Posts Tagged ‘Danish crime tv’

I suppose you could say it started with Wallander

and the industry execs discovering the tv watching plebs DIDN’T MIND subtitles. Can you imagine their slightly uneasy surprise (after all, aren’t subtitled European things part of the cultural sphere of the demi monde?); as if the mid twentieth century avant-garde had taken over! What next? A complete Bergman season at accessible hours (yes please)? !

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Henning Mankell’s  Wallander has had two Swedish tv series to date. The first was with Rolf Lassgard as lynchpin Wallander; he comes across as a little sleazy, maybe at times unpleasant .

In the West we mostly began with the re-make, featuring the more appealing  Krister Henriksson. A little camp on occasion; but who cannot like Juce his dog, and their relationship! Tragedy hit early as the character playing his daughter committed suicide between screenings. She had a key role; her loss must have hit the crew badly.

Still worth watching the repeats.

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Then THE KILLING.

This is a Danish production. The Killing grew into a three-part event on a grand scale. International acclaim secured it pride of place in contemporary tv crime dramas. The creater and writer is Soren Sveistrup.  What? Even David Cameron watched it?! It’s a good comment on its strength and popularity that even that hasn’t harmed it.

The second series had lost some of its magic. And now the third and last is underway.

Lynchpin character is the inimitable Sarah Lund (Sofie Grabol) and her ‘bad luck’ with close work colleagues. Of course, (you didn’t think I wouldn’t mention them,  did you?): the Fair Isle jumpers. I admit I love them; yes, still.

What was it about the first series blew everyone away?

It was set in almost real-time: one day of the twenty-day investigation screened per episode (American series ‘24’, and its’ aftermath is apparent here). English tv ran two episodes together at a time; did they think we would not have the patience to wait? Or were too distracted to remember from week to week? Or our attention-spans too fractured and short?

What was outstanding about that first series was the time spent with the victim’s parents. That has been lost since. It is as though the makers of the series misread the signs, did they think it was all about being ‘unafraid to investigate politicians’ as the public prosecutor said when attempting to recruit Sarah Lund to the investigation in the second series? Admittedly the political theme was a tight and riveting theme. But no, it was time spent with the parents, as they attempted to deal with the tragedy of the loss of their daughter, and with the strain of the on-going investigation. We watched as their marriage unraveled. The last scene was superb: no words spoken, but just the expression on faces, in the eyes, of Pernille and Theis, as he is taken away. For those who have not seen the series, I am not giving anything away by saying this!

I do remember, in particular, the camera-work in that first series: this also has been relegated/lost. One episode has Lund interviewing pupils from Nanna Birk Larsen’s  (the victim) school: all was shown was a side shot of Lund’s face as she asked questions of a pupil; we saw her eye moving in the silences as she appraised the pupil, and his responses. This was so expressive; this was high-order camera work.

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Other Danish productions have been The Bridge (Broen). A different tv company, and different characters and actors. This was a joint Danish-Swedish venture, and centred on the Oresund Bridge connecting Denmark and southern Sweden.

However, there was, as in the first Swedish Wallander, another rather unlikable main character in Martin Rohde. The entertaining oddity of ‘semi-Aspergers’ Sarah Nolen (an elaboration on Sarah Lund’s character traits here), the Swedish officer in the investigation, does compensate for Rohde in many ways.

This, like many ‘bigged-up’ series tend to be let down by the unveiling of plot and motive: that a personal tragedy could unleash such vicious and wide-spread murders, leaves one a little dubious. And wary from then on.

I’m always reminded of a line from the end of ‘Falling Down’ with Michael Douglas on the rampage playing some neo-con type having tantrums cos he wasn’t getting his way. The just-retiring cop says to him something like: we all have crap lives, some are worse than this – but we don’t go around killing people because of it. It wasn’t just the ‘going round killing’, but the elaborate ways it was done, and ‘the game’ of baiting cops and public: this huge construction of killing built on something private, a personal tragedy.

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Borgen was a favourite of mine. This was a Danish political series, with high production values. It revolved around the election of a small-time Central Party, under elected leader Brigette Nyborg Christensen. She fought chicanery, sexism and its glass ceiling, and problems in her personal life.

We saw there characters from the first two series’ of The Killing: Lund’s nemesis  from Killing 2 playing Christensen’s economics lecturer husband etc.

Her Central Party got elected as the centre of a coalition. The machinations to keep all Parties in-line, whilst remaining true to pledges, and above all honest and transparent in office, were very well handled.

Brigette Nyborg Christensen becomes the first female Danish Prime Minister.

The main strengths in Borgen are as in Killing 1, the focus on the private and the personal. We see the cost of power on Christensen’s home life; on the life of tv reporter Hanne Huul. Huul has an affair with a married MP, becomes pregnant, has an abortion as well as gaining prized position as anchor-woman on the tv channel she works for. She is the type of the young independent woman Another outstanding character was Communications Chief Kaspar Juul. Complex, fascinating, and ultimately sympathetic.

There were two series; the second opened with Nyborg Christensen fully in power; it took us to Greenland for a brief jaunt.

The series started with Nyborg Christensen tearing up her prepared speech at the tv hustings, and speaking impromptu. Her hopeful naivety won out over the open machinations and ‘politicking’ of the other two contending parties.

The second series ended with her making another speech to re-secure her toppling hold on government. This time she could not get away with a naïve and hopeful speech again. But that is what the creators and writer gave us: it was, in all honesty, a rather awful speech for a politician. And I don’t think it was meant to be. A great pity, it was a good series, with great characters – and all likeable.

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And then British tv remade Wallander, with Kenneth Branagh. Series 1 was… not so good. There was no layering, or back-story equivalent, to explain the depressiveness of the Wallander character. It didn’t gel somehow. It was all too actorly.

The second series with Branagh (always liked his work) backed by a new crew, was much better; tuned-up, and on the ball. I believe there is to be new series?

There has also been an American tv series of The Killing 1. This I could not, for the life of me, get along with; and let it go. The Scandinavian setting gives small-town and provincial best; this is especially the appeal of the fictional Ystad of Wallander. America has sold us Big Country for too long; even small –town-in-big country is wrong for this type of setting. Also needed are the rain, at times drizzly, at times continual; long dark; cold; grey days; and dull skies. American tv doesn’t do those too well; it is perhaps still stuck in selling Sunny USA to the world.  In the Swedish tv series Wallander’s sea-side cottage with shingle-sand beach and grey-green sea was so parochial, provincial and so right.

But then, on the book/origin side I cannot read Mankell, no more than earlier writers Sjowall-Wahloo. Win some, lose some.

I seem to have completely missed Sebastian Bergman. Wha…? Who…? Who woke me up? That sound behind the whirring of the computer fan, is me gnashing my teeth.

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Sarah Lund is not presented as a sexual character; we know she has a son; in Killing 1 she is about to move to Sweden with her partner, but this becomes a theme of tension; he transgresses her strict regime, he even intrudes on her case: he does engineer her freedom from arrest at one point but by that time the relationship is irretrievable.

Throughout she shows no sexual characteristics, she does not flirt, has no innuendo. In the opening scenes of 1 she has to deal with a sex doll colleagues have left for her: she does it with good grace.

If we compare her with the central female character of The Bridge, Sarah Nolen: her sexualness is apparent to all when it occurs: she openly takes men for the night, but only when the desire takes her. She cannot relate – to anyone. One source described her character as ‘almost Asperger-like’.

Clearly, people have trouble with women in positions of power.

Lund’s non-sexuality becomes connected to her personality, her closed-off, single-minded pursuit of the case despite all regulations and procedural obstacles put in her way.

Nolen’s open but functional sexual nature is portrayed as part of a lop-sided personality.  Her sexuality is presented as a regular health and cleanliness act.

In Borgen Nyborg Christensen’s sexual nature is not so much an issue, it is more symptomatic; her relations with her husband, and her family are. All is far more sympathetically drawn. It is time and energy commitments are the obstacles to a sound and solid relationship here.

Of course, she is a middle-aged woman in power; and everyone knows such people are not sexual creatures – don’t we boys and girls? It doesn’t start off that way: series 1 shows her a fine woman with her interests and appetites normal and good. Series 2 with her fully in power – and such domestic details, as much as she tries to hold onto what she had before, become impossible to juggle. On the other hand, her husband may go off with a young female student, but woe betide if she was actually to ‘canoodle’ with a younger man! (And, yes, ‘canoodle’ was actually used in Swedish in a Wallander for a liaison!).

Middle-aged Martin Rohde’s infidelities are a part of the key to the crime in the Bridge. We see him, and it isn’t pretty. Was it shown purposely as not pretty? And Wallander, propositioned by a prostitute whilst away at a conference, although divorced, also comes a cropper. No, infidelity is frowned upon greatly. Sex is for the young and unattached.

Except if you are a young, ambitious and independent female, then sex is an aberration, threatening.

Why is a woman’s sexual nature still such an issue? In this day and age!

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