DVD Review: Anno 1790

Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir imprint powers up its very own time machine and transports us to the tail end of the eighteenth century with an audacious series that is equal parts criminal investigation, romance, political drama, and conspiracy thriller set against a background of immense social and constitutional transformation. The Age of Enlightenment was a time in which the world we know was being born. Reason battled with religion for the hearts and minds of the age. Europe may have been steeped in blood from wars and revolutions, its people tired of seeing its young men being needlessly slaughtered in military campaigns but by 1790 the continent was plunged into a conflict that had to be waged. The stakes were very high, liberation from the dark ages and the creation of a new society in which reason and science prevailed.Across the continent aftershocks from the French revolution were still being felt. Ruling elites were fearful of contagion and rebels plotted in darkened corners to overthrow the existing regimes and replace them with more egalitarian and democratically accountable models.

Created by Johan Mardell ( former head of Fiction at SVT and Head of Production at Svensk Filmindustri) and Jonas Frykberg (The Girl who Played with Fire), Anno 1790 was an ambitious undertaking from Pampas Production. Mardell’s initial aim was to create a series unlike anything else on Swedish television. By marrying the crime thriller with a historical drama Mardell and Frykberg soon realised that the dramatic possibilities afforded by not being able to rely upon modern technology to solve a plot point opened up a panoply of possible storylines. With location filming undertaken in Stockholm’s historic quarters matched alongside some highly detailed sets constructed inside an abandoned hangar in Kumla, Anno 1790 is one of the most lavishly budgeted shows to have been commissioned by Swedish broadcaster SVT. Unflinching in its recreation of life in the 1800s, the series valiantly elects not to over sentimentalise the past, instead demonstrating the harshness of life for ordinary citizens and explores the extent to which institutionally sanctioned inequalities may breed discontent.

The Russo-Swedish war is in its final stages. Our hero, Johan Gustav Dåådh (Peter Eggers) is tending the wounds of injured military personnel. Emotionally torn between the need to alleviate suffering and finding a way to end this senseless conflict Dåådh is a republican with an interest in science and a strong belief in French Revolution’s ideals. Openly expressing such views within a year of the French revolution’s opening salvo was very dangerous. Across Europe governments feared replication and would meter out severe forms of torture to those suspected of fermenting sedition. Seeking aid as he tries to offer medical assistance to the battleground’s weak, weary, and wounded Dåådh enlists the services of borderline alcoholic, and fervent Christian, Simon Freund (Joel Spira). This pairing of rationalist and spiritual believer provides a dramatically satisfying way to illustrate the the key debate of the Enlightenment era, science versus religion, in a form that is consistent with what we know of this period from surviving historical texts. Suffering a gunshot wound, Freund fears that his life may be about to end and attempts to make the atheist physician swear a religious oath the he will return the corpse to the family estate. Freund’s wound is not fatal and despite not having vocalised a vow Dåådh escorts him back home. As tutor to the children of Carl Fredrik Wahlstedt (Johan H:son Kjellgren), the commissioner of Stockholm’s constabulary Freund is a gateway to a realm of society which, by its very existence, is diametrically opposed to Dåådh’s ideological beliefs. Image

The age of the resurrectionists was not quite over in 1790. Knowledge of human anatomy was an emerging field and in private conversation with a city official Dåådh admits that having delivered Freund he is eager to bid farewell so he can return to an academy in order to further his knowledge, unaware that he will soon have ample opportunity to do so as he is forced to perform an autopsy on a local dignitary found dead in a prostitute’s boudoir. By offering assistance in the murder investigation Dåådh’s is instantly placed in opposition against the republican sympathisers with whom he previously consorted. The offer of permanent employment enables Dåådh to slowly transform the system from within ensuring that henceforth justice is to be administered in a merciful form. Any strides he may make in transforming the judicial process are viewed with deep suspicion by his former allies. Balancing on a double edged sword, Dåådh must not attract attention from those in the political arena who may regard his personal beliefs to be treasonous. Struggling to deny his love for Magdelena Wahlstedt (Linda Zilliacus), the wife of the police chief constable, Dåådh lives with an ever present fear that discovery would permanently exclude him from her company and also result in his post being filled by a competitor with less socially progressive views on how to police the city. Image

As a historical costume drama comparisons will inevitably be made with the feature film A Royal Affair and miraculously Anno 1790 manages to equal the movie’s aesthetics on a considerably lower TV budget. Some intriguing stylistic choices have been made by the art director, specifically in the use of colour, demonstrating how much in accord the creative team were in terms of communicating the creator’s collective vision and understanding the script’s subtextual material. Anno 1790 is a superlative production, containing some of the most intriguing screen moments to have occurred since the explosion of interest in Nordic films and TV. It transposes the tropes of the modern police procedural onto a historical drama and in doing so teasingly invites the viewer to comment upon how little our society may have changed despite whatever progress we may think has occurred in the ensuing centuries. Offering a glimpse into the early development of pathology as an investigative tool alongside the foundations of modern Swedish parliamentary democracy, Anno 1790 is an undiscovered classic awaiting its moment in the spotlight. A benchmark example of Nordic Noir, the series can be compared favourably to A Royal Affair, The Killing, and Borgen. Possibly the finest series you’ve never seen it should find a welcome home amongst any Scandi fan’s DVD library,

Anno 1790 can be ordered from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00CIWS5QO/ref=s9_simh_gw_p74_d0_i2?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1JSJSYX8AN3HGQ8AJ2ZX&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=430153987&pf_rd_i=468294

There’s finally a book about Borgen

Major Borgen fan Richard Fernandez has written an intelligent and entertaining e-book about the series’ first season.

Cafe thinking

How to win power and lose everything is an episode-by-episode guide to the first series of Borgen. For each episode, a short synopsis is followed by more detailed comment. We look at the main themes of the episode and how they are achieved, how the episode affects the main characters, and we compare Borgen with the other great liberal political drama, The West Wing.

POWERcover

Birgitte, of course, is not prime minister when we meet her and so series 1 tells how the principled but not-yet-professional politician, with a warm and loving family seizes power and holds onto it, with calamitous results for many around her.

There have been plenty of reviews of Borgen but none pitched at the average fan who really wants to revel in the detail of the series – until now. Here’s a review by Nordic Noir expert Barry Forshaw of How to win power and lose everything

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DVD Review: The Protectors – Season Two

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With two BAFTA awards under its belt and a nomination for The Bridge, Arrow Films has resisted the temptation to rest on its laurels and instead is captialising on the success it has had introducing UK audiences to contemporary based slices of Danish and Swedish drama by preparing to unleash the final glimpse into Birgitte Nyborg’s world, readying the ambitious period crime series Anno 1790, and releasing the Emmy winning second season of The Protectors.

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An immensely popular series in Denmark, The Protectors ran for two seasons and left a legacy that is firmly embedded in all of the subsequently produced Danish crime shows which have been made available in English speaking territories. In terms of cinematography and the pacing of individual episodes, The Protectors established a template that is still being adhered to in 2013.

Far more than a police procedural, this is a series that holds a mirror up to modern day Denmark and asks existential questions about threats the country is facing in a globalized age. Co-created by Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe (Unit One), The Protectors is a highly intelligent show that never forgets human emotions are at the core of drama. Whilst the show may have been conceived as an intellectual exercise, its place as the final movement in a thematically linked trilogy necessitates synthesizing the differing perspectives on crime present in the previous installments, it buries any cerebral pretensions and focuses on telling stories that offer a commentary on contemporary Danish society and zooms in on basic passions showing them in both positive and negative lights.

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Still set within an elite unit of the Danish police force (P.E.T), the second season of The Protectors paints on a broader canvas with a greater array of storylines. Thanks to some clever accounting practices and remarkably bold production decisions we are treated to to a show that is in equal measure a continuation and a reformatting. The expansion of the story-world, both real and physical, coupled with more consistent and engaging personal narratives elevates the series to heights that may have seemed inconceivable on the basis of the first year’s batch of episodes. A consistently strong run is eclipsed by a near peerless second season.

Viewers are filled in on all the main plot points from the previous series via a pre season clips compilation so are instantly able to engage with this fictional world without the need to have bought, and seen, the other volume. The primary focus remains the three recruits but subsidiary characters that were little more than animated furniture in the first season are now brought to the fore and given enough screen time and motivation to ensure that they directly impact upon the main narrative and we feel for them in their moments of crisis.

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In contrast to the première run, we hit the ground at an intense pace. No longer saddled with the burden of having to establish the scenario and its cast, the writers instantly plunge the protagonists into real and emotional danger. What was once primarily the story of recruits being thrust into a new and dangerous working environment takes on a harder edge as the series escapes Copenhagen’s confines and traverses the globe. Our heroes are once again Jasmina (Cecilie Stenspil), Jonas (André Babikian), and Rasmus (Søren Vejby). Battling extremism, corruption, and intolerance, the team is constantly vigilant and aware that at any given moment they might be expected to take a bullet in the line of duty. Aided by a support staff that includes The Bridge‘s Ellen Hillingsø, the P.E.T tackles cases seemingly inspired by recent newspaper headlines.

The publication of a cartoon offensive to the Islamic world has affected Denmark’s international standing and the re-opening of the Islamabad agency is a tentative affair filled with the ever present fear of reprisals from fundamentalists. No matter how diligent members of the P.E.T may be sometimes they are powerless against the might and determination of terrorist organizations…

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An exemplary scripted series shot with intelligence and tenderness. The frenzied and traumatic events are complemented and sometimes contrasted by nuanced cinematography. With talent in front and behind the camera working at the top of their game to produce the best possible show this is a DVD boxset that is equal to The Killing and Borgen.

The Protectors – Season Two can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Protectors-Season-2-DVD/dp/B00CJDDRVA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1381241089&sr=8-3&keywords=the+protectors