Review: Y Gwyll/Hinterland (DVD)

Hinterland DVD main screen

Y GwyllStarring: Richard Harrington, Mali Harries
Price: £15.15 (Amazon price)
Released: 30 June

One of the most bizarre things about this year’s airing on BBC4 of the S4C show Y Gwyll (aka Hinterland) is that it was largely in English. Every scene of each of its four episodes had been shot in both Welsh and English and a completely Welsh version of the show had aired on S4C in October/November 2013. Yet BBC4, which has been prepared to air on Saturday nights during primetime shows entirely in French, Flemish, Swedish, Danish and Italian, decided instead to air the last-minute hybrid English-Welsh version that BBC1 Wales had chosen to air in January.

Viewers who were aware of this wanted to know why and probably would have liked to have seen the fully Welsh version, at least to compare and contrast, but perhaps also because it was actually very slightly better. Now they can. Because while Arrow Films, the home of Nordic Noir DVD releases in the UK, released that hybrid version on DVD last month as Hinterland/Y Gwyll, a few weeks later, they very quietly also released the Welsh version as Y Gwyll/Hinterland, too.

Now, I’ve already reviewed the individual episodes of Y Gwyll elsewhere, so I won’t bother to do so again. You can find them here:

Instead, I’ll focus on the extra features of this DVD release:

Y Gwyll DVD cover

Y Gwyll DVD rear

On the whole, despite the Welsh on the cover and the rear of the DVD, this is very much a DVD with the usual Arrow Films viewer in mind – an English-speaker who wants to watch a foreign-language programme, rather than a Welsh speaker who wants to watch a Welsh-language programme. Indeed, while the default viewing option for the episodes themselves is Welsh spoken without subtitles, there’s the option to have English subtitles as well – but only English subtitles so bad luck if you’re Welsh and hard of hearing. The menus are all in English, too, with no alternate option, and the extras all appear to be from the English-language DVD – with two exceptions, all of them are in English without Welsh subtitling as either an option or hardcoded.

There are two exceptions:

1. A set of two brief interviews with show creator Ed Thomas, which are in Welsh but have hardcoded English subtitles:

Ed Thomas

2. A Welsh-language S4C promo reel for the show, which also has hardcoded English subtitles.

The extras are spread across the two discs. On the first DVD are the Ed Thomas interviews and some short documentaries on the locations featured in the show and how the different scenes were shot in both languages. There’s also a brief, wordless time lapse promo for the show.

Hinterland disk 1 extras

Hinterland time lapse promo

On the second DVD is the S4C showreel and discussions of the show’s design and characters.

Hinterland disk 2 extras

On the whole, the promos and showreel are ‘nice to have’ but don’t really add anything. However, the documentaries, while pretty basic, are still moderately interesting. In particular, the ‘characters’ one explores them in a little bit more detail than the show did itself, and there are a few things that the casual viewer wouldn’t/couldn’t have gleaned about them from viewing either version by itself, such as how one character is more confident in the Welsh version than the English version because he’s a native Welsh speaker.

It would have been nice, particularly given how rare the DVD release of an S4C series is, to have a bit more Welsh-language content and in more absolute terms to have a bit more detail on the making of the show, such as how it originated, how it was cast and so on. But the fact there are any extras at all is something of a blessing, given their usual paucity.

If you’ve only seen the English/Welsh Hinterland/Y Gwyll, then I would recommend getting this version instead, since although there are touches in the hybrid version you won’t get in this version – such as Matthias’s isolation from the others in his team because he can’t speak Welsh… because he can – I actually found the performances better and more fluid in Welsh. Whether it’s because I’m not especially attuned to Welsh acting and language or because those scenes were shot second and so everyone had had more of a rehearsal, I can’t say. But I certainly enjoyed the S4C version more than the BBC4 version.

On the other hand if you’ve seen Y Gwyll/Hinterland already, unless you just want to have the four episodes on DVD, I wouldn’t especially recommend the purchase because there aren’t quite enough extras to warrant the purchase at the £15 price tag at the moment, particularly if you’re a Welsh speaker.