Aberystwyth’s dark side: Hinterland review

5680270-largeIF BATMAN was Welsh, slept in a caravan and lived off a policeman’s salary he still wouldn’t be as disconsolate and anti-social as DCI Tom Mathias.

Hinterland is a dark, melancholic detective TV series set in our little Welsh town of Aberystwyth, with two versions of the show, one in Welsh and the other English. In this four-episode series Mathias, along with his team, must solve a gruesome murder which gets deeper and more entangled in personal relationships, grudges and affairs the more he digs.

It would be an understatement to suggest that this series follows the clichés and formulaic approach of a detective series that we’ve all seen before: the troubled detective, victims with overly complicated relationships, the red herring, it’s all here. It’s the execution that really saves this series. The back stories for each victim are very interesting and new twists slowly get introduced. It also captures the sense of close-knit communities; a lot of characters know other characters through mutual friends yet it doesn’t feel added for the sake of convenience, but more how it actually occurs in small towns and villages.

Hinterland makes great use out of the landscape from the surrounding area. The hills, forests, farms, and of course the town itself all create this atmosphere of dreary isolation and contempt. This is a huge strength of the show, the use of locations is beautiful to say the least, which is only aided by how great the use of cinematography, framing and lighting is; the show was definitely handled by a crew who knew how to capture a scene. This seemed to be reflected in Mathias’s character, who shared similar qualities of isolation, foreboding and mystery, and while it’s been done to death, I do like the dark separation of his character.

The acting is very impressive in this series, and there is a mix of characters from different walks of life. You never really fully expect the story behind the victims or the murders, with the show taking some very strange turns at times. This is particularly seen when Mathias needs to uncover the secrets of an escaped German solider from World War II to solve a murder. Personally, my favourite was the first episode when, exploring the past of an elderly woman, Mathias uncovered events that had happened to some children and when you see them as adults, it seems very clear that the writers had deeply thought about how this would affect them and how they would turn out as a result of it.

The show is very formulaic, however, and while I thought the back stories of the characters were very interesting, the pacing of the show often slows down incredibly and you begin to feel the need for something significant to happen soon. It does feel at times like they have had to add random padding to reach the 90 minute mark. Whilst I enjoyed DCI Mathias’s character, the character of DI Mared Rhys contributed very little to the show; she’s played well by the lovely Mali Harries and I would say it’s more of an issue with the writing rather than the acting. The role of the partner should really add something to the show, to balance out the detective or to add their own merits for example. However, Mared just goes from scene to scene acting so miserable that it’s actually impressive to seem like a wet blanket in a dark detective series.

On a very minor point, even in the English version every single character speaks fluent Welsh and they will randomly jump into speaking it. I don’t consider it a flaw – it is a Welsh show after all – but you would have thought that in the English version at some point they’d run into a suspect who doesn’t speak Welsh and gets all confused when they randomly start speaking it. Just a thought.

I think this is a series that you know whether or not you’ll enjoy it before you view it. If you’ve enjoyed dark detective stories before such as The Killing, Messiah, or even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, then chances are you’re going to enjoy Hinterland.

On a side-note, what’s quite amusing is that you can tell it was filmed during the summer holidays because the streets at night have a surprising lack of drunken students. It’s quite a shame really; maybe in the next series while they’re chasing up a lead we can see two drunken students getting into a fight outside Why Not.