Is The Light in The Hall based on a true story? Inspiration behind the Channel 4 murder drama

The writers have revealed the interesting story behind the plot

Joanna Scanlan as Sharon in The Light in The Hall
(Image credit: Alistair Heap/Channel 4/Future)

If you've been wondering if Channel 4's compelling murder mystery drama The Light in The Hall is based on a true story, look no further - we are here with answers to your questions. 

The Light in The Hall was released on Channel 4 on January 4, and it appears to have everyone talking. Not the typical breezy show to sweep away the January blues, the murder mystery has been described as dark and bleak, but that hasn't stopped viewers tuning in in droves. The story focuses on grieving mother Sharon, whose daughter Ela was murdered 18 years previously. A local man named Joe confessed to the murder, but claimed to be suffering amnesia about events surrounding the death, and unable to give up the location of the body because of this. Sharon's grief is compounded when Joe is up for parole from prison - she realises how unlikely it is that she'll ever get closure and bury her daughter properly. The slow-burn character study looks at how both Sharon and Joe confront their feelings about the murder, and each other, until a shocking truth is unveiled. Read on to find out the interesting inspiration behind the show's script, and how much realism there is to the story.

The Light in The Hall filmed (opens in new tab) entirely in Wales, and we reveal the exact locations that can be seen in the drama. If you're desperate for the next episode (opens in new tab) and can't wait to find out when it airs, we have all the answers you need - there's also good news for those who like to binge watch a series. For more crime related drama, a firm favourite police procedural is back on BBC One, and we have the lowdown on where Happy Valley (opens in new tab) filmed.    

Is The Light in The Hall based on a true story?

The Light in The Hall isn't based on a particular event, but is inspired by the collective experiences of writer Regina Moriarty, who previously worked as a probation officer.,

Speaking to Metro (opens in new tab), Moriarty said "It wasn’t inspired by a particular crime. But there have been a few cases where murderers haven’t disclosed the whereabouts of the body after being convicted. There have been a few cases like that, that I’ve heard about and it’s one of those things that kind of stuck in my head, because I just thought that must be the worst thing ever to know that somebody knows. And also, just to not know where your loved one is, I can’t imagine it. It lodged in my brain." 

She continued "It got me thinking about when criminals do come out of prison, how do you kind of cope with that? And how do you ever move on – the idea that people should perhaps not move on, but move forward and get on with their lives? Then the idea of somebody being released from prison would be like a bomb, really, in your life. And that’s where the germ of the idea came from. I just thought was such an awful thing. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. And so it came from there."

Joanna Scanlan as Sharon in The Light in The Hall

(Image credit: Alistair Heap/Channel 4)

Where is The Light in The Hall set?

As well as being filmed completely in Carmarthenshire, Wales, The Light in The Hall is  also set in rural Carmarthenshire.

The show was filmed both in Welsh and English - the Welsh version entitled Y Golau, aired on SC4 last year. Cat Donato actress Alexandra Roach spoke about what it was like to act in Welsh again - something she hadn't done for some time. She said "It’s my first job in Welsh since leaving Pobol Y Cwm when I was 15 or 16 and I was feeling really anxious, actually, about working in Welsh.

She added "I haven’t lived in Wales since I was 17 so I was feeling really anxious about turning up on that first day and doing the English version and then ‘reit – nawr mewn i’r Gymraeg’ [right – now into Welsh]. I was like ‘o my gosh am I going to be able to do this’. And that first couple of weeks doing back to back [English and Welsh] - you have to almost make new neurological pathways in your brain! By the end of week two you think ‘ah ok, I understand this now’ – and it becomes a very rewarding experience."

Alexandra Roach as Cat Donato in The Light in The Hall

(Image credit: Alistair Heap/Channel 4)

Is Joanna Scanlan Welsh?

Joanna Scanlan is British and was born in Cheshire. However, she moved to Wales at the age of three, and grew up there until attending university.

Scanlan isn't a native Welsh speaker, and spoke of the challenges of having to learn and perfect the language for her role as Sharon and for the Welsh version of The Light in The Hall. She had only been learning Welsh for a year when she was offered the role, and when asked if she thought she'd be acting in a Welsh language drama after learning for such a short time, said "Oh my God no! I can’t believe firstly that they thought of me and secondly that they thought I could do it! The only way I can rationalise it is - well, if they’re crazy enough to think I could do a Welsh language drama, then I’ve got to be crazy enough to try!" 

When asked if growing up in Wales had helped her learn the language quickly, Scanlan replied "I think that the primary starting point is that I was brought up and educated in Wales. At my school, Howell’s School Denbigh, we sang in Welsh and a lot that we did was in Welsh like assemblies, church services – those sort of formal events had a lot of Welsh in them. I had a lot of close friends who were Welsh speaking, so growing up around that helped. I think if you really came to it from zero, and you just saw the words and the letters and you didn’t know how to unpick them into the Welsh alphabet, I think that would be another stage again from what I’ve had to do, from what my challenge has been." 

Alexandra Roach as Cat and Sian Reese-Williams as Cary in The Light in The Hall

(Image credit: Alistair Heap/Channel 4)

The Light in The Hall: Audience reaction

As with the critical response, the audience reaction to The Light in The Hall was also mixed, with opinion clearly divided. 

One viewer wrote "Really had low expectations going into The Light in the Hall (fed of crime thrillers that turn out to all be the same). More fool me, the opening episode was brilliant". Another added (opens in new tab) "If you fancy a bit of dark, gripping Cymru Noir do not miss The Light in the Hall on Channel4 at 9pm tonight. Filmed simultaneously in English and Welsh, the Welsh-language version - Y Golau - was shown on S4C last year and was brilliant."

See more

However, one unconvinced viewer wrote (opens in new tab) on Twitter "Not saying A Light in the Hall is slow but there are spiders webs all over my tv screen." Another agreed on the slow start, adding (opens in new tab) "13 mins in & I’ve picked up phone to jump on Twitter to search for reviews. #thelightinthehall Is it just slow or is it boring?"

Related Channel 4 features:

Video of the Week

Lucy Wigley
TV writer - contributing

Lucy is a multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ experience writing about entertainment, parenting and family life. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and telling you why you should watch them.