Arrow Films’ latest DVD Crimes of Passion release demonstrates Scandinavia has a long history of crime fiction. In the decades before Nordic Noir’s emergence writers put a distinctly Scandinavian spin on the detective story.
Sweden’s first “Queen of crime fiction”, Maria Lang (real name Dagmar Lange) is frequently compared to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Writing in an era before Larssen, Nekker, and Mennkell had popularised Nordic Noir her novels were part of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. A prolific author, she produced a novel a year between 1949 to 1990. Fondly remembered by many of the current crop of Swedish crime novelists, Camilla Läckberg has mentioned reading Lang’s books in her youth.
In Lang’s hands the traditional murder-mystery became less cosy and more adventurous. Daring, for the time, references to illicit relationships, and same sex partnerships set her work apart from anything being produced by her English counterparts.
Most of her novels are set in the fictional township Skoga, based loosely upon the author’s home town of Nora.
Adapted from Lang’s early novels, Crimes of Passion is a series of six feature films set in 1950s Sweden. The period is authentically recreated via meticulously researched clothing and hairstyles along with an impressive array of vintage motor vehicles.
Doctoral student Puck ( Tuva Novotny) is studying crime fiction. When we first meet her she is lecturing on Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. Invited to a midsummer party on a small island she embraces the opportunity to go somewhere without a telephone. Celebrations are cut short when Puck discovers that one of the guests has been strangled by a silk scarf. Every person who attended the party is a suspect. Teaming up with Eje (Linus Wahlgren) and Commissioner Wijk (Ola Rapace of Wallander and Skyfall) this intrepid trio sifts through the evidence, determined to stay alive and catch the killer.
From a remote island in Bergslagen through to a vicarage on Christmas Eve, this courageous threesome faces murder wherever they travel.
Reverent without being too referential, the programme is faithful to the books and era. The production team have left themselves with enough room to add some creative flourishes whilst honouring the source material. Sumptuously photographed, the cinematography is composed of rich colours. Karl & Pär Frid’s score echoes the sounds of a pre Rock and Roll era. A Saul Bass inspired title sequence pays homage to his work for Alfred Hitchcock and doffs a Fedora hat to Mad Men.
Deceptively familiar, the series mostly adheres to the established framework familiar to Miss Marple fans of a murder in an isolated community being investigated by an amateur sleuth albeit with the addition of sexual tension and greater emphasis on psychological realism. Acknowledging its influences for all to see, the first episode references Christie’s “And Then There Were None”.
Definitely old fashioned and yet, paradoxically, thoroughly modern. The opening episode wrong-foots viewers by following the Christie template until a revelation reminds viewers that they are firmly in Scandinavian crime fiction territory. A stylish production with superb performances from the series regulars. Eagle-eyed fans of Nordic Noir films and TV shows will spot actors from Arne Dahl, Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves, and Let the Right One In.
Six feature length films that will delight period drama and whodunnit aficionados.
Crimes of Passion can be ordered from Amazon: