Over the last few weeks Mr B and I have been watching the BBC Wales series ‘Hinterland‘. For any of you who haven’t seen it, this is a police drama set in and around Aberystwyth. At least, the police are based in Aberystwyth but most of the crime and ensuing investigation takes place in the countryside aroundabout – hence the ‘hinterland’ of the title. The English title, that is.
The Welsh title is ‘Y Gwyll’ which means ‘The Dusk’. And maybe that will give you a clue as to the general mood of the programme. I think the style they’re going for is ‘scandinoir’, exemplified by the Stieg Larsson works and the TV series Wallander. There was a lot of debate a while back about the relative merits of the original Swedish Wallander as compared with the BBC version which featured a thoroughly miserable Kenneth Branagh sharing the screen with a lot of other miserable actors and a bleak Swedish landscape. As I didn’t see the Swedish home-grown version I’m not able to comment, but what I can say is that Y Gwyll totally fits the bill in terms of general gloom.
And I can’t help feeling it’s such a shame. No country is perfect and there are certainly parts of Wales that are run down, the weather isn’t always kind, and the people can occasionally be slightly dour – as any people can. But oh boy! It seems that the sun never shines in TV-land Ceredigion. The landscape is, of course, stunning – but not so much when it’s filmed on days when the clouds are so black and heavy that they look like they’re about to fall to earth. I swear to God they must wait for those days – or put a filter on the camera. Every character is completely miserable and/or hiding incredibly sensitive information that either makes them outrageously aggressive or droop as though they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Though given the near derelict houses they live in it’s no wonder they look so cheesed off.Gloomy Wales
At least once having decided to play the thing this way, the creators of Hinterland have committed themselves fully. The Police Superintendent is nursing a secret so sinister that he’s threatening to implode, the female lead has an expression on her face that suggests she’s just eaten a rotten fish that she found on the beach, and as for poor old Tom Mathias, the lead character…well, to be fair, one of his young daughters died, his wife has left him and taken the other daughter with her, the run-down caravan he was living in has just exploded in flames…get the picture? He isn’t exactly in the mood to skip along the prom at Aberystwyth eating candy-floss even if the sun does come out.
Maybe he should take a day trip down to Tenby?Sunny Wales!
Clearly the programme makers took a very deliberate decision here and maybe they were right. Maybe there is something in Wales that encourages this sort of melancholy. You only have to read some Welsh poetry:
To live in Wales is to be conscious
At dusk of the spilled blood
That went into the making of the wild sky
R S Thomas, A Welsh Landscape
or look at paintings by the late Sir Kyffin Williams, wonderful though they are, bursting at the seams with darkness; or read anything by Alexander Cordell – or Jenny Nimmo, for God’s sake! Who could forget the sense of menace of The Snow Spider or Emlyn’s Moon? It seems that there’s such a well of angst in the Welsh psyche that there’s no choice for writers, poets and artists but to go along with it. In fact if I didn’t know it was German I’d think that the word angst was Welsh…it sort of sounds it.
You can actually pick up this feeling of torment in everyday life. If you have a chance on a weekday morning, tune in to Jason Mohammad’s show on Radio Wales and listen to his phone-in quiz…Yes, I do have too much time on my hands. I am using it to study my fellow man.
It’s hilarious. The question is asked – something about a trivial item on the Welsh news, or the year a particular song hit the charts. There’s a tense silence; a slight groan from the contestant, followed by a gentle prompt from Jason Mohammad: “Trevor? What do you think? Did Kylie Minogue fly non-stop around the world in a hot air balloon with John Major in 2011?”
Trevor mutters under his breath and Jason responds: “I’m going to have to push you on this, Trevor. Can you give me an answer? If you get this right you’ll win a Radio Wales mug…”
You can almost see Trevor sitting hunched over in his kitchen, holding his head in his hands, as you hear his despairing whisper: “Ohh, Jace, I dwnno…I’m sorry, I dwnno, mun!”
It brings tears to my eyes, I tell you.
It would be nice though, to get a book or a film or a television series set in Wales that was different. Maybe a police series with more pace or aggression, like Luther(!). Or (preferably) something with a sense of whimsy. Something light-hearted such as Doc Martin or The Detectorists. And yes, I know that we’ve got Dr Who (though quite frankly I think it’s gone completely off the rails) and there was Gavin and Stacey (which became very tedious very quickly) and Stella (ok, fine – but there’s a lot more to Wales than the valleys).
I just want someone to save us from Y Gwyll – surely that’s not too much to ask? Wales is nice. The sun does shine, as we all know. There may not be impressive, thriving cities…Cardiff? Newport? Swansea? St David’s?? But there are some gorgeous market towns, brilliant beaches, fantastic castles and wonderful people. And only some of them are gloomy.
Some of the time.
I just picked this post at random and how funny it was! I was actually an extra in Series 3 of Hinterland, episode 1 in a press conference scene quite near the beginning; blink and you’ll miss me! Harrington the actor is NOTHING like his character Mathias, who only seems to have two facial expressions…….worried and very worried! I loved watching it for the locations and the people but I never found the scripts very interesting.
I wonder if the Welsh gloom is something to do with the weather. A diet of cloud rain and wind is never going to produce a nation of cheerful people.
Thanks Jeremy! I actually miss it now that it’s not on. I think you’re right about the weather, which is a shame, because there’s also a very particular sense of humour that lives in the Welsh psyche. A dark humour, of course…