Dylan Thomas at 100 / Getting hooked on crime fiction

Today, 27. October 2014, is the 100th birthday of poet Dylan Marlais Thomas. As I live in Swansea, just around the corner from where he was born, I thought I’d mark his centenary on the blog.

Today I was lucky enough to have a tour of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, the lovingly restored Thomas family home, which I would heartily recommend. Here are some photos to give you an idea:

The bedroom where Dylan Thomas was born…100 years ago today

Dylan’s TINY bedroom and a reconstruction of his writing desk

They made him an awesome birthday cake! With smarties!

And for the last few days, the city has been buzzing with all manner of Dylan events, from the Do Not Go Gentle festival (featuring Danish band Eggs Laid by Tigers, who set Dylan’s poetry to music) to the Dylathon at the Swansea Grand Theatre, a non-stop, 36-hour reading of Dylan’s writings and works. I’m very excited to be heading to the final session tonight, which features Ian McKellen, Sian Phillips, Katherine Jenkins and The Morriston Orpheus Choir, amongst others.

AND … last night Port Talbot boy Michael Sheen’s production of Under Milk Wood was broadcast live from the 92nd Street Y in New York, the same venue where the only recording of the piece with Dylan Thomas was made in 1953. It’s a vivid, humorous and moving evocation of a day in the life of a Welsh town called Llareggub (spell it backwards…!) and is well worth a listen. My favourite character is Mr. Pugh, who yearns to murder his cold, nagging wife: ‘Alone in the hissing laboratory of his wishes, Mr. Pugh … mixes especially for Mrs. Pugh a venomous porridge unknown to toxicologists which will scald and viper through her until her ears fall off like figs, her toes grow big and black as balloons, and steam comes screaming out of her navel’. And there we have our link to crime! It’s always there if you look closely enough…

Marina Sofia interview photo (1)

In other news, the lovely Marina Sofia invited me to take part in her ‘what got you hooked on crime’ interview series. It was great to be asked and I had a lot of fun answering her questions. If you’d like to see my responses, they are over at her findingtimetowrite blog, and take in most of the books featured on the pile above. Perhaps you have some views on my choices?

Reminder: The Bridge 2 and Hinterland air this Saturday 4 January

A quick reminder that this Saturday is a bumper one for crime fans, with the start of not just one but two cracking crime series on the BBC.

On BBC Four from 21.00 to 23.00, we have the first two episodes of The Bridge 2, the Danish-Swedish co-production that attracted considerable praise in the UK when the first series aired in 2012. You’ll find further details about Bron/Broen 2 over at The Radio Times website – and here’s a bit of what they have to say about it:

>> In a thrilling opening sequence, a cargo vessel wanders from a shipping lane to head directly for the gigantic Øresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden. Despite frantic radio pleas from the coastguard, there is no word from the ship as it crashes into the structure that spans a mass of chilly, lonely water. Yes, The Bridge is back. After nearly two years in “real time” and precisely 13 months in fictional time, the cult Scandi thriller’s brilliant cop partnership of Saga Noren and Martin Rohde returns. <<

An amusing clip of Saga and Martin’s reunion is available on the BBC4 website here – isn’t it great to see them together again?

And lest you’ve forgotten, here’s the wonderful title sequence, featuring the song ‘Hollow Talk’, by The Choir of Young Believers. Marvellous stuff.

Meanwhile, over on BBC One Wales from 21.30 to 23.05, we see the start of the gripping Welsh crime drama Hinterland, which aired a little while back in a Welsh-language version and will now be shown again in a bilingual version. I am SO pleased that both English and Welsh feature (the latter with subtitles), as this accurately reflects life in Wales, where you hear speakers hopping from one language to the other all the time.

This is what the BBC has to say on the decision to film in both languages (full press release available here):

>> The special adaptation of the drama for BBC One Wales will feature dialogue in both English and Welsh – the first time both languages have played a prominent role in a drama series broadcast by the BBC. The Welsh-language elements of the programme will have on-screen subtitles.

Starring Richard Harrington, Hinterland has already attracted critical acclaim for its brooding portrayal of police life in west Wales. The Guardian said “fans of washed-out noir are going to love this for its slow, confident pacing, attention to detail and Harrington’s engrossing performance.”

The new series follows a commitment made by BBC Cymru Wales Director, Rhodri Talfan Davies, at the Celtic Media Festival in April to better reflect Welsh language life and culture on BBC One Wales. At the time, he said: “I think we have to spend more time finding bridges that can connect different audiences to cultures, view-points and experiences they might not normally encounter. On BBC One Wales I want us to think creatively about how we allow Welsh language voices and experiences to be heard and experienced a little more.” <<

For my take on the Scandi-influenced, Welsh-language original Y Gwyll, including a spoiler-free review of the first episode, see here. Further details are available in The Radio Times.

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that these two programmes clash… Set those recorders now – neither should be missed!

WELSH crime drama Y Gwyll / Hinterland

Hinterland will be shown again on BBC4 from Monday 28 April 2014. See below for information about the series and a spoiler-free review of Episode 1.

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There’s been lots of buzz recently about the new Welsh crime drama Y Gwyll / Hinterland, which debuts at 9.30pm, next Tuesday, 29th October on S4C Digital. (In case you’re wondering, S4C stands for Sianel Pedwar Cymru or ‘Channel Four Wales’, and is also available beyond Wales via satellite, cable, and online).

My ears pricked up when I heard about this Fiction Factory/S4C/BBC production, partly because I have the good fortune to live in Wales, and partly because of its strong Scandinavian connections. Pre-broadcast coverage has repeatedly emphasised the influence of crime dramas such as The Killing and Wallander on Y Gwyll, both in terms of its tone – think Scandi melancholy and bleakly beautiful landscapes – and in terms of the decision to film it in Welsh with English subtitles. It’s a gentle reminder that languages other than English are spoken in the UK, and provides a wonderful showcase for Welsh language and Welsh culture, especially that of west Wales, which has a high proportion of Welsh-speakers.

I’m sure the enormous success of the ‘subtitled homicide genre’ in the popular BBC4 Saturday crime slot played a sizable role in convincing telly execs that this fairly costly venture (£4.2 million) would prove worthwhile. The series has also been filmed in English, and will air on BBC Wales and BBC4 next year, but I’ll definitely be watching the Welsh version first, and am hugely looking forward to some quality Cymru Crime.

In a lovely twist, the series has already been sold to the Danish channel DR, which means that we’re exporting some Scandi-style subtitled drama back to Denmark. Expect to see lots of Danish tourists flocking to the seaside town of Aberystwyth soon.

Here’s a bit more about Y Gwyll from the Fiction Factory website:

> From the windswept sand dunes of the coastline to the badlands of the hinterland, Aberystwyth is the perfect setting for this brand new drama series. A place that lives by its own rules: a natural crucible of colliding worlds where history and myth meet the modern and contemporary. Into this world steps DCI TOM MATHIAS (Richard Harrington), a brilliant but troubled man. Having abandoned his life in London, he isolates himself on the outskirts of Aber – a town filled with secrets as dark and destructive as his own.

MATHIAS is partnered with DI MARED RHYS (Mali Harris). Intelligent and complex, she is a mother wiser than her 33 years suggest. Together, enigmatic outsider Mathias and hometown girl Mared form an engaging relationship.

MATHIAS is at the heart of every story. He is a man we instinctively trust, a man who knows that the key to solving the ultimate crime of murder lies not in where you look for truth, but how you look. From the windswept sand dunes of the coastline to the badlands of the hinterland, this is a detective drama with pace, poetry and scale. A series of four two-hour films with stories that are original and local, yet timeless and universal <.

You’ll also find a superbly atmospheric trailer on YouTube) to give you a flavour of what’s to come (in Welsh with English subtitles). The Guardian TV Guide reckons that ‘fans of washed-out noir slaughter are going to love Y Gwyll for its slow, confident pacing, attention to detail, and Harrington’s engrossing performance.’  Mwynhewch! Enjoy!

Further reading:

Stephen Moss at The Guardian about the making of the series and its Scandi influences:Hinterland – the TV noir so good they made it twice’.

Sioned Morgan, Wales Online: ‘S4C’s early-awaited Y Gwyll/Hinterland is a dark drama with a sense of place’.

UPDATE 29 OCTOBER: Review of Y Gwyll Episode 1 (spoiler free). 

Well, I really, really enjoyed this first episode of Y Gwyll: congratulations to S4C and its partners on a great start.

They’ve succeeded in creating a high-quality crime drama that draws on the best of brooding Scandi crime, but which also retains a distinctively Welsh feel. While there are definitely echoes of Wallander (the figure of DCI Mathias and the windswept landscapes) and The Killing (Mathias does lots of Lund-like gazing and thinking), we also have the twinkly lights of the Aber seafront, a caravan overlooking the spectacular Welsh coast, and of course, the Welsh language itself. The acting is great, the dialogue sparky, the cinematography stylish – and there are some heart-stoppingly creepy moments added in as well.

As with all subtitled crime drama, the ultimate test of quality is whether the subtitles get in the way, and they definitely didn’t for me (although their thoroughness in recording every sound effect provided some added entertainment – e.g. ‘rustling’, ‘door creaking’, ‘deep breathing’).

I’m already looking forward to episode 2 on Thursday for the resolution to the Jenkins case, and perhaps also the chance to find out more about Mathias’ own ‘hinterland’. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure at the moment, a Welshman who is something of an outsider to the close-knit Aber community after time away. It’ll be good to see how his working relationship with DI Mared Rhys develops too…

‘Another wild night in Aber?’… Yes, please!