gray and she is not moving. Someone has set her body up almost reverently.
Odi et amo.
I hate and I love.
....B. "The Myth Behind Episode 4" Four written pages to read telling the story of "Blodeuwedd".
....C. "Characters" (7 minutes) This bonus has excerpted scenes and clips of the actors talking about their characters. Commentators include Hannah Daniel (plays DC Sian Owen), Alex Harries (plays DC Lloyd Elis), Aneirin Hughes (plays Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser), Mali Harries (plays DI Mared Rhys) and Richard Harrington (plays DCI Tom Mathias). In the opening credits, Mathias is shown jogging. Harrington says, "I'm a runner myself, so is the character. Some real twisted irony here – the production company have stopped me running because I might hurt myself. But the amount of running I've been doing on screen is ridiculous."
....D. "Design" (4 minutes) Commentators are Ed Talfan (producer) and Eryl Ellis (production designer). Their descriptions show that the show's overall feeling of almost oppressive dourness is by design. Talfen: "The precinct, the hinterland is dark and sinewy and ancient." Ellis continues, "It's very challenging from the point of view of the resonance of Hinterland. It's almost a state of mind... It's this past that keeps showing its face all the time in the scripts."
....E. "Locations" (6 minutes) Commentators include Marc Evans (director episode 1), Rhys Powys (director episode 3), Gethin Scourtlerd (producer), Ed Thomas (executive producer). The whole series is filmed around the real Aberystwyth. Per Evans: "Within half an hour of Aberystwyth... you can be in such varied locations – stunning locations."
....F. "Welsh/English" (5 minutes) Commentators include Ed Talfan, Ed Thomas, Richard Harrington, Mali Harries, Hannah Daniel, Marc Evans and Alex Harries. You know this was proudly filmed in Wales when you watch two beginnings of filming the same scene. First it will be filmed in English, and the director yells, "OK, let's do it in English." When they're done, he then says, "Okay, And [now we do] the Right."
....G. "Welsh Show Reel" (4 minutes) This is like a promo, in Welsh with English subtitles.
....H. "Ed Thomas Interview – The Episodes" (1 minute) Very short, probably a TV promo, also. Ed Thomas speaks in Welsh, with English subtitles.
....I. "Ed Thomas Interview – The Genre" (1 minute) Also in Welsh, with English subtitles.
....J. "Photo Gallery" (2 minutes) The photos were taken during shooting and rehearsals, and include scenery.
Trivia: From watching the show, I think you pronounce Aberystwyth as ab er IST. From watching Mathias at work, you'd think it's a village. But including its suburbs, it has 16,000 people. And that's not including the 10,000 students who move in when the University is in session. It is a prettily coastal town which is a tourist destination.
The result: a very solid mystery series that focuses on a team of homicide specialists in the Welsh city of Aberystwyth. Richard Harrington gives an absolutely brilliant performance as a new police detective with a haunted past, who investigates one baffling and saddening mystery after another -- and the series' major flaw is that we still don't know much about him.
In "Devil's Bridge," DCI Tom Mathias (Harrington) has barely arrived in Aberystwyth when he's called to his first murder. An old lady has vanished, leaving a lethal amount of blood splattered all over her cottage -- and when Tom does some further investigation, he finds her body. The case takes him back to an orphanage with some ugly secrets, and someone who wants revenge.
"Night Music" brings him to a newly-murdered, elderly recluse who is somehow tangled in land dealings, love affairs, missing German soldiers and an old lady. "Penwyllt" takes him to an isolated village where a man is found in a quarry lake, and Mathias discovers that the victim was murdered -- which in turn leads him to a tangle of arson, affairs and secrets.
Finally, "The Girl in the Water" is a young lady in a red dress, found arranged in the Borth marsh. They don't lack suspects -- her violent alcoholic father, ex-boyfriend and creepy teacher-lover among them -- but Mathias suspects that something else caused her death. And as he becomes romantically involved with the victim's mother, he discovers that the next murder may become very personal...
"Hinterland" frequently gets compared to a lot of other gritty European mystery series like "The Killing" or "Wallander." This isn't entirely fair -- it has a melancholy beauty that is purely Welsh, matching the wild, grey-tinged landscapes wrapped with misty sun and rain. Even more strikingly, the folklore ("Devil's Bridge") and myths (the legend of Blodeuwedd) of Wales are seamlessly integrated into the stories.
Also, unlike "The Killing," it has multiple mysteries. And unlike Wallander, it doesn't have that intensely depressing quality that makes you want to suck on the business end of a Glock and repeatedly pull the trigger.
But it does have a very Celtic melancholy and bittersweetness, especially in the approach to the crimes -- there's compassion and/or sadness, even when Mathias temporarily goes nuts and tries to throttle a murderer. The mysteries unfold slowly and painstakingly, often with gruesome or peculiar slants, and sometimes you actually feel very sorry for the people who are doing the killing. Only sometimes, though.
But the show revolves around Mathias, performed to perfection by Harrington. Harrington's sad-pug eyes and perpetually furrowed brow give him an air of melancholy, which fits a cop with a mysterious checkered past. That is the major problem with the show, though. We have some small hints about Mathias' past -- it sounds like he may have had a kid, and his brother died under unknown circumstances -- but nothing that major. And in the course of a whole season, we should definitely know SOMETHING.
"Hinterland Series 1" brings the gritty police procedural to Wales, while giving it a unique feel all its own -- and Richard Harrington's performance is mesmerizing. Bring on the second season!