Hinterland is the brooding, atmospheric detective drama that boasts stunning locations, sinister rural crimes and two languages - Welsh and English. Crime Scene goes west to witness the bilingual shoot for series 3 of the global hit.
On set for the Welsh drama.
If there was a BAFTA award for TV locations, Hinterland would win it every year. The BBC’S Welsh cop show – a Celtic Noir to rival Scandinavian crime – is back for a third series featuring scenery as dramatic as the sinister storylines. When
Crime Scene visits the set in mid-wales at the height of summer, it’s a bewitching, bilingual experience.
“You’re taken to places where there are no people for miles and miles,” says Mali Harries, who plays DI Mared Rhys. “The landscape has become a character in itself, really – there are mountains, sand dunes and immense scenery around us. It has a feeling of the [ American] Midwest. I think that’s partly why a lot of other countries have invested in it.”
Hinterland has sold to more than 100 countries, including the US. The show’s “international” version is in English, while the S4C version is in Welsh (titled Y Gwyll, which roughly translates as The Dusk). BBC Wales and BBC Four screen a bilingual version – a mix of English and Welsh with subtitles. Just to confuse matters, saturnine hero DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) can’t speak Welsh in Hinterland, but he can in Y Gwyll.
Of course, devoted fans watch both – some even make a pilgrimage to the filming locations (unofficial guided tours are available). Perhaps the show’s ultimate scenery is at Borth: the tiny railway station, as featured in Series 1, situated beside miles of flat marshland that could be a vast plain from another continent.
“It has to be seen to be believed, because you walk out of the station and there’s just nothing opposite you – it’s really weird,” producer and co-creator Ed Talfan tells Crime Scene.
We’ve been invited to a location 30 miles from the detectives’ police station in Aber’ (as everyone calls the coastal town of Aberystwyth) in the rural community of Llanybydder. Like the cops in Hinterland, the cast and crew spend an awful lot of time on the road (Ceredigion is a county without motorways). For Crime Scene, it involves an early start and five hours from London by train and car. There are narrow lanes and tractors to negotiate, while the sat nav doesn’t get us the whole way – a friendly local has to provide directions. The spires that finally loom into view amid rolling hills have a slightly Gothic feel. Once a sprawling 46-bedroom mansion, the building became a boarding school for children with learning difficulties, but stood empty in recent years. Location manager Paul Bach Davies grew up nearby and knew it as the “big spooky place up on the hill”. Today the former school is being used for scenes in a psychiatric hospital. The police car parked outside suggests Mathias and Rhys are on the case. Sure enough, the duo are quizzing staff and patients following a shocking suicide that may be linked to the Devil’s Bridge children’s home – the historical crime that opened the very first episode of Hinterland.
A quick wander reveals creepy corridors, disused classrooms and an ornate wooden staircase that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hammer Horror film. The extras playing catatonic patients are also a little disquieting. “Welsh version,” shouts a crew member, a reminder that the cast have to shoot everything in two languages.
It’s obviously hard work for the actors to have to do everything twice. After the scene, Harries reveals that the shared humour helps them get through these intensive Hinterland shoots. “The script is obviously very dark but we have such a laugh filming it,” she says. “In between takes we are constantly laughing. You’ve got to have that balance or you would get extremely depressed.”
When Harries joins us in the former school library, she’s laid-back and chatty
The landscape has become a character in itself, really
and would probably let Crime Scene try on her famous red coat if we asked. “The coat definitely makes you feel like Mared as soon as you put it on,” she explains. “I don’t think she’s a particularly sexually free person, she’s quite constrained and she’s got clothing that keeps her hidden.”
Celibacy wasn’t always the case, though, as the lonely detective has a teenage daughter. In this season, DI Rhys’ secret past is revealed. “You learn loads about her in the third series,” says Harries. “I’ve always said that Mared’s romantic life has kind of been put in the deep freeze. But there are glimpses in the third series where somebody from her past comes back.”
As for her professional relationship with Mathias, there are some strains in the team following his erratic behaviour. Estranged from his wife, he slept with the mother of a murder victim – an unprofessional act that got her killed too. Mathias himself barely survived Series 2: the caravan in which he lived was torched and he received a blow to the head. This time he’s in danger of going rogue as he hunts his attacker.
“He’s been through a lot with the IPCC [ Independent Police Complaints Commission] and she supported him,” says Harries. “They never become close – I can never imagine them having a drink or a meal. That would be really awkward and they wouldn’t function like that.”
Yet Rhys does venture into Mathias’ personal space for the season finale, when she turns up in his hotel to discuss an investigation that could finish their careers. From the very first episode, Hinterland has kept us guessing about their boss, Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser (Aneirin Hughes). A shadowy figure, he’s either plotting or perhaps just troubled by an old case. Series 3 will bring answers.
As well as the Devil’s Bridge abuse story arc, this season continues with the standalone mysteries over 90 minutes. Dark, moody and atmospheric, Hinterland also takes a twist with an episode that identifies the murderer from the start. When an estranged husband (Owen Arwyn) goes on a killing spree and kidnaps his young son, it turns into a race against time for Mathias.
It’s a gruelling role, for which Harrington gives a powerful portrayal of an isolated detective devastated by the loss of his young daughter. His suffering is reflected in the disturbing cases – many involving children – that come his way. Sometimes they end badly, which intensifies his turmoil. In the last series, he even had a go at Russian roulette.
There may not be many laughs in his show, but Harrington has a mordant sense of humour that punctuates his otherwise deeply felt opinions. Dressed in his character’s preppy shirt, tie and jacket, he joins Crime Scene in the trophy room of Llanybydder RFC rugby club after lunch.
While Mathias has had a hard time of it, Harrington is surprisingly upbeat about his character’s prospects. “In lots of ways I think that the caravan exploding has probably done him the world of good,” he says. “Because when you’re pissed on the side of the hill at the end of the world, you don’t really meet anyone.”
Has he changed much in this series? “He’s still as cool as fuck, and he’s pretty elusive as well. You see a softer side to him, a side that he can’t hide from... You may even get a couple of smiles out of him!”
The Hinterland team have plenty to smile about too. The global success of the show, including the US following on Netflix, is way beyond their original expectations. But then Harrington always saw Mathias as standing apart from parochial UK detectives. “What we were making was something European, not
particularly British,” he explains. “So we knew it was going to sit very well in Europe. The Scandi Noir thing was taking the world by storm and I think we may have hitched a ride onto that wave – but that will only take you so far.”
He’s obviously proud of a series he describes as a “very heartfelt piece of work”, and sees Mathias as more imaginative than the average TV detective (forensics and strict procedure aren’t really his thing). “It’s about understanding human nature and why people do the things that they do, and that’s really the detective work,” he adds.
It’s a particular triumph for Harrington, who doesn’t share Harries’ fluency in Welsh. “It’s quite poetic, it lends itself to melodrama really well,” he says. “I’ve spoken it most of my life, but it’s not my first language. It’s very difficult for me just to flip between the two.”
How does he cope? “Swear, blame other people, normally. Of late, I’ve kind of learned to not be as angry about it, because it’s a hell of a frustration.”
At least things are more harmonious between the two cops. “Tom and Mared are in a good place,” he says. “They respect one another. They’ll never be buddies, but I don’t think they’ve got friends anyway, so it suits them.”
There’s also a sense of finality about this series – at least for now – as
storylines are tied up. “It’s the culmination of the one big story for the third series, which has built up from day one. So there’s a lot of closure.”
Should we expect a confrontation between Mathias and Prosser? “There was always going to be a showdown,” Harrington reveals. “But where we’ve taken it is somewhere unexpected. I think everyone will be satisfied with it. No disrespect to anyone, but I felt that the character of Prosser was slightly lost throughout a lot of [ Hinterland]. What they’ve done with him is integral to this third series. It’s a good ending to this chapter.”
Of course, that raises the question of what’s next for the show and its cast. Harrington plans to do some travelling and look at US opportunities, while Harries will spend time with her family (she’s married to Broadchurch actor Matthew Gravelle) while considering new roles.
There’s some concern about Brexit, too, as Hinterland benefited from EU funding for Series 1 and 3. “This show would never have happened had it not had EU money,” says Harrington.
Talfan says Brexit “doesn’t make it easier – it’s a very unhelpful step,” but he’s quietly confident the show will return “in a slightly different vein”.
Over the last four years of filming, the team have become part of the community in Aberystwyth. Apart from a disagreement in a pub that led to an assault on Aneirin Hughes (a father and son were fined in January), relations have been friendly, thanks in part to the Hinterband, the covers band featuring Harrington (on drums and vocals) and other cast and crew members. So far, Harries has been a reluctant member of the group.
“We just get off on it,” says Harrington. “We were a bit tentative at first and thought people might laugh at us because we started to perform publicly – and we did some terrible gigs.”
The band have obviously come a long way since then. In fact, Harrington seems mildly despondent about their upcoming final gig in a local pub. As well as a repertoire that ranges from Bob Dylan to Bruno Mars, they’ve learned several new songs for the occasion. “We’re just going to say goodbye to Aberystwyth,” he says.
It’s also time for Crime Scene to make the long journey back home, but even one day hanging out in Hinterland offers plenty of evidence for the positive atmosphere on the set of this dark drama. Of course, Harrington might be tempted away by a big US role after the Welsh show’s stateside exposure. But he doesn’t sound quite ready to give it all up.
“I would happily do another one but there are other things I want to do as well,” he tells Crime Scene. “I think the brand of Hinterland could continue, though – there are probably more stories to be told here.”
Hinterland Series 3 is on BBC One Wales from 5 April and on BBC Four in May.
The locations present their own challenges. Richard Harrington plays troubled Dci tommathias.
Harrington looks pained. A take in Welsh, maybe? Series 3 has a story arc about abuse in a children’s home.