Wales bids “Croeso i Gymru” to Nordic Noir
Native Tongue: check. Troubled protagonist: check. Gothic setting: check. Next small screen sensation: quite possibly.
Hinterland is Britain’s latest attempt to strike Welsh gold and mine the ratings seam of television detective dramas. Hinterland slots into the BBC4 trend for the Danish subtitled specimen, such as modern monoliths The Killing and The Bridge. The BBC, in conjunction with Welsh-speaking broadcaster, S4C, has backed playwright Ed Thomas’ drama, Hinterland or Y Gwyll (its Welsh title) to the bejewelled golden hilt of a £4.2m budget and four feature length episodes. To a sceptical viewer, the appeal of Aberystwyth and the arid Arabia of wet West Wales perhaps lack the gritty glamour of classy Copenhagen’s crime-ravaged rump.
On the surface, the concept lacks any real innovation or adaptation of the established model, but apes its influences with aplomb. For the deep wrought psychological complexity of DCI Mathias (Richard Harrington), read the male manifestation of The Killing’s Sarah Lund or The Bridge’s bearded behemoth Martin Rohde. There are elements of the majestic Matthew McConaughey in HBO’s latest American hit, True Detective, only substitute the niche Nietzsche philosophy for the more humble musings on motherhood from DI Mared Rhys (Mali Harries). The two series share a fixation on the pagan and satanic; though True Detective draws from the Louisianan loons of America’s isolated mid-west communities, Hinterland from the detached B-road nexus of Britain’s wild-west. Both showcase the appeal of the genre; they neither dumb down a story nor conceal the brutality of humanity. True Detective offers refuge for the nihilist; Hinterland offers bleak escapism from austerity Britain.
For the most successful British comparison look no further than ITV’s Broadchurch starring David Tennant; just trade the rolling Dorset coast for the rugged ravines and fissures of Ceredigion countryside. Broadchurch represents the pinnacle of the British response to the craze for all things Scandinavian. Though it sits comfortably amidst the more traditional British detective series, in its unapologetic bleakness and barren landscapes it closely parallels the gothic naturalism of the Scandi-trend. Broadchurch is a paradigm for British detective dramas, attracting 9.3m viewers for its series finale. Its success is comparable to BBC One’s flagship show of 9.7m viewers, the genre bending blockbuster hit meets Dad’s Army wit of Sherlock. Though ostensibly a detective drama, Sherlock has become a national institution transcending the limitations of genre to demand an enormous audience share. Success on such a scale is beyond Hinterland: a future sleeper hit. Its television potential lies more in the mould of The Bridge which defeated Channel 4’s US import, Hostages, by attracting 1.1m viewers and a 5.1% audience share.
Amidst a sceptic’s speculation on inspiration and marketability, it is possible to type cast Hinterland within the treadmill of similar shows. The programme’s creator, Ed Thomas, has revealed that Hinterland was written in advance of the modern day Viking incursion and the emergence of the Scandinavian noir television market. It is a coincidence that it is the product of the trend and reflects the core principles of a now flourishing genre. The rubber stamp of approval came when DR Denmark, the broadcaster behind The Killing and Europe’s closest answer to HBO, snapped up the rights for Hinterland. It is to find a home on Netflix too, which provides the online streaming platform to break into the US and become a global phenomenon. Although we may not have a Breaking Bad on the cards; Hinterland has the opportunity to become Britain’s next transatlantic export.
It so transpires that one trend reveals another. In the vogue of the dark and doomy Danish imports, Episode One is set in the ultimate noir setting of Devil’s Bridge on the A4120 and a hellish former children’s home, otherwise known as the Hotel Hafod. Despite their haunting quality the scenes instil a sense of pride in the permanence of landscape so central to Welsh identity. There is a resurgent nationalist trend in European politics, from Farage’s UKIP in Britain to Le Pen’s FN in France. Though Plaid Cymru are suffering the ill effects of governance in the Assembly, could we witness a swelling of nationalist sentiment in the wake of Hinterland becoming a global smash? Tourists will surely flock to the west coast to see Hinterland’s haunts precipitating an enormous boost to the tourism industry, already forecast to swell to £13.2bn and be 25% of Welsh GDP by 2025. Add its use of the Welsh language and a dragon of a storm is brewing. Following the announcement of minority status for Cornwall and the looming referendum on Scottish independence, the Welsh could be the next to demand independence from the United Kingdom. And it all started here, with a BBC4 drama.
Welsh independence: check…