31st January 2015
For about 7 years now it’s been widely acknowledged that watching foreign films and television is actually pretty hip and these days you don’t have to worry so much about talking about your latest experience with subtitles and being tarnished with the pretentious brush. Through the years there have been big hitters that paved the way for this with films such as Amelie and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo amongst the most notable but the surprise UK success for a Danish television crime series, The Killing, truly opened the gates for the Scandinavians to internationally distribute more content as the public cried out for a genre that was eventually tagged as Nordic Noir. Wallander, known as ‘the Swedish Morse,’ a cult phenomenon in its own right reached new viewing figure highs and the likes of Arne Dahl, Unit One and my favourite, The Bridge all found a ready made audience over here in the UK off the back of The Killing’s legacy.
Firstly, what the hell is Nordic Noir?
So, what exactly defines Nordic Noir, otherwise known as Scandinavian Noir, I hear you ask? Well, like all of the best journalists these days I thought to myself, why should I define it when Wikipedia has done such a good job already?
“Scandinavian noir or Scandinavian crime fiction, also called Nordic noir, is a genre comprising crime fiction written in Scandinavia with certain common characteristics, typically in a realistic style with a dark, morally complex mood. According to some critics, “Nordic crime fiction carries a more respectable cachet… than similar genre fiction produced in Britain or the US”. Language, heroes and settings are three commonalities in the genre, which features plain, direct writing style without metaphor…”
Thanks, Wikipedia – and before you ask, yes, I have seen that notice you put on your site asking for donations to keep the service free. I promise that next time I use it I will actually donate, but I’m like a totes busy bee, so back off, yeah?
Why The Bridge?
Well, the premise is pretty frickin’ epic isn’t it? The Bridge is co-produced by Sveriges Television and Danmarks Radio as well as German ZDF and starts with a police investigation following the discovery of a dead body on the Øresund Bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark. Cue Saga Noren (Sofia Helin), the lead homicide detective in Malmo’s (Swedish city) police department and her Danish counterpart, Martin Rhode (Kim Bodnia), who holds the same role in Copenhagen, and the necessary discussion of whose jurisdiction does it fall under. For those who are intrigued by the tension of the first meeting between these two polar opposite and completely flawed characters, you won’t be disappointed as the answer is both – it is soon realised that the victim’s midriff sits exactly on the border between the two countries and thus a joint investigation begins.
Now you may be completely aware of the term ‘Truth Terrorist’ but I was not and this is where I completely bowed down and declared that the writing behind this show is truly inspired and completely genius. The body on the bridge is just the tip of the iceberg as we soon learn that it is the first move in a devilish game of chess by a truth terrorist who claims to be committing crimes to draw attention to various social problems in his neck of the woods.
Martin and Saga – FYI, the latter is a lady…
Audiences love a flawed detective and let’s face it, it’s very unlikely that someone who maintains that beautiful balance between career, family life and voluntary work at animal sanctuaries and homeless shelters will be dedicated enough to put it all on the line to get to the bottom of an unsolved case that’s taunting them. Why else do you think Miss Marple is a complete fucking loner? Well, in The Bridge, you have two of them…
Martin Rhode, the Danish one, has a bit of that ‘total bastard but he’s god damn good at his job’ cliché going on. He can’t resist a bit of skirt, he’s got failed marriages behind him because of it, but at his heart he’s just about noble and fair enough and that’s why he’s likeable. In a series where you’re given an insight into the contrasting personal lives and problems between two different characters in two different countries, his domestic life and particularly his relationships with his wife and eldest son are there for more than just character development and supporting story arcs. I won’t give any more away.
Perhaps the main reason we like Martin is because he is to Saga Noren what Leonard Hoffstadter is to Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. Despite the extreme difference between the two genres, I couldn’t help but see comparisons in Saga and Sheldon and probably got even more laughs from the former in this drama; she is unable to show empathy, lacks social skills and is as literal and blunt, which inevitably sees her struggle both inside and outside of her profession. She is of course incredibly competent and combined with her intelligence makes it believable that she could command such a high standing position at a relatively young age. Writers never confirmed whether or not she has Asperger’s Syndrome, though the symptoms seem to be there.
Martin has more time for Saga than almost everyone else that we come across and as they become more comfortable with each other and their loyalty grows you see the development of a pretty nifty crime fighting team with those comedic asides.
So, listen, though it’s unlikely, if you’ve always been one of those “I haven’t got the attention for subtitles” people and you’re still reading this then you should try again and give this series a go because it is gripping and unpredictable. Or at least it was to me. It has hallmarks of the classic ‘whodunnit?’ and throws in a few red herrings to keep you guessing, but the fact it has a political message and a daring set up makes it all the more intriguing.
The first series is currently streaming on Netflix, though a second series has been screened in the UK on BBC Four. A third series is currently in production.
Arran Dutton is a scriptwriter and producer with credits for BBC. To find out more about him and his work visit arrandutton.com