“Hinterland” feels like a contemporary version of a classic gothic horror story masquerading as a police procedural. Darkness (in Welsh, the series name is “Y Gwyll,” “the dusk”) is afoot. It’s safe in town, but out in the countryside everyone is isolated, living alone with minimal contact – usually by choice – with the outside world. Everyone has secrets, and the mood is somber. There are few laughs in this series. “Hinterland” draws you in with characters and crimes that are both revealed slowly, layer by layer.
The “Hinterland” TV series is centered in Aberystwyth, a small town on the west coast of Wales far from any equal or larger sized city. It’s a scenic setting; the Irish Sea laps at a rocky beach below a promenade fronted by historic, three to five story hotels, restaurants and shops, all of similar character. In the show, this seafront is strangely unpopulated; everyone stays locked inside. When suspense mounts, the sea becomes stormy; waves crash into the seawall and rain falls steadily.
Richard Harrington is DCI Tom Mathias. He is clearly from elsewhere, leads a team of four investigators and has a strange habit of returning to crime scenes at night. Mathias is a man of few words and clearly has his own demons. What little we find out about him comes in cryptic bits of information, a little – very little – at a time. He and everyone else seem to have a fully developed backstory, we just don’t know what any of them are.
(Continue reading for Hinterland season 1 review. For Hinterland season 2, click here.)
The crimes – always murder – happen outside of town. The remote locations almost become characters in the story. Treeless rolling hills, dark forests and isolated, abandoned farmsteads comprise the hinterland. The further one gets from town, the more independent the few residents seem to be. Outsiders, including the police, are not always welcomed.
This is most evident in episode 3, “Penwyllt,” where a small village of locals is more interested in keeping secrets than solving a crime. The emptiness of the landscape, the sense of isolation and the attitude of the locals bring to mind “Top of the Lake.”
Each episode of “Hinterland” has a different director, and for episode 4, the visual images are somewhat brighter. The sun actually shines; for once, not everything is covered by clouds, fog, rain or darkness. The story itself is no brighter, though. Sunlit days are a sharp contrast to the murder plot.
“Hinterland” was produced for S4C / BBC Wales TV and first aired in the fall of 2013. Season 2 is being filmed in fall, 2014, and scheduled to air in early 2015. All four episodes of the first season, the full series to date, are currently available for instant viewing on Netflix. They range in length up to about 90 minutes. If you enjoy British crime series that are more atmospheric, psychological drama than fast-paced action, add “Hinterland” to your streaming list.