Review by C.J. Bunce
It may have the strangest of any television series’ opening credits, but Hinterland is one of the best mystery/crime dramas around. All three seasons of the British series can be found on Netflix. Similar to another solid British crime series, Shetland, the series Hinterland is more introspective, focusing on troubled Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Mathias, a man trying to escape his past. He does this through a form of distraction, immersing himself in each new murder or missing persons case. His fatal flaw may very well be his inability to remove himself from each situation, and as each new case is presented, we learn more about DCI Mathias and his investigative staff. Richard Harrington (Requiem, Bleak House), plays Mathias in a role that would have earned him major accolades on American television (it was nominated and/or won more than 70 awards, including dozens of BAFTA awards). Harrington’s Mathias has a unique persona with reserved understated mannerisms impeccably performed in the style of a real police officer like you might find in Wales or here in the States–he created a character that is conscientious, intelligent, sympathetic, and yet also flawed.
Subtitled “y gwyll”–Welsh for The Dusk, Hinterland was the BBC’s first production broadcast in both English and Welsh. That’s right, each scene is filmed twice, once in each language. Filmed on location in rural Aberystwyth, Wales, the cinematography is striking, cold, and strangely beautiful. Often rainy, windy, and desolate, the series is not as creepy as it could be. Sure, you’ll see the crime scenes of any modern television police procedural, but the slow pacing and thoughtful artistry of every camera angle never seems used for ill effect. The quaint, insular community provides all kinds of personalities, rarely anyone all that likeable, but viewers will get the feeling that what seems like an obscure, faraway locale is a town with all the modern problems of any metropolitan city. And even urban Englanders will likely learn new and local rules and procedures of law along the way.
DCI Mathias works closely with Detective Inspector (DI) Mared Rhys, played by Mali Harries (Doctor Who, Being Human, Midsomer Murders), a 33-year-old mother who can never seem to connect with her daughter, but she’s masterful at her job. Mathias and Rhys form what is probably the most realistic working pair on television. Never getting that close to each other, and often uncomfortable sharing any of their personal lives with each other, they follow the rules of their profession to the letter, only straying where a higher morality is warranted. Their trust with each other is implicit, and their detective work second to none. The crimes are often complex, and DCI Mathias’s sleuthing techniques are always on-the-ground, personal, detailed, and his pursuit of truth and justice is always a passionate one.
Locally the show is referred to as crime noir. It’s a very different noir than American audiences will be used to. The Welsh accents come through well in the series, and like most regional BBC series you’ll probably want to watch Hinterland with your closed captioning to capture all the detailed dialogue of each episode.
Not a lot of costume changes or much of a budget were needed for the series, just good writing and actors and an impressive natural, scenic backdrop. The only disconcerting part of the series is its opening, consisting of rather graphic images of crime evidence detritus. It does honestly set the tone that awaits–don’t look for any laughs along the way in this drama.
Harrington and Harries are joined by three other key cast regulars, Hannah Daniel (Holby City) as DS Sian Owens, Alex Harries (Torchwood, Keeping Faith) (no relation to Mali) as DC Lloyd Elis, and Aneirin Hughes (Young Dracula, EastEnders) as Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser. Guest stars in the series include William Thomas (Torchwood, Doctor Who), Sion Alun Davies (Requiem, Hidden), and Sharon Morgan (Torchwood) and a cast of hundreds of local actors.
If you’re looking for an engaging new mystery series, don’t pass up Hinterland. Originally airing in the UK between 2013 and 2016, all three seasons are available for streaming now on Netflix.