Hinterland director: Welsh drama should be bilingual

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We do like a bit of Hinterland on this site, but getting it on-screen is a tricky-old business. In fact, it’s an incredible process – Welsh-language versions are produced for S4C, and then it’s re-filmed for English-language markets, like the BBC and Netflix. It sounds like a big-old faff, but seems to make commercial sense, although the rise in Scandinavian and Nordic drama and our being fine with subtitles begs the question: why can’t we just watch stuff in Welsh? Now creator and director and Ed Thomas has had his say.

With the third series set to be broadcast on BBC Wales next week (5th April), Thomas told the BBC that he’s encouraging more Welsh dramas to be bilingual, to tyruly reflect life in Wales.

He said the use of both languages in Hinterland represented the “Wales that we are familiar with”.

The award-winning drama, filmed in Ceredigion, was originally an experiment to test programmes featuring both Welsh and English.

He said: “It’s really worked and I think more people will do that this year – which is a good thing.”

“There is definitely a place for showing and dramatising the reality of how we speak in Wales,” he added.

“We have a fragile identity here in this old country of Wales, so if bilingualism makes that last longer, [it is a] good thing.”

I interviewed Thomas a few years ago, and the subject of the Wlesh identity came up. This is what he said:

I’ve written 10 plays – I’m 53 now – and one of them was made into a feature in 1996, and was about a Welsh family obsessed with America. Thematically I think Hinterland grows out of an interest in your own square mile from where you’re from. Some of the stereotypes of Wales… I couldn’t believe people were still dealing in them, even now. I wanted to make those stereotypes work for us rather than work against us. I loved Fargo and films like Badlands, but instead of getting too wrapped up in all that you have to say to yourself: these are the kinds of themes that interest us, and these are the kinds of people we know exist and these are the stories are around, and then do something yourself. I’ve always liked the writer Sam Shepard and loved the way he connects the local to the American Dream in a very simple, mythic way. Can we make a cop show mythic? And if we can make it mythic can we give it space so it’s not indulgent? In other words Mathias is kind of existential but he’s not a twat. He’s a grieving man for reasons we now know. On top of that it’s all about landscape, authenticity and real people. Mathias has got all the tropes of a tortured cop and when we wondered what was new about this or him, and he’s not really any different from all the rest of them. He’s going to live in a caravan, not because he’s Jim Rockford, but because one morning he’ll get up and run, but the next he’ll go to the cliff edge and think “fuck it, shall I jump?”

He also commented on the production process if you don’t know the full, sometimes incredible story:

Every step of the way comes back to how it was funded. The days of a TV channel solely funding things is going to be limited in the future. Raising finance for this is like raising finance for a film. Sometimes we’ve managed to get on board a lot of partners who, before this, never got into bed with each other. S4C and the BBC have different briefs. But along the way the fact that S4C, BBC4 and BBC Wales, as well private investors, all have to be catered for and satisfied. BBC Wales and BBC4, for instance, are very different from each other. The fact that we could come up with one show that can satisfy all of those audiences is really rare and I’m thrilled about it. I just don’t know how we did it! We write in 12-minute sections, and then there’s a break. One of the writers might write one part, then I write another. It varies. We know that the mechanics of the story work we can then finesse it into a 90-minute film. I never thought I’d arrive at that way of doing it, but it works.

A word to the wise. We’ve already covered the third series in detail, so if you want to read reviews with heavy spoilers in, go here. If you want to read our interview with Ed Thomas, go here.

 

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