Behind the scenes of Hinterland

Andrew Collins visited the chilly set of Welsh Celtic Noir Y Gwyll – also known as Hinterland

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Outside in the real world, it’s a Tuesday, but within the quarantined ecosystem of an eight-month location shoot in the bitter-cold, wind-battered wilds of Ceredigion, West Wales, it’s Day 27, Block 2. RT has been invited on an exclusive set visit for series two of game-changing, word-beating, Scandi-bleak Welsh detective show Y Gwyll (or Hinterland, if you’re watching with subtitles). Chapped lips, though, must remain sealed about anything witnessed in terms of future storylines about perma-furrowed, demon-battling DCI Tom Mathias until its premiere on Welsh-language channel S4C in autumn 2015.

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The landscape-mythologising case-of-the-week “Celtic Noir” series has been a watershed success for S4C, hitherto best known for soap Pobol Y Cwm. Borrowing a technique minted for 90s detective show A Mind to Kill (starring Philip Madoc), every scene is literally shot twice, once in the native tongue, once in English. (The “English” version is technically bilingual as it has some Welsh.) Having now witnessed this time-consuming methodology first hand – on scenes shot in and around a photogenically dilapidated tractor garage on a farm in Llancynfelyn, midway between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth – my respect for the dedicated cast and crew has also doubled. (Harrington, who has the weatherbeaten air of a young Richard Burton about him in real life, tells me he actually prefers the bilingual version, as an English-speaking Mathias feels more of an outsider.)

Pre-sold to DR (Danmarks Radio), home of The Killing and The Bridge, Hinterland has thus far also been shown in Norway, Holland, Belgium, Finland, and – via Netflix – North American and Canada. According to Gwawr Martha Lloyd, S4C’s Drama Commissioner, also on set, it’s the subject of a global conversation. “They’re talking about it in Oz,” she exclaims.

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A rollercoasting global success it may be, but this is not exactly a glamour shoot. Daylight is at a premium, the storm described in the media as an Atlantic “weather bomb” is gathering and most of the 50-strong crew wear two coats, gloves and fur-lined hats. (Electrician Steve Guy is in combat shorts.) The actors – Harrington, Mali Harries as his grounded, locally-instinctive DI, and Ian Saynor playing what looks like a local farmer – are automatically cloaked in extra, quilted layers when voluble director, co-creator Ed Thomas, shouts “cut!” All I’m at liberty to tell you is that there’s a tractor near the shed.

But impatient fans need not self-flagellate, for S4C is cannily moving what would have been episode one of series two forward to New Year’s Day (with subtitles for non-Welsh speakers). “We wanted to do something exciting at a time of year when people are at home and looking for something to watch,” explains Lloyd. “Especially after the hook of the last series.” (I won’t go into specifics but as S4C’s drama is now available on iPlayer, you’ve no reason not to catch up.) The story involves an arson attack, failing farms and long standing feuds. Thomas, warming up with a crafty fag while they re-set a shot, gives a trick of the trade: “Shoot below the eyeline against that landscape and it becomes a kind of Western.”

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The hoedown-inclined Hinterland crew have hardened into an all-weather extended family. In September, they even formed a covers band (the Hinterband), with Harrington on drums, soundman Simon Fraser on trumpet, and assorted runners and art dept musos on guitars and vocals. After a “storming” first gig at the birthday party of grip Dai Hopkins, they’ve threatened to go public with a set that includes the Average White Band’s Pick up the Pieces. You heard it here first.
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This article was originally published in December 2014