Review: ‘Hidden,’ a Detective Story Under Gray Welsh Skies
Posted July 17, 2018 4:28 p.m. EDT
British, somber, small-town setting, stunning scenery, detective partners with issues — check. We’ve got another contender for the next “Broadchurch.”
“Hidden,” an eight-episode crime drama that began streaming Monday on Acorn TV, fits the template, particularly with regard to scenery. When a body is found early on, it has had the good sense to wash up beside a stunning little Welsh brook, nestled between green hills and framed by a towering stone railway viaduct. Death does not get more picturesque.
The resemblances to “Broadchurch” — along with “Happy Valley” the current reference point for non-London British cop shows — remain on the surface, though. “Hidden,” from BBC Cymru Wales and the creators of another popular Welsh show, “Hinterland,” is its own, somewhat strange, beast.
Set in the rugged countryside of northwestern Wales and focused on the abduction and imprisonment of young women, the show attempts and largely pulls off a tricky synthesis. It is a perfectly straightforward police procedural, more thorough and credible than most, with the lead detective, Cadi (Sian Reese-Williams), and her sergeant, Owen (Sion Alun Davies), making incremental progress through frustrating interviews and records searches.
But the bad guy is identified for the audience right away — in the first episode — and the show’s dual nature takes hold. Cadi and Owen’s traditional gumshoeing alternates with a psychological thriller taking place in the remote farmstead where the abductor — a muddled, sadly pathetic psychopath named Dylan (Rhodri Meilir) — lives with his mother, daughter and whichever woman he currently has shackled in the cellar.
The execution of “Hidden,” scene to scene, is artful but not particularly original — the standard devices of both the buttoned-down cop drama and the creepy backwoods horror tale are right up front. It will not surprise you to learn that Cadi’s dad used to be the town’s police chief, or that Dylan’s mom is simultaneously overprotective, abusive and totally frightening. The performances are mostly capable, though they will not make you forget the exceptional casts of “Broadchurch” or “Happy Valley.”
What makes “Hidden” work — what keeps you involved and even, by the end, moved — is the show’s determination to present these stock, potentially lurid elements with an absolute minimum of titillation or sensationalism. “Hidden” practices a restraint so strong (and unusual) that you can almost feel it in your stomach. The captivity scenes are shot and played straight, with no attempts to trick us or jolt us, and they are harder to watch because of it.
The lack of filigree extends to the cop story, which stands out for what it does not have: no sexual tension, no secret maneuvering, no pitched battles with superiors, no officers in jeopardy. Cadi is allowed to be on-screen for eight hours as a single working woman with no impingement of sex or romance, beyond a few passing inquiries from family members about loneliness. There is one car chase, lasting about 30 seconds. No guns are fired.
“Hidden” has other things on its mind, like the suffocating, brutalizing aspects of life in its otherwise beautiful setting. Dylan’s imprisonment of women — he tells himself he is helping them — is echoed throughout the story, in the lives of women trapped by patriarchy, poverty and rigid class divisions. The men, meanwhile, are an astoundingly sorry lot, plagues to be endured or escaped, nearly all marked by violence, drunkenness, criminality or outright mental disturbance. “Hidden” is not so bold that it does not offer some rays of hope at the end of its season, but they are muted, in tune with the show’s rigorously controlled mood and with the gray Welsh skies.
Streaming on Acorn TV