REVIEW by Gwen Davies

NWR Issue r25

To Môn not Mölma: Feature review of Craith/Hidden

Fans of Hinterland will welcome this latest English-language rural crime noir thriller with views that are sublimer than Ceredigion, and conclusions that are more feminist than moody Mathias could fathom. ‘Craith’ means ‘scar’, a reference to the quarry crime scene close to Llanberis where twenty-something Mali is found drowned. The original Welsh title Craith did not survive the cut for the English version, Hidden. This may be because, for worldwide audiences, a quarry slashed into Snowdonia does not attain the same cultural iconography as it does for those of us at home in those hills. Threats to our pristine mountain panoramas won’t much bother viewers in Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands (to which the series has sold). We are also more inclined to remember the abuse of quarry workforces at nearby Penrhyn, funded by the slave trade and the site of the longest dispute in British industrial history, where Welsh workers were yet another dispensable item.

As you’d expect from writer Caryl Lewis (who cut her TV teeth on Y Gwyll, Hinterland’s Welsh original), there are big themes here. Credit is due in these cheapened times to those producers who recognised that in this Wales Book of the Year multi-prizewinner is the voice, artistry and intellect to carry a whole series, and to allocate resources accordingly over eight episodes. Dovetailing from these parts is a masterpiece.

Hidden’s subjects include the despoiling and waste of young lives; individual responsibility (even free will); the ambiguity of caring; social conditioning; violence and gender power in the workplace and at home; perverted hope, and the genuine possibility of new beginnings which may allow childhood scars to heal. Contra Germaine Greer’s recent claim that women like to masochistically watch the sticky ends to which crime TV sends their sisters, this drama eschews the sensational, making instead a responsible account of missing women from all backgrounds, and how class impacts upon police and media treatment of their cases. Caryl Lewis shows how far her understanding of disadvantaged urbanised families has come since her 2009 novel, Naw Mis.

Lewis… across the series, conveys with panache… how lost souls may attempt to be the queen bee but that all individuals… may find ourselves rejected, dethroned, ousted and replaced within our sick social order.

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As you’d also anticipate for this popular TV format, shades of other shows stalk the wings at times. In other S4C crime dramas, borrowings from Scandi noir are evident, for example the rough plotline and setting of 35 Diwrnod, a summer waterside Utopia souring around a sibling inheritance dispute with more than a passing resemblance to Finland-set Thicker than Water. Another TV ghost, the Swedish Wallander, mopes here a little too, as do the sheriffs and deputies of Bemidji, Minnesota, from Fargo. Both, like Hidden, feature father-daughter cop dynasties, and the Welsh series boasts an additional genre trope of sickbed cop poised to offer a case breakthrough. A final looming spirit (though creative rather than clichéd), is Euros Lyn’s Happy Valley, in particular Series 2, Episode 5, with the sensational armed denouement that is a protective mother’s answer to the predicament of her vulnerable perpetrator son. Of course, high-end noir is a rich form, only starting to be mined by Welsh TV, and at least such homages in Hidden/Craith are made with respect, not in ennui.

Hidden’s story structure so far throws up three dysfunctional family couples and one apparently single, apparently ‘strong’ woman, DI Cadi John (Sian Reese-Williams), who enjoys a singularly (in this context) peaceful relationship with her dying dad. Vulnerable young single father Dylan [Rhodri Meilir] (at first glance the main perpetrator) seems the very spit of John Fowles’ Frederick in The Collector, and is aided and abetted in his deluded attempts to ‘care’ for his young female captives by mother Iona, who rotates regrets at not having drowned him at birth, with cooked meals and offers to sew on missing buttons.

The wife of Cadi’s subordinate, Owen, is off-stage but he has intimacy issues, demonstrated by leering at colleagues younger and lower in rank than him, despite a pregnant wife at home, and appearing threatened at the prospect of buying a house with her. Violent prisoner Marc has him sussed as being under the thumb of both wife and boss. But Marc himself beats Owen in the misogyny ranks, continuing to stalk his ex, Lowri, whom he regularly abuses and whom she later reports to the police. Lowri is later abducted and, mid series, we aren’t entirely sure where the blame lies: with Marc, Dylan or a future suspect? Play is made, in a slightly strained bookish scene, of ‘things not being what they seem’, so we hope for a late big reveal.
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Personal becomes political and micro turns macro, as boys and girls at work are similarly warped, from the policeman rapping his colleague’s knuckles when she acts on a hunch at creepy Dylan’s woodland hideaway, to the violent humiliation earlier expressed by the latter when he’s sacked by a hitherto sympathetic female quarry boss.

The foil to Cadi’s strong and single shtick is Megan, self-harming fresher at Bangor University, who later falls into Dylan’s clutches (or in his eyes, chooses him). Meg is one of the drama’s trio of girls in the woods, pushed out, fairytale-style by their imperfect families, or running off to seek their fortune (as we hope Dylan’s selectively mute spying daughter Nia might attempt). The second girl is Mali, whose mother is absent and whose dad (played beautifully by Owen Arwyn) disapproved of her wild ways and especially of Ieuan, her badass older boyfriend. Ieuan’s mantra is the sickeningly alt-right ‘Os ti’n gallu gwaedu ti’n gallu gwneud hi’ (If it breeds, it bleeds). Mali leaves, age sixteen, thought by her friend to be ‘free… but she didn’t go anywhere, did she? She was forgotten.’ Four years on, she emerges, a corpse with scarred wrists akin to Meg’s, and abduction is added to the potential charge-sheet as a string of local missing- and murdered-girl cases are re-considered, along with a possible miscarriage of justice. The third ‘girl’ is the motherless Cadi, though for her, having been propelled early into the army (defying family expectations of university), home is by now a lode-star, as she slots into old roles such as Dad’s Golden Girl and Being Almost Teflon (in that ‘almost’ is her player Reese-Williams’ star quality) .

Familial arms are not always loving, however, and Cadi settles in for a season of sibling sniping. And the worm in Iona’s unmotherly bosom is practically throbbing, unable as she is to relinquish either care or control over Dylan and his deeply suspicious habits to which she is privy but which may (we pray) prove to be less sexual than she supposes (and we are led to believe). They seem to form a study-case in co-dependence, or is Dylan genuinely unfit to cope, for reasons to be revealed (other than, of course, the fallout from Mam’s right-hooks)? The amiable nature of bonding scenes, alone with Nia sorting firewood, suggests he is genuinely able to care for others, while his Pontius-Pilate-type hand-washing habit points the other way. That is, towards his idea of ‘care’ being too darkly buried to reform. But either way, their relationship supposes he has been damaged by his mother’s support, although we guess there’d be an even higher body count should she withdraw it. Student Megan and victim Mali teach that you may be preyed upon once you refuse parental love, but Dylan and his daughter show that to stay home may inflict deeper wounds.
Rhodri Meilir as Dylan and Gillian Elisa as Iona in Hidden/Craith

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Apart from the perhaps heavy pencilling of noir icons – bridges (to Môn not Mölma) and DI Cadi’s dark leggings and sage open coat filched from detective Saga Norén’s wardrobe – visuals are top class. These spin the gamut from eerie backwoods (reminiscent of the film Winter’s Bone) and Menai vistas, to what urban glitter the city of Bangor can muster. And for the true crime junky (I’m just a tourist seeking production values and the geek of subtitles), Hidden also does jeopardy. Tension jerks sky high when Nia dawns to developments and disapproves with a curl of her little lip. And the windscreen wipe is now for me a screech straight out of Hammer.

Among those broadcast in coming weeks, Chapter Six should attain classic status. Intricate, prison-set pieces click into a haunting honeycomb backed by the lullaby ‘Cysga di fy Mhlentyn Tlws’, in a sober version by Plethyn. Where earlier, philosophical notions of nature versus nurture fell flat from the lips of Meg – a character of tender maturity – here, fortified acting power from big guns Mark Lewis Jones and Gillian Elisa brings off the risky scripting of ‘big issue’ soliloquies. Are bees typically a metaphor of nature? Yes, but a hive is a social construct. Lewis, in this episode and across the series, conveys with panache and delicacy how lost souls may attempt to be the queen bee but that all individuals – whatever our class – may find ourselves rejected, dethroned, ousted and replaced within our sick social order.

Gwen Davies is Editor of New Welsh Review and is a translator of Caryl Lewis’ novels, available in English as Martha Jack a Shanco and in Welsh as Y Gemydd, the latter forthcoming in English from Honno. Her translation of Caryl Lewis’ story ‘Y Llif’, appearing in English as ‘Against the Current’, will appear next year in Best European Fiction from Dalkey Archive Press, edited by Alex Andriesse.

Episodes five to eight of Hidden, the English-language version of this series, will broadcast on Wednesdays (BBC One Wales) and the Saturday prime crime-drama spot on BBC Four network until Saturday 28 July.

Catch up this summer. This review was based on watching upcoming episodes 1-4 in Welsh and English, and episodes 5-8 in Welsh. The series is filmed back-to-back in Welsh and English, and was written by Caryl Lewis, with Mark Andrew who is co-creator and executive producer alongside Ed Talfan. Music: John Hardy Music. Set/Location Manager: Paul Bach Davies. Photographic director: Stuart Biddlecombe. Director: Gareth Bryn. A Severn Screen production for S4C/BBC Cymru in association with all3media.

Photos:Sian Reese-Williams as DI Cadi John, and Rhodri Meilir as Dylan and Gillian Elisa as Iona, courtesy BBC.


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