Tag Archive: Hinterland


Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery, after the next Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, Hinterland or Shetland, Marchlands or Lightfields, Zen or Quirke, or, of course, Sherlock.  So the pay-channel Starz releasing a late-year mystery series called Dublin Murders was going to get our attention.  Filmed in Belfast and Dublin, with a noir sensibility–dark places, mysterious characters, and murder–the series has the potential to be a good detective series.  Billed as an “eight-part mystery series with a taproot that drops deep down into Ireland’s past, foreshadows the present and brings insight to its future,” the story follows Sarah Greene as Cassie Maddox and Killian Scott as Rob Reilly, homicide detectives on the trail of the murderer of a school girl.  The murder was similar–too similar–to a murder in the city’s past.

Maddox and Reilly appear appealing enough at first.  They share a secret of the past that would get them fired had anyone found out: Reilly isn’t really Reilly, but the alter ego of the sole survivor of the crime years ago that resulted in two missing friends, never to be found.  Unfortunately he’s a witness who can’t remember, and by all accounts he shouldn’t be involved with this investigation because of his clear conflict of interest.  Merged with his pursuit of the person behind the missing kids and the recent murder is a story of Maddox’s history catching up with her.  As a child her parents were killed in an auto accident, and to deal with it mentally she invented an imaginary friend she named Lexie.  As an undercover cop, she took on the name Lexie as her alter ego.  Now she and one of her former colleagues stumble upon another murder, a woman who looks just like Cassie.  And surprise: her name is Lexie.  Always waiting for the possibility that we’ve stumbled into an unreliable narrator series, ultimately that’s not the case, the woman was real and not something we’re seeing through Maddox’s imagination.  But the series stumbles for other reasons.

Based on the first two novels of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, In the Woods and The Likeness, a key problem is combining the stories from two books to make into one season of television–stories that have little to do with each other.  Both cops have these common stories involving dual personas so it’s easy to see how someone thought it might work.  But it doesn’t.  The first three episodes develop the characters, but suddenly they lose their personalities.  The quiet, likeable, and sympathetic Reilly becomes a jerk, a supremely angry and mean protagonist pushing away Maddox and everyone else and leaving the audience with little to care about from his plot thread.  Maddox has the same collision of character–once admirable and mostly by-the-book, she turns into a nasty character, bitter and horrible to those who care about her.  As Reilly becomes trapped in a development of his own making, Maddox agrees to a job with her former colleague, a preposterous undercover operation impersonating the deceased Lexie in order to discover her murderer.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The three 90-minute episode television series is one of those staples of the BBC that is both refreshing and infuriating.  It’s refreshing because it avoids all the padding that is so commonplace among those direct-to-binge, 10-episode shows premiering regularly now on Netflix and other streaming providers.  But it’s infuriating to find a series that is so well written and produced, you love the characters and wish there was more.  Much like another great 4.5 hour series we loved, BBC’s 2011 series Zen starring Rufus Sewell (reviewed here at borg), in BBC’s Quirke, Gabriel Byrne inhabits his lead character in one of his best performances, leaving viewers wishing the series would have continued for a few more seasons.  First airing in the UK in 2014, Quirke is now available on the BritBox streaming service, along with Zen.

Byrne (Vikings, Assault on Precinct 13, The Usual Suspects) plays Dr. Quirke, the chief pathologist of the Dublin city morgue in the 1950s.  He has an affinity for alcohol, his brother’s wife, and solving murders, partnering on- and off-the-books with the local police inspector played by Stanley Townsend (Ashes to Ashes, Sherlock, Zen, Galavant).  In what feels like three gritty Irish noir movies, we learn about the doctor’s family struggles as his past and future collide, as he investigates an orphanage siphoning babies from Ireland to Boston, as he connects the deaths of two women found dead from suicides, and as he tracks down the whereabouts of a missing friend of his daughter.

The focus of Dr. Quirke’s life is the well-being of his niece, played by Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones, Vera), who is really his biological daughter, raised by his step-brother and his wife when the girl’s birth resulted in the death of Quirke’s wife 20 years ago.  Quirke was adopted into his family, and years later his father (played by Michael Gambon (Harry Potter series, Doctor Who, Cranford)) continues to treat him with disdain, but he hides his own secrets.  Along with the Professor Dumbledore actor, look for the actress behind Harry Potter’s mother (Geraldine Somerville) as Quirke’s sister-in-law, and the actress behind Batman’s mother in Batman Begins (Sara Stewart).  Other genre actors include Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story’s General Dodonna (Ian McElhinney) as an influential politico, Ella Enchanted and Mr. Selfridge’s Aidan McArdle as the politico’s nephew, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Life on Mars, and Master and Commander’s Lee Ingleby as one of the men attracted to Quirke’s daughter, and Merlin, Doctor Who, and Humans’ Colin Morgan as a journalist.

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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.

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