Year Released: 2013
Starring: Richard Harrington, Mali Harries
(90 min. per episode)
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
“My heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.” – William Sharp
A wave washes on a lonely shore. Wind cuts through desolate fields. An abandoned house perches on a solitary peak. Welcome to Wales, where the murderers, victims, and even the detectives are as bereft and melancholy as the land they inhabit.
And as mysterious. This certainly isn’t Death in Paradise, where a corpse or two do nothing to stifle the infectious banter of the St. Marie Police force, celebrating their victories over crime at the local seaside haunt as a blue sky and pristine beach frame the final shot.
And we aren’t in post card pretty Midsomer, where even 3 murders per episode fail to deflate the domestic tranquility of DCI Barnes.
In Hinterland DCI Thomas Mathias (Richard Harrinton), newly arrived from London, or should we say exiled from London, broods his way through cases like a sulking Heathcliff on the moors. Yes, he has baggage, lots of it. More than could even fit in the little shabby trailer he now calls home.
It has something to do with children, we begin to surmise, as his sad eyes become a dark abyss of pain on cases involving them. In fact, one thing that stirs us on to the next self-contained episode is finding out more about our detective.
His partner, DS Mared Rhys ( Mali Harris, is equally hard working, a single mother who seems married to her job. She prickles at the outsider Mathias, who takes over her case upon his arrival, but loyally defends him when he tangles with the bureaucracy.
Unlike so many mysteries – even those by favorite Agatha Christie – that seem crammed with too many suspects, often reducing them to shallow stereotypes, Hinterland peoples its cast as sparsely as the desolate environs.
Each case is not so much a whodunit as a character study. Victims and suspects have their own melancholy tales to tell. Even the seeming stereotypes surprise us. The menacing boyfriend who looks rough and works as a mechanic is perhaps more susceptible to heartbreak than his accuser.
We have a few upper crust types, a barrister found dead on his polished wood floors, a retired head master grieving for his missing daughter, who by the way, is exquisite in his portrayal of the emotions that cloud his face as he comes to identify the body. A wave of pain washes over him; then he steadies and says that is not his daughter. Only later on do we understand.
But many of the victims and suspects come from the working class. They slosh around in muddy boots, trying to keep alive their dying farms, drive school buses on the lonely roads, or huddle in dilapidated houses hiding their secrets from the world.
So many find themselves in watery graves, tossed over Devil’s Bridge, in a flooded quarry, a deserted marsh, a submerged car. These in particular seem to motivate Mathias, who does his best work at night. He rumbles through the abandoned houses and farms with nothing more than his flashlight in hand, its cold beam picking out the scattered debris of lost lives.
These homes, deserted by their dead, are the skeletons Mathias digs through at night, like a restless spirit haunting a cemetery.
But it’s not just mood and brood. The mysteries are well structured and logical. They don’t throw the murderer out in the last scene with all the clues that should have been sifted throughout lumped into a pasty mess in the final minutes.
No, we are along on those night jaunts with Mathias; the flashlight becomes our eyes as we too piece together the chards and fragments to make our case. And sometimes – well maybe only on rare occasions – if we try hard, we can call the case right alongside our brooding detective. And that brings a smile to our face, even if it doesn’t to his.
So far nine full movie length episodes are available on Netflix streaming. Take a trip to the hinterlands. You wont’ regret it.
What with the bleak landscape and our even bleaker detective, DCI Mathias, there aren’t too many smiles in Hinterland. Mathias is at his best chasing down criminals and haunting crime scenes alone and after hours, his flashlight piercing the night, his furrowed brow and probing cat eyes on the prowl.
Let’s make him a good cup of tea and these delightful Welsh Cakes to cheer him up. Even he won’t be able to resist these little spicy cakes hot off the griddle.
Welsh Tea Cakes
- 8oz plain flour
- 4oz butter
- 3oz sugar
- 2oz currants
- ½tsp baking powder
- ¼tsp mixed spice
- 1 egg
- A pinch salt
- A little milk to bind
Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a biscuit. Use a pastry cutter to cut out rounds. Cook the cakes on a greased bake stone or griddle until golden. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle. Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter
As an alternative you can try mixed dried fruit or tropical fruit. Some grated lemon or orange rind is also good. An unusual but delicious addition is 1 teaspoon of lavender flowers with some citrus zest. Add a little orange juice, zest and icing sugar to some soft butter to serve with the Welsh cakes