Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(Y Gwyll, Wales, 2014)

Yes, apparently Wales is a country … but in a strictly limited sense. It is part of the United Kingdom, like Scotland, but has no seat in the United Nations, nor embassies in other countries. It is represented in and governed by the British Parliament, and they sing “God Save the Queen.” Yet it has its own language, which is much more a living tongue than I had realized. About 20% of Welsh people are fluent in Welsh. Signs in Wales are bilingual: the word for police is heddlu, which is on the cop cars and badges. Welsh is incomprehensible to American eyes and ears, with truly bizarre spelling and pronunciation. Many of the character names are unfamiliar to me. (The only Welsh name in common use in the U.S. is Lloyd. The double L at the beginning of a word is frequently seen in Welsh words, as is a double F: Fforde or Ffolkes. And that’s only the beginning. Thank the BBC for closed captioning, or I would have been completely at sea watching this show.

The remarkable thing about it is that it was made in the Welsh language, and then remade in English. I would have preferred to have seen the original version with subtitles, since I don’t think I’ve ever heard it spoken, but we have to be content with this.

The cop characters and stories are fairly standard. There is the tortured soul of a DCI, with a past we gradually learn about. There is the female sidekick DS that he abuses and doesn’t appreciate as much as he should. There are the two stay-at-home researchers who chafe at their assignments and long to be in the field. There is the superior officer of dubious character who shouts at the DCI. It all works well, but there is nothing new here.

What fascinates me most, oddly enough, is the setting. I’ve never been here before. Wales sits on the backside of England like a big barnacle. The country we see here is largely mountainous (for the island of Great Britain, anyway), with a long coastline and lots of what look like American piney woods. It is criss-crossed with one-lane roads with no shoulders to speak of. Encounter a car coming in the other direction and one of you will have to back up a long way. It is dotted with lovely stone farmhouses, and inhabited by country folk not all that different from backwoods Appalachia. But great swatches of it are ugly bald hilltops, clear-cut down to the bone. Anyway, the good writing and acting and the scenery have been enough to keep me going.