DVD Review: The Protectors – Series One

Arrow Film’s recent releases of Unit One and Above the Street, Below the Water have been enthusiastically received by a voracious fanbase that is always happy to receive new shows but until 2013 had to make do with a strictly administered ration of content. The logistical hurdles involved in obtaining a licence to release series for the UK and Irish DVD market were such that it might not have made commercial sense to embark on a strategy of issuing titles from Scandinavia’s untapped mine of high quality back catalogue TV shows until now. Secure in the knowledge that sales are strong enough to justify bringing a series to our shores, Arrow Films continues its expansion of the Nordic Noir range with its latest title The Protectors.

First screened in 2009, The Protectors is an incredibly popular series in Denmark where it is known as Livagterne. Recognition and appreciation of the astounding level of craft displayed throughout this series has spread far beyond Scandinavia and in 2009 this production was recognized by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences who awarded it the International Emmy Award for best non American television drama series.

Created by Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe, The Protectors is, alongside Unit One and The Eagle (coming to DVD later this year), part of a thematic trilogy exploring differing dimensions of criminality and the moral imperatives which compels some people to act in such a socially destructive manner whilst others may experience a similar emotional trauma but will continue to be law abiding, and socially productive citizens.

The Protectors is a series set within the Danish police’s bodyguard unit (P.E.T.). Members of this unit provide protection to the Danish political elite, royal family, visiting foreign dignitaries, and influential figures within the public and private sectors. In addition to providing round the clock security, the bodyguards within this elite team must be impartial in political matters, make huge sacrifices in terms of social commitments, and be prepared to suffer a potentially fatal injury in the line of duty. Those wishing to join must undergo an intense selection process that rejects the majority of applicants. Decisions made by PE.T. employees have to be made in an instant, often amidst frenzied chaos and that judgement call may save lives or end them so the recruitment process is designed to find those who have the elusive requirements needed to work within the unit.

Jasmina (Cecilie Stenspil), Jonas (Søren Vejby), and Ramus (André Babikian) are three recruits who are swiftly plucked from the training camp and placed on active duty when a father tormented by grief is hell bent on assassinating a government minister. The class room, gymnasium, and obstacle course are supplanted by an urban landscape which provides excellent cover for a new breed of extremist.

The three new members of the unit swiftly form a strong professional and personal relationship despite their differing backgrounds and this is in direct contrast to criticisms of cultural erosion expressed by family members and those whom are intent upon destroying modern Danish society. Central to The Protectors is the justly held belief that modern multicultural societies are a positive development that should be preserved at all costs.

This is a high octane series that thanks to some incredibly sophisticated writing manages to explore the present state of Danish society, the country’s role within international affairs, and how the media report scandal. The fluid direction embellishes what is already a breathtaking show and the use of aerial photography ensures that Denmark looks sexier than ever.

Fans who like to indulge in a bit of “actor spotting” will be in seventh heaven for not only does The Bridge‘s .Ellen Hillingsø appear as a series regular but several other familiar faces feature prominently in various episodes including a key member of the Borgen cast who plays a radicalised Muslim.

The Protectors is available to buy from Amazon;

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Protectors-Season-1-DVD/dp/B00A9YBVM8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1363548987&sr=8-2

Nordic Noir – The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV – Reviewed

No longer a niche strand of crime fiction tucked away on a hard to find shelf deep within the backroom of your friendly neighbourhood book store or buried at the rear of a foreign films DVD section, Nordic Noir now has a much greater cultural presence. It’s profile is currently strong enough for commissioning editors to be confident that the publishing an image of a Scandinavian actor on the front cover of the Radio Times or a weekend newspaper supplement will promote whatever series is being trailed, not impact upon sales figures, and may encourage fans who otherwise may not have purchased the title to buy additional copies for archiving amongst their private collection of memorabilia. Supermarket chains, famed for their reticence to stock unprofitable brands, routinely sell Scandinavian fiction at heavily discounted prices and frequently give the books a prominent place within its fiction departments

Further evidence of the sub genre’s absorption into the mainstream was provided by a screening of the final episode of Borgen‘s second season at the Edinburgh Playhouse accompanied by a question and answer session with the lead actor. The event proved to be more popular than was initially anticipated, leading to further sessions being arranged to cater for those who wanted to attend the event but thought they might not be able to due initial plans for a single event underestimating the high number of fans that were willing to travel great distances for the experience of seeing an episode on the big screen, quizzing a member of the cast, and finally meeting those with whom they’ve celebrated and debated the series on Twitter or Facebook. This fan gathering generated a surprisingly level of coverage from media organizations. In a break from an already overloaded schedule fielding questions from enthusiasts, accepting an absolutely amazing fan made calendar, and holding a brief private audience with a prominent Scottish politician Sidse Babett Knudsen was invited by the BBC and Sky to appear on news programmes.

No doubt feeling validated that the event in Edinburgh was successful in terms of promoting the show, Nordic Noir as a brand, and its accompanying fandom Arrow Films capitalized on both the attendant media coverage and its core customer base feeling bereft after relatively recent season finales of The Killing and Borgen by releasing Above the Street, Below the Water. Using this particular title, alongside Unit One, to kick start what promises to be a thoroughly rewarding year in terms of new productions and the distribution of those shows which might otherwise have slipped under the radar is both an award to long term fans that have followed this range since its emergence a few years ago and a play upon the theme of spectatorship that is very cleverly woven into the script’s spine. Fans who have remained loyal to Nordic Noir, both as a subgenre and brand, finally have the opportunity to buy a movie which invites the viewers to draw from their stored knowledge of Scandinavian film and TV series and engage in the activity of “actor spotting”.

The discovery of archival content which had previously not been made available in the UK and its subsequent distribution has been central to the formation and maintenance of several fandoms. Autobiographical and ethnographic accounts from members of a number of musical subcultures including Northern Soul and Rockabilly have suggested that in the group’s embryonic stages the recovery, exhibition, and rehabilitation of previously unavailable items ranked equal in importance to the consumption of new material as it enabled fans to engage in critical dialogue with each other thereby assisting in the formation of group identity and facilitating participants being able to establish a provisional consensus regarding generic parameters.

Whilst Nordic Noir already existed as discrete cinematic, televisual and literary forms long before UK audiences were first exposed to Jo Nesbo, The Killing and Yellow Bird’s adaptation of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, obtaining information of the key developments within the movement has until now been compromised by insufficient data being made available to English speaking readers about titles that whilst hugely influential within a Scandinavian context have not been distributed in other territories. The publication of Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir represents the first attempt by a mainstream imprint to provide a historical and critical overview of the sub genre’s antecedents, cultural influences, political subtexts, gender representations, and possible explanations for the phenomenal sales figures which have repeatedly defied industry expectations. Subtitled The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV, this is a comprehensive work of reference that aficionados will return to repeatedly in order to enhance their knowledge of a particular book, author, film or TV show.

In the introductory section, Forshaw addresses with refreshing honesty the problematic notion of being designated as an expert in any given field, how he has acquired his knowledge and what he wants readers to do with the information in the book. As a long time editor of Crime Time and author of several non fiction titles, including a sterling biography of Steig Larsson, Forshaw has been acquainted with Scandivian fiction for several decades. The roles of media professional and fan are not mutually exclusive and throughout the text Forshaw writes as an enthusiast keen to share his discoveries in the hope that readers might feel sufficiently enticed to order some of the tiles he has recommended.

As this remarkable example of scholarship reminds us, Nordic Noir didn’t arrive on our shores as a fully formed sub generic movement. The earliest titles available to UK readers were appreciated as competently written crime novels and possibly early critical commentary may have primarily focused on the left leaning political subtext that was prevalent in those books. Scandinavian fiction, as a marketing brand, didn’t exist back then and titles were lumped in with other foreign authors but received less critical praise or sales figures that were awarded to, for instance, Georges Simenon.

Intriguingly, Forshaw’s historical overview references authors and stylistic approaches which were prevalent before Sjöwall and Wahlöö embarked on their influential ten book series.

Wherever possible the author enhances his analysis with appropriate use of interview extracts culled from his many years of researching and writing about crime fiction. This enables the reader to become better acquainted with the cited writer’s working methods, life history, and individual approaches to the movement.

With regards individual authors, Larsson, Nesbo, Sjöwall and Wahlöö are the big hitters in terms of sales and influence and whilst they are accorded the greatest scrutiny Forshaw’s encompassing and celebratory investigation references many lesser known writers.

That a free to air broadcaster would regularly devote two hours each Saturday evening for the screening of a foreign language series would once upon a time have been classed as ratings suicide and yet BBC4 has shown that imported subtitled content can be viable in terms of audience viewing figures and the appreciation index. Similarly, Arrow Films DVD range has been successful enough to warrant the licensing of several titles not currently scheduled for UK TV transmission and has also been awarded with a vibrant and critically aware online fan community. This is essentially a second wave of Nordic Noir that feeds from and back into the literary strand. Several notable films and TV series are analysed by Forshaw, including, but not exclusively, Borgen, The Killing, Wallander. An appreciation of these series is balanced with behind the scenes information some of which may surprise even the most knowledgeable of aficionados.

One thing the book does incredibly well is to draw attention to generic inflexions or cultural cues that the reader might have missed out on when they last read a specific book or watched a particular film and TV series. Armed with this new information the reader might want to go back and devour these titles all over again but with an enhanced perspective.

Closing with a section on names to watch out for over the coming months and years one can’t help but wish for this excellent text to be updated at regular intervals so as to accommodate new perspectives on the sub genre that occur following the release of each book or DVD from Arrow Films.

Nordic Noir – The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV is available to buy from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nordic-Pocket-Essentials-Barry-Forshaw/dp/1842439871/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363107338&sr=8-1

Death of a Pilgrim (En pilgrims död)

On a February night in 1986 the Swedish Prime Minister and his wife were walking home, without bodyguard protection, after seeing a film at a cinema when a lone gunman appeared. Olof Palme was fatally wounded and at the time of writing no one has been successfully convicted for his assassination.

To coincide with the twenty-seventh anniversary of Palme’s murder Swedish police launched a helpline that members of the public could phone if they had any information which would help in the ongoing criminal investigation. Early estimates suggest that at least a hundred calls were made and some new facts were presented to the police but it remains too soon to state with any certainty if this will result in any arrests being made.

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With death Palme becomes an ever present presence in the modern Swedish consciousness, a proverbial ghost always seated at the table. In tandem with an appreciation of his political legacy, his supporters and detractors have speculated on what he might have achieved had be not been slain. In his lifetime he was a prominent figure within the European Social Democrat movement and recognition of his achievements continues to the present day, not just in Sweden as exemplified by Ed Milliband’s recent reappraisal of Palme; “He was an extraordinary leader, an incredibly successful leader of Sweden. Someone who gave a huge inspiration to so many Social Democrats not just around Europe, but around the world, with an incredible vision of a more equitable society, a more equitable form of capitalism. He is an inspiration for us in Britain.”

Without an arrest or a known motive, a plethora of conspiracy theories about who was responsible for the killing have been discussed, analysed, and contested in ordinary day-to-day conversation and within books, films, radio, and TV programming. Adding to the debate of possible institutional complicity is SVT’s 2013 adaptation of Leif G. W. Persson’s trilogy; Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s Cold, Another Time, Another Life, and Falling Freely, as in a Dream.

Starring Rolf Lassgård, En pilgrims död is a four part mini-series directed by Kristian Petri and Kristoffer Nyholm from a screenplay by Sara Heldt and Johan Widerberg. The series is set within two time periods; 1985 and the present day.

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Following an informal discussion with a superior officer, Lars Martin Johansson ( Rolf Lassgård) sets up an informal investigation into Palme’s murder that runs parallel to, but is independent from, the official investigation. Johansson’s largely self-imposed parameters are to explore the historical documents within the police archive to assess if all data was recorded and interpreted correctly and to see if his own personal inaction may have inadvertently led to Palme’s death or the killer being able to evade justice.

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The police service of 1985 is riddled with corruption and fascist sympathisers. From top to bottom the force is tainted by the stench of improper activities. With no checks or balances the police can act as they please and frequently do just so long as the thin veneer of public respectability is maintained. Rumours about senior colleagues once heard are denied and false alibis are constructed for officers suspected of illegal activity. Johansson might be good at his job but he commands very little respect from his colleagues, his sociopathic approach to interrogating suspects is used to make the viewers aware of how very different modern police methods are from those employed in the 1980s; an early scene features Johansson tormenting a suspect by supplying him with details of his father’s death.

As the months fly away and we head towards that tragic night upon which Olof Palme died we, as viewers, are passive observers to a police force so paranoid that the Prime Minister may be a covert Soviet Agent that it will commit murder in order to obtain a manuscript which may confirm its fears.

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Despite some minor anachronisms, specifically with regards 1980s male fashions this series succeeds in selling the era to the viewer and resists the all too obvious temptation to dress the cast in pastel suits and espadrilles whilst a soundtrack of Nik Kershaw and Frankie Goes to Hollywood ramps up the action. The period clothing is very sombre and the kitsch cultural references are reserved for the present day sequences. Demis Roussos’ Forever and Ever is used specifically as an ironic counterpoint to a particular moment of the story which adds a new layer of meaning to the track in a manner reminiscent to how Lynch employed Roy Orbison’s In Dreams within the movie Blue Velvet.

This is an exceedingly well-made series. Prior knowledge of Swedish political history is not a prerequisite for viewing, all the relevant information is relayed wherever it is necessary for an understanding of the plot and the use of appropriate archive material enhances the sense of verisimilitude. After several episodes containing discussion about Palme both as a man and a politician the moment when the assassination happens is far more emotionally potent than I had anticipated and in addition to forcing me to continue watching on the edge of my seat to see what conclusions the series would make it also led to me being actively interested in reading about this period in Swedish history.

Death of a Pilgrim is available to order from Amazon.

For further information of Palme’s assassination and the effect it has had on Swedish crime fiction the best place to start are two superbly researched blog posts by Vicky Albritton;

http://nordicnoir.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/olof-palme/

http://nordicnoir.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/new-lead-olof-palme-assassination/

Leif G. W. Persson’s trilogy is available to buy from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Between-Summers-Longing-Winters-End/dp/0552774685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362419199&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Another-Time-Life-ebook/dp/B007BLO4D0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362419257&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Free-Falling-If-Dream-Story/dp/0307377474/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362419315&sr=8-1

Details on Ed Milliband’s speech about Olaf Palme can be found here;

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-21/miliband-sees-vision-for-labour-u-k-in-scandinavian-snow.html