The cast of “Hinterland.”

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In the past year, movie production has declined significantly due to the COVID-19 virus, meaning that there are fewer feature films to view. But the entertainment industry has been active nonetheless, offering up numerous dazzling series available for streaming on Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and several other services.

I find myself gravitating to many of these, mostly but not entirely made abroad. The quality of such productions is almost universally superior — tight, intelligent scripts; skilled acting (not based on star qualities, but on talent, training, and experience); alluring, often mysterious locales; and gripping plots that carry the viewer forward through several episodes. Last year, I recommended five of the best series available; here, I suggest three more, all compelling and intriguing.

Hinterland (Wales, UK: 2014-16, three seasons, 13 episodes)

Hinterland (which means “outback” in German) is set in Aberyswyth, Mid-Wales, and features a completely homegrown production team and cast. Produced by the BBC, it features DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) a troubled but skilled detective, who, along with his equally adept partner Mared Rhys (Mali Marries), is tasked with solving a series of complex murders in the local community.

Set in the brooding, atmospheric Wales backdrop, a rural agricultural locality where people hold grudges and keep secrets, Mathias and Rhys must penetrate through layers of closeted behaviors and clandestine relationships to solve their cases. As one observer notes, “Hinterland not only refers to the setting in the hills and seacoasts around Aberyswyth, but to the plotlines where all the crimes have a backstory…of their own.”

The lyrical Welsh language figures prominently, as many characters speak it and places and names reflect it (the series was actually filmed twice, once in Welsh and then in English). Detective Mathias is at times a haunted man, a refugee from an unhappy but unexplained past in London who seeks a form of redemption in unmasking the guilty. Top notch.

C.B. Strike (Britain: 2017-20, four seasons, 15 episodes)

Fans of Harry Potter will appreciate that its author, J. K. Rowling, has a rich second career under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, who has authored five mystery novels featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his able young assistant Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger). And the series is refreshing and delightful.

Strike, played with abundant charisma by actor Tom Burke, is a disabled war veteran (he had lost his leg in Afghanistan), now a down-at-the heals shamus, struggling to make a living. Robin arrives on Strike’s doorstep seeking employment and immediately proves her worth when, in the first episode, a package arrives at Strike’s office/living quarters containing a woman’s severed leg. The bizarre incident prompts the pair to investigate what’s behind the lurid parcel, and so a partnership is born as the two form a productive working relationship, while trying to ignore what is clearly strong chemistry between them (Robin is engaged to be married, and Strike is still involved with his ex.)

Burdened with a prosthetic leg and sometimes rendered ineffective by bad habits (drinking to excess at the local pub, smoking, maintaining an unhealthy diet), Strike’s shortcomings are balanced by Robin’s keen eye and physical agility. The London scene is vividly depicted, and the stories, though they involve murder and other forms of criminality, have something of a light-hearted touch. A charming and clever run, with new episodes just released in September.

Dr. Thorne (Britain: 2016, four episodes)

How about a change of pace, especially designed for Downton Abbey viewers and lovers of period pieces. Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton, wrote the screenplay for this four-part mini-series, based on one of Anthony Trollope’s lesser known novels.

The drama focuses on the age-old conflict between money and love. Lovely young Mary Thorne (Stephanie Martini) is loved by, and loves, Frank Gresham (Harry Richardson), but she is penniless and he comes from a landed family with money and standing. Moreover, his mother, Lady Arabella (Rebecca Front), is unalterably opposed to the match, despite the fact that Mary was brought up by her kindly uncle, Dr. Thorne (Tom Hollander), who is respected in the community.

A series of misadventures occurs, where Lady Arabella schemes obsessively to break up the courtship, and Mary is pursued by a boorish suitor, the son of the town’s drunken baronet (played with great loutish panache by Ian McShane). Of course, there are secrets lurking in the genealogy of the key characters, leading to a final, gratifying surprise. The film reflects Trollope’s fierce satire on the British class system, and each episode is framed by commentary by Fellowes himself.

Liahna Armstrong is a retired professor of English and Film Studies at Central Washington University.


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