That’s my summing-up of the latest crime offering on BBC4 on Saturday evenings, the ‘Celtic-Noir’ series Hinterland. Known as Y Gwyll in its own country, it’s set in the countryside around the mid-Wales town of Aberystwyth (I hope I’ve spelled that right) and features the rather brooding Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias. He’s newly arrived and struggling with his own personal demons (well, did you ever meet a tv detective who wasn’t?) as well as the language barrier since he doesn’t speak Welsh.
The series was filmed twice over, once completely in Welsh for the Welsh audience, and once in a hybrid version where the ‘local’ characters speak Welsh (with English subtitles) whilst the rest speak English. I rather like that structure because it mirrors exactly what would happen in real life.
And the atmosphere, as mentioned in the post title, is superb. Vast tracts of bleak mountain and moorland, the sea crashing onto the promenade in Aberystwyth, characters so dour they seem to have been chiselled from the local stone. The cinematography is outstanding; nothing is pretty but there’s a wild, dark, brooding chill to almost every shot.
Where the series falls down, though, is in the detail. I’ve seen three out of the four episodes now, and in each of those three there’ve been numerous ‘but… but… but…’ and ‘what the f…’ moments, involving both the plot and the procedure. Police officers rummage around without gloves in rooms clearly marked ‘no entry – fingerprints’, or put on their protective plastic bootees in a farmyard and promptly tramp mud through every last inch of some crime scene. Characters act in ways that they just wouldn’t in real life, simply because the plot needs them to. And worst of all, in the second episode, a plot strand dealt with an elderly woman with dementia in a way that was so far removed from reality it was criminal in its own right.
Sadly, I lost a close family member to Alzheimers, so I know rather more about the subject than I’d like to. Enough, certainly, to know that the character concerned was suffering from a severe form of the condition, not the ‘early stages’ blithely mentioned by a senior care assistant, of all people. Enough to know that she wouldn’t be living in a standard residential care home, either, but would have been moved to a secure specialist unit with top-notch security and virtual one-to-one care, to prevent her wandering out and nearly killing herself (which the elderly character promptly did).
These days there’s really no excuse for writers not doing their homework, and I’m very disappointed that the makers of Hinterland seem to have put style over substance to such an extent.