On my first day in Ceredigion the local paper ran the headline “Lampeter Window Smasher Arrested” and I had a couple of quiet drinks in a pub. On DI Matthias’s first day in Ceredigion he’s called out to a bungalow covered in blood and later finds a body in the water under Devil’s Bridge. The road signs are the same but everything else in this familiar landscape is different: welcome to Welsh Noir. It’s like Nordic Noir only the directions take you to Cwmystwyth.
Actually, the whole Nordic Noir thing has largely passed me by in terms of sitting and watching the programmes themselves but it’s been very hard to miss the stylistic impact. Hinterland was in production before any of them reached the UK but such was the sluggish pace in getting finance together it’s now firmly part of that grouping. BBC Four may even be slightly annoyed they got the English version and so could only subtitle the occasional bits of Welsh.
The success of Hinterland hangs on two things: the way in which the wilds of Ceredigion are presented. Washed out hues and quite incredible vistas – isolated houses and villages picked out in the distance. Aberystwyth exists but the only places they visit are suitably retro or ‘other’: a closing-down camera shop, the seafront in a storm, garages that last serviced a car in 1963. The other is the central performances. There are four officers tasked with investigating the suddenly rising murder rate. Matthias, played by Richard Harrington, is the newcomer with a past; Mali Harries is DI Rhys his subordinate partner. Both are excellent, which helps. The other two have less to do but do it well. It’s not particularly subtle but quite neat to have the attractive blonde one as the impulsive one who’d like to shoot off to Cardiff for excitement and the bookish son-of-a-farmer glasses one as the bloke more desperate to impress. The brooding presence of Aneirin Hughes as the overall boss sometimes feels like one character too far but mostly the whole thing works.
Certain themes recurred most notably the disconnection between families whether they are still technically together or not with betrayal of the trust of children in particular coming back again and again. Still, there are plenty of rich pickings there.
Obviously there’s a lot within each episode that returns to genre cliches. Chases, arriving just after the nick of time, confrontations that would never actually happen in real life. This is a television series that S4C needs to sell after all. And ‘oh look another body’ can get a bit wearisome – it must be possible for TV drama to deliver an emotional and dramatic punch without needing another sodding murder to do it. But for four nights this has been very enjoyable and very engaging. The final episode in particular was welcome in expanding the dynamic between the main characters. A second (five-part) series, now in production, is very welcome news indeed. I may even try and catch it in Welsh first.
For the subtitles.