While BBC4 massages us with bright, sun-lit crime dramas from Australia on a Saturday night (which feels a bit wrong as we descend into winter if I’m being honest), S4C is back with another series of Y Gwyll (Hinterland), which has gained strong critical acclaim (not least from this site) for its fantastically dark, cinematic stories of folk from the Ceredigion slowly falling apart. You can add to that list of frayed characters DI Tom Matthias (the perennially frowning Richard Harrington), who originally came to Aberystwyth looking for a new life after the death of his daughter, a subsequent breakdown and the estrangement from his wife. What he found instead was a rural community festering from decades-old feuds, monosyllabic communication, and a sense that the bleak, unforgiving landscape bore not only supreme stoicism but an acrid bitterness in the people that mingled with it. With the show becoming a global hit thanks to Netflix – indeed, it’s one of the most commented upon shows on this site – I couldn’t wait to see what series three had in store for me.
NB: Spoilers insideOf course, we left Matthias at the end of series two laying in a heap, thanks to a blow to the head administered by Iwan Thomas – a character from past episodes who was seeking revenge on Matthias and his shifty CS, Brian Prosser. Thomas had also razed Matthias’s cliff-top caravan to the ground, which housed treasured photographs from his past. It was a literal and metaphorical tipping point: he was being physically forced to move on.
And this was a good thing in terms of character development. If there has been a criticism of the show so far it’s that Matthias as a character hasn’t developed too much over the past two series. He’s still the same angry, bitter and overwrought ‘cop in turmoil’, unendearing and, frankly, likely to be unbearable as a colleague (I often felt for his brilliant partner, DI Mared Rhys (the splendid Mali Harries)). I was hoping that now his caravan and his past had been burnt down, he could start to develop as a human character. And there were signs in this first episode that that was going to be the case – he seemed less angry, less willfully bitter and even flirted with the hotel landlady. The was even a smile from time to time. Whatever next?
But, as ever, this first episode was underpinned by an interesting, multi-layered and slowly developing story, all beautifully shot against the slate grey skies and unforgiving scrub of the Ceredigion tundra. This time Matthias and Rhys were investigating the murder of local priest, Elwyn Jones. As ever the pair went about their investigative business in methodical style. This patented Y Gwyll style is another reason to love the series – the pair is shown out in the field, investigating, interviewing, looking. I don’t think there’s another crime drama on television that takes its time as much as Y Gwyll does when it comes to an investigation – the fashion these days is to cover this part of the story with quick edits, musical interludes and so on. Y Gwyll has always made the investigation part of the story.
So as Matthias and Rhys interviewed people, suspects emerged, as did a hidden side to the priest – by the end of the episode it was looking likely he was a spousal abuser, an adulterer, a potential child abuser and someone whose religious convictions had been twisted. The suspects, headed by local vet Lyn Edwards, were, as ever, very credible. Edwards had lost his child and had major problems with the idea of religion after his world had been ripped apart, and had had words and disagreements on a spiritual level with the murder victim. Matthias knew exactly how this felt, and empathised with him.
So we were back in the world of Y Gwyll and there were lots of familiar and reassuring traits to enjoy – depth, credible characters and motivations. We also got the Iwan Thomas side story, too, and he was still ringing Matthias and Prosser was still being shifty. The only difference this time is that DS Siân Owens is now conducting the investigation into Thomas, and watching Matthias like a hawk.
We’ll see how that one plays out. A strong start; part two is next week.
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