CASE: Pétur Jónsson Interviewed


Composer of the score for intense Icelandic drama Case talks about his working methods, commitment to storytelling, and what makes a great scene.

Pétur Jónsson’s soundtrack for Case is a haunting and absorbing recording underpinning a harrowing screen drama. Contemplative and moody cues unfurl and follow the gradual reveal of the series.
Standing alone from the show, a soundtrack album released by Anthemico Records is a satisfyingly dramatic listen filled with dark ambience and chillingly effective flits from melancholy to brooding tension. The subtle and potent soundscape paints a mood picture that matches the series’ tone and works on its own as an arresting album.
Composer Pétur Jónsson studied filmmaking in Italy and returned to Iceland where he set up his own production company and directed hundreds of commercials. He has studied music since the age of 10 and was playing professionally in bands at 17. Returning to his creative roots, he set up the music production company Medialux and now composes music for TV series, film trailers, and commercials.
Pétur Jónsson’s recording studio is situated in the old fish-packing district of Reykjavik. An impressive array of vintage guitars hang on the wall and a ZX Spectrum sits on top of a valve amplifier. A remarkable selection of cutting-edge studio technology that would make audio nerds tremble with excitement is housed in the studio. From his studio window, Pétur is able to gaze upon the beauty of Reykjavik’s coastline.
In this hub of sonic creativity Pétur talked about writing the soundtrack for Case, contributions composers make to the art of storytelling, and how he has reminded the industry of a long-forgotten approach to scoring drama.

*Spoiler warning*

Normally composers are employed quite late in the production process. From a producer’s perspective, music is usually an afterthought. With you, it was the reverse. You were one of the first to be engaged in this production? You composed your score before a single scene had been shot. Is this how you always work?

‘I haven’t been doing soundtracks for a very long time because I was a filmmaker. This comes from me being a filmmaker as well, I think that music should be an integral part of the storytelling of the weave of the series from the beginning. I wasn’t the first one to do it here because Ólafur Arnalds had done it before with Baldvin on Life in a Fishbowl. I saw an interview with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross because of their Oscar-winning soundtrack for The Social Network. They described their method of working. They would get a script and compose lots and lots of music and hand it over to the production. At the end of the day when they finished everything, they had already composed maybe 70 or 80 per-cent of the soundtrack. This helps everyone during the process. I know as a filmmaker that working on the music that you are going to be using, instead of using temp music and then giving it to a composer… We have this problem in soundtracking which is that the demo of the temp music that the director or the producer start really loving and you have to do a version of that to make the edit work. That’s not always what you in mind for that scene or it doesn’t relate properly to the sound world you had imagined for the score. I know this because I’ve been doing advertising music for so long. Usually what happens there is somebody comes in, “we want the feeling of this song but it can’t be that song”, so you have to compose something. It’s a tiresome approach. We’re emotion builders. That’s what we do. The emotion if you read it from the script correctly and of course I worked with closely Baldvin right at the start… The story is that he comes to me and says “I have this great script and I want you to write music for the series.” I hadn’t been doing a lot of soundtrack work but we had talked about it. I was going to move into it. What we wound up doing is I composed a five-minute piece that contained lots of emotions that I knew were going to be relevant to what we were going to be doing in the series. A five-minute thing that included a lot of stuff that we would later use for a presentation for the producers. He would make a mood board with images and how he would shoot it and then they would play the music to it and everybody was just sold on that mood. We got a green light to start work.’

‘For me, the philosophical or work side of this is very important. Everybody pays lip service to how important music is to film but when it comes to having the time to doing it properly or the budget, and so on, it’s usually, like you say, an afterthought. You’re rushed because everything else is running late so you have limited time to give to the series. I just felt that this was the wrong way, at least for me, to work and apart from wanting to be one of the guys helping out telling the story. Music is a great part of the storytelling in any good film.’

‘It played out really well because what happened is Baldvin would have cues that he would let the actors listen to on set before they were shooting the scene. They were setting the mood for what it is going to be and then they shoot that scene. They edit the scene on the music. Everything just fits. It saves a lot of trouble. I would compose scenes for the main characters. I have a distinguished theme for every one of them and then I mix them together. We played a little game as well, if you see the lawyer he has a very specific sound. He has a deep piano. That is his thing. We would incorporate that in scenes where you didn’t know who did it. We would plant it there, of course, more for ourselves than the listener. I doubt there are many people who would react to it. As part of the storytelling, you could think OK it might be him. It’s just one subliminal thing that might make you think he did something that he maybe didn’t do. We played a lot with these things. There is a structure of how we spot the whole thing, that it’s not just to spot the scene but also to play a little bit with this. This is another thing that I got inspired to do after I saw my friend Ólafur Arnalds do that on Broadchurch, the first series. We’re a little bit like this, if you see someone doing a smart thing you want to do it yourself.’

‘Instead of being stressful and demanding, before I went on vacation on that year when they shooting I had composed what wound up to be around eighty per cent of the soundtrack in big themes. Of course, it means there’s a lot of work spotting the episodes because you really have to make everything fit. We wrote new music to some cues. I was getting dailies and edited scenes every day. There were a couple of scenes where I looked at them and said OK, we have to do a specific cue for that and I would just write it and send it. They would have the time while shooting to say OK, this is a perfect fit or could we do a little more like this and so on. We could bounce these things between us while shooting and editing. The editor, who used to work with me when I was doing filmmaking, and the mixing engineer were all good friends so there’s an understanding there and a certain trust. I would actually send the editor stems of the music so he would have percussion on a separate track and so on. If a cue was too big or he didn’t need the percussion he would just mute that and I would get that back and if I agreed to it I would say that’s a good call. He had the liberty to play with the tracks. They loved editing on the score. It was very unusual for them as well. I suspect that anyone involved, including the production because they never had to wait a single moment for a cue or for music, it made total sense to everybody involved.’


Might it be fair to say that with regards that your working methods on Case, you were painting with sound?

‘Yeah, it’s fair. We like to think of ourselves when we do soundtracks that we are just part of the story, part of painting the whole picture. A great scene is where everything really comes together and it becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. Working with Baldvin was great because when we work together there is no ego involved. It’s just two guys sitting down trying to make of the stuff we have in front of us. There were no fights. Actually, it was very nice. The spotting sessions were just like, “Oh that’s great, you did that” and so on and not because he didn’t know what he wanted. He knows exactly when he doesn’t like the thing and he will tell you. That’s exactly how it should work.’

The Icelandic film community is very small. Because everyone knows every everyone you’ve already got a strong relationship when the production process starts. You are already familiar with each person’s working methods, creative strengths and passions. Baldvin knew what you would bring to the project and you knew what he would bring to the project. As I said previously, music traditionally is an afterthought. Because you were brought in so early do you think that makes you a co-author along with the actors, director, writers and other creative professionals?

‘I don’t know if it feels like that. It goes to the storytelling thing. Author or not.., I haven’t thought of it exactly that way but I understand the question. At least you become a part of setting the mood and telling the story. I would hazard to say a rather important part of it and I think everybody agrees on that. We know when it’s not good, we know when it doesn’t fit, we see scenes that don’t work because of the music and some pass you by because they never made an emotional impact. I think, in a way, I’m one of the guys telling you the story, absolutely. I don’t know if that makes me an author. Part of the storytelling weave I would actually say, absolutely.’

It’s an emotional story. Your soundtrack enhances the emotion. It’s a contemplative, melancholy score. You don’t go into melodrama. You know when not to play a note.

‘This is very important thing for me, personally. If I give you a little background. Ten years ago I was directing commercials. I had my own film production company. I really, really felt that I wanted to go back into music so I started doing what I knew I could do which was making music for commercials because I knew everybody there so I just called them and said listen I’m not directing to be doing commercials for you anymore, I’m going to be doing music. The main objective was always long-term was always to make soundtracks because that’s what I’ve always had a huge passion for.’

‘I have the utmost respect for composers who have exactly that ability to not stuff music everywhere, especially where it’s not needed. We had a plan for the series that we would gradually increase the amount and volume of music as we went along. If you see a series that’s not really well done you’ll notice that people tend to just cram music in everywhere to tell people how they should be feeling. I really want to avoid that. I want to enhance the feel of the scene without telling you that now should suspect that this guy did something. That’s not what I consider… I can name you a great example and I don’t know how much this has been noticed but one of the first things I noticed when watching Breaking Bad was how extremely good they were at not having music where it wasn’t needed. You see two guys in the middle of the desert go out of their car and there is this huge scenery in front of them and the first thing you think is enter the big cue but it isn’t there and they start talking and it’s interesting and nobody is telling you what to feel about what they are saying so you have to get more involved, There is is nothing helping you along telling you how to feel. I don’t think that’s what we should be doing. We should be enhancing the mood of the scenes. This is very much my philosophy when it comes to scoring. Baldvin is good with that as well. This I knew because I was there when they were doing the soundtrack for Life in a Fishbowl. There’s a very emotional scene there which Ólafur wrote a great great cue to. It was absolutely beautiful and they both decided that the scene was better without it, that it was stronger and people would get more involved. It was completely the right decision. It’s killing your darlings, it’s throwing away stuff. There were scenes here where I had written music that I liked but the scene would actually be stronger without it and the whole thing of obviously working with the mixing engineer I just told him, “listen when we start there are all these people bringing bad news. Your daughter’s dead and so on. We don’t want the music to be noticed. It’s going to be there but we don’t want it to be noticed. It’s just a small minimal, almost subliminal thing. As we go on we’re going to write bigger cues we’re going to have louder cues and so on.” This worked. Baldvin has a very good sense of when music is needed and when it is not. We were actually in agreement when we threw away cues that I had written cues for certain scenes. There was no fight. This scene lives better without music or we would say, “the cue fits there but when you mix it, mix it so you almost can’t hear it and keep it there.”’


You are prepared to sacrifice a piece of music if the work is enhanced…

‘Absolutely, absolutely. I think that’s the important thing. Having been in filmmaking myself for all these years, because, I bring that culture to the table as well, how we do something at the end of the day doesn’t matter. It’s always the final product that we release. So if we all work wholeheartedly at doing our best to make that product as good as we possibly can with all the limitations that people obviously have that’s the big goal. This also comes down to what I said before about ego, you should never bring it. You don’t bring that to the table. If you take a creative fight because you disagree with somebody bring good arguments for why you think it’s going to be better with the cue in because it’s going to make the scene better. If that’s not your argument you don’t have one. It’s all about the final product and the emotional impact it’s going to have on the audience.’

Did your time as a filmmaker give you a discipline that you now employ as a musician? Filmmaking is very expensive. Now you are aware of not wasting studio time..

‘Yes and No. What it gave to me and the culture I bring from there is that I used to edit a lot which is always helpful. So I know what’s going to please the editor and what’s going to make the edit work for him he’s going to need his rises in music. He’s going to need his endings and his fade outs so I know exactly what he needs to make the scene work. This is helpful when it comes to the money side and to the practical things of making stuff on a budget which this obviously was, it was not a big budget project, I just didn’t care. I took this on. This was my first drama series that I scored and I just wanted to do a good job. So if I spend more time, which I definitely did, because I don’t like rushing these things, there are days you sit in your studio and just nothing comes and that’s something we all have to face. We can do the technical stuff then and it’s great it’s a great time when you’re not feeling creative with nothing comes to you to sit down and do the technical things or spotting things and you know making stems and all that is perfect. No problem, but the actual writing comes to you and then you have to be ready and throw away whatever you’re doing, finish that to a place where happy that you left the emotion there and you can come back to it when you’re feeling a little bit more technical again. So I think having the time was the big luxury for me and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. If you look at great collaborations between composers and filmmakers, you will find that many of them have this luxury. You’ll find that Hans Zimmer works with Nolan for two years on a film and they work like this together. Another great duo that I admire, especially after having seen Arrival, is Jóhann Jóhannsson and Denis Villeneuve which I think are doing something really, really great together. I think it comes from this, there’s the luxury of writing bad cues which we’re all going to do. Doesn’t matter how good we think we are, we’re always going to do something that’s not good enough. To be able to have the luxury of writing and composing when you feel like it is something special and I think that it pays off. It really does. It was a strange process also because when I was doing the most dramatic stuff, like I told you earlier, I was working in the summer. Sun is out, people are having ice cream and there I am doing the most difficult of the cues. In the middle of everything, I was doing commercials as well, you know cues, because I can never stop completely. So I would go from a really dramatic cue to a happy jingle for an ad and that’s more difficult than it sounds like because I remember one Friday I came home I was just completely emotionally drained and I didn’t understand why. Then I started thinking about the week before where I’ve been doing all this stuff and I saw that I’ve been switching moods more abruptly than a normal person should be because that’s what it means getting involved. If you’re telling the story you have to.’

‘I did a lot of research on making some of the cues and how to make some of the stuff really uncomfortable and there’s this thing a producer said to me when I was eighteen and he said if you want to feel  the right beat for a song walk around the control room and step into the song. So I was walking around here trying to find BPMS that were uncomfortable, that I couldn’t step in. I would work with synthesisers and other instruments to find stuff discordant stuff that would make me feel uncomfortable and it worked so much that once I was finishing off one of the cues I found myself gritting my teeth while I’m mixing because there was an intensity there. I was just like, listen you have to calm down, you wrote this, back off and relax. There are very disturbing scenes in the series and I just wanted to make the music be as disturbing as what you see.’


It’s disturbing. There’s restraint. The soundtrack is more internal. Walking down here listening to the album again I noticed that it works as a self-contained mood picture. Even without the story I was still experiencing the drama.

‘Well the thing is that all these layers of uncomfortable stuff they are really low and they are layers. I like working with layers and layers of stuff. On top of what I like doing, and I find that I like this in many other composers as well, you find a simple enough repetitive melody,  nothing you have to focus on. It’s just there and when it starts repeating you don’t have to give it any attention because it becomes familiar to you. You have the traditional arrangement with it but underneath there are layers upon layers of more or less disturbing stuff so you can listen to the cue and you can say it’s a pleasant melody is it but there’s something there that evokes or provokes emotion. These layers are where I put a lot of work in. If they are too high or too prominent then you fall into the trap of telling people how they should be feeling so they are on a level that you can barely hear them. Almost subliminal but they are certainly there, for example, I would take two notes on the synthesizer and I would just sign wave basically and I would pitch them away from each other and back again but they would never me. Now this for normal person that listens to music is extremely uncomfortable and you want things to align and to sound right but they never do. But then I would mix that really low but it’s there if I take it away everything becomes very plain.’

When people see the series and hear your soundtrack they’ll be surprised at how many instruments you are playing on it. It’s a very layered recording.

‘There’s lots of stuff going on. This is how I like to work and it’s not everybody’s way and it fit here. The thing I did directly after was a comedy series and that was a difficult switch of gears. I just did completely the opposite. I went really simple. No layers, just in your face. It inherits, in a way, the story which in Case is complicated. It’s multi-layered and I feel that the music should be that as well. It just felt right. Sometimes I philosophize about these things but sometimes I just sit down and do them because they feel right. There’s that aspect as well. Sometimes it’s easier to speak about them after you’ve done them but sometimes when you’re in the middle of things you just do them because they feel right.’

You mentioned going straight on to a comedy series and I noticed on the flight the onboard entertainment system was screening Ligeglad, a comedy series with your name in the credits. How easy or hard is it to suddenly switch gears and find a different voice to bring alive another show?

‘I’ll be completely honest with you, it was very difficult but not because of the mood change but because comedy is so hard to score. I think it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve taken on. Not saying that it it’s easy to do the whole thing but it comes quite naturally. Solving score for a comedy is so difficult. Difficult because it has everything to do with the comedy timing of the thing. You have to just be on the spot with what’s happening and you can’t fake your way around it. You just have to be there. It just has to work. In a drama if a cue doesn’t work, isn’t great, it still sort of slides by but in comedy it’s a disaster and you are better off without anything.’


Case is your first drama commission. Will we being seeing your name on more credits?

‘Yeah absolutely, there are already two series that are as good as confirmed. This has been quite a journey because from a young age I was doing music. From when I was ten I was studying music. I was playing bands professionally when I was seventeen and what happened is I went to see a film that changed my life and that film was Le Grande Bleu. Apart from just loving the score, I really wanted to become a filmmaker. I was already doing photography and so on. So I just knew this is the way to go. So I went and did the whole thing, went to film school in Italy came back and immediately started working on commercials which is where I wound up more by accident than anything else. It took me a while to figure out that what I actually liked and was the culmination of everything that I knew and wanted to do would be in soundtrack. This is sort of a revelation that came to me maybe five years ago that this is what I wanted to go but I didn’t want to do it unless I was working with right people and working on the right project. I said no to a couple of quite decent commissions because the scripts didn’t feel right to me, I’m fairly critical of that, or if the people weren’t somebody I could see myself having a beautiful working relationship with it because it’s kind of a marriage when you do these things. You really have to get along. I like to work with people that I like on a personal level. I tend to not work with people even if they’re creative geniuses if I can’t find a resonance, if I can’t find some common ground. This is Baldvin’s way of working as well. He really likes to use the same people. He wants to have relationships that are not too complex and not too difficult because it’s enough like he did that year he was doing his episode of Trapped. he was helming nine episodes of this on the back of the film, and preparing another one. You don’t want to have to work with difficult people in these very delicate and intimate moments that are putting music to edits and the whole editing process and everything. These are like open wounds when you’re doing this. To get somebody in walking in and criticizing stuff you haven’t finished doing that is not the final result. It’s not that we can’t hear stuff said about our.., I worked in advertising for twenty years, I’ve heard everything. I have a very strong shell but it’s an intimate process so you want it to be pleasant. You want to be with people that understand and respect you. I think it’s about both professional and personal respect. So this for me has always been very important especially when you take on a big project like this that’s very time-consuming. I just want to feel that I’m in sync with you people, not just another job where you get paid and you do the stuff that the client wants to do. I actually get more money for doing that in commercials and so when I pick these projects I go for this. This is important to me, the story that we have to tell, the people that are telling you. That’s that’s what I pick them for.’

You are quite fortune that you were able to get that working relationship. You wouldn’t get it if you were a musician for hire in Hollywood. As the Icelandic filmmaking community opens up more to the rest of the world, this is happening, right now, might it be harder to find directors with whom you can bond on a personal and creative level?

‘No, I don’t think so. Firstly, I don’t have a lot of problem bonding with people. I’m quite open and easy going. I find that very many of us have more things in common than you would suspect. Of course, different characters and all that but that’s not the thing, the thing is to focus on the quality of the stuff. You can feel if a person has a passion for a thing or if he’s doing it because he’s getting paid. I’d every day work with a guy who was a passion for it. That’s when you have that motivation. Even if it then doesn’t work because lots of creative work you start with the greatest intentions of all the passion in the world and the final product is perfect, isn’t great. I’m fine with that. I think in the filmmaking process, a film or a TV series is never going to get any better than its weakest link. There is no better way to describe that than with that old cliche. So it has to do with the people who are driven to find and weed out the weakest links and to work getting the best from everybody. Baldvin on set and as well as in post-production he’s all about making people comfortable so they can enhance and great things to his work which I find also having worked in his profession to be the right mindset for me. It doesn’t work for everybody. You will always find that somebody who walks in a set and wants people to be afraid of him because he’s the boss or controls. It doesn’t make sense to me because it’s always a collaboration. You are never going to do a TV series by yourself so get along with the people that you working with. Have the people skills to read people, you know what they want and what you can do and also what you can add to them to the thing. I find that when people have really strong ideas about they want what they want from actors and music they don’t allow happy accidents. Happy accidents are the best part of filmmaking. They are so undervalued. If you draw everything up, tell the composer exactly how you want to cue, give him a reference this is how to sound like and the editor is going to work on this cue by Hans Zimmer so you have to do that kind of thing there is no space for people to shine on the final product. Baldvin is a very smart young man and knows that if he gets people to do this the one who is going to look good is him. This is very important. He’s going to get the credit for people doing something unexpected that makes all of all of a sudden makes his stuff a lot better. This is the way to go as well, to be able to experiment which takes time and effort and focus and say no that didn’t work let’s try something else and he’s really up for it. I’ll name you an example, we didn’t know what we were going to do about a theme song because there is no intro opening so I come back from a very difficult funeral, quite distraught actually, I sit down and I write a piece of music and it’s really, really sad because that’s how I was feeling and I get this idea that OK what if instead of going out with a bang like all these series  and do the classical thing, we would actually write a funeral song for Lara because at the end of the day the whole thing about the series starts with her death. I wrote that song or finished producing it. Got Sigríður to sing it as well and I just proposed it. Said “does it feel right to you?” He was just like, “that’s great.” What he didn’t tell me was that he would actually write it into the script. Here’s another thing, the girl who sings an acapella version of that in Lara’s funeral, that would have never happened if we weren’t doing the score before the shooting. It would have never happened. So instead of that being an afterthought he integrated into the story.’


Watching the series and listening to the soundtrack I wondered if that end theme had deliberately been composed to be used in that episode. You’ve just explained that it was happy accident.

‘Absolutely. I just felt that it would actually be something a little bit different from the standard way you know you end on a happy or exciting note, quite rhythmic and the end titles and so on. People stand up go to the toilet or whatever. Instead, I wanted to do something really, really beautiful that would just be a funeral Psalm for Lara. I didn’t know if they were going to buy it at all as a thing. Took him one listen to say “this is great, this is the end song, great, that’s it.”’

The series is now on Netflix in the US and several other territories. It’s coming to the UK in 2017. When articles start appearing in newspapers and magazines and people find learn about your working methods do you anticipate that you may influence other European shows? They may start working this way.

‘Oh, I hope so. It’s not an original idea but I really would like to preach this as much as possible. If music is that important as the producer will obviously that say it is then why not give the respect of being part of the storytelling. I think is very important and I preach this to everybody. If you have the luxury of being able to hire a composer from day one that can actually bring his attention to your work at that stage because that wasn’t a given either. On the projects that I’m working on now this is my demand. Bring me in from the beginning because I think I can do a better job. It’s not like I’m charging extra for it. It’s just a way of me being able to do this both with other work so I don’t sit down in a hat with a quill and start writing music for three weeks and then come and panic and do the string sessions. I do this as we move along. The fact that it’s right for me doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. Some of the greatest composers you could ever think of they don’t work like this. They come in and they write the score to an edit and then they go on record that score and out comes a beautiful score that works. It’s not right for everybody but the possibility of it being right I think is quite big. I learned from my years in filmmaking to have a huge respect for the editing process where it all comes to life and where it all starts working or not working. Giving those people real stuff to work with.., If you would propose to an editor we’re going to do a fight scene but just use fight material from other films and make it all work and then we’ll just insert the right material he would tell you you’re crazy but basically you’re asking an editor to do that with music. Use somebody else’s music, use somebody else’s mood instead of having to something that’s bespoke for the scene he’s working. I think there’s a huge difference.’

The way you are working is the way TV used to work. The industry has just forgotten. When drama was live the soundtrack was composed before the rehearsals started. Actors would rehearse to it and they’d learn the scene timings by the score. You are bringing that back.

‘I’d be happy to bring that back. Just to be honest, as this was my first drama series. I didn’t have full confidence so time would help me. I would actually sit down and make a cue and make it work and I would feel OK this can be done. What happens is well for the production side, they get cues sent in and they have the luxury then of saying we don’t like the direction this is taking. Doing it in the last minutes of post-production when you’re on a deadline and delivering, I know too many examples of producers saying “it’s too late to fix it. We have to ship it like this.” Why should they have to? They don’t have to is the answer. They can hire the composer early on. They can feel the direction of the thing all the time while they’re editing. They can make adjustments to mood and  everything and that’s quite an important thing. I think it’s just like you said, it became this way of working and this is how it’s done and this is how we tell new producers stuff is done but does it have to be like that? I don’t think so.’

Composers I know have given me horror stories of producers telling them that here is your dubbing day, you’ve X amount of hours and that’s all the time you’ve got.

‘Your three-hour union session.’

By re-introducing this working method you’ve maintained the integrity of the project. You’ve been able to make adjustments where needed. So what is your proudest moments with regards composing the soundtrack for Case?

‘Ah, good question. I don’t know really. There are scenes that I felt I was really happy about seeing together with my music. I think one of the cues that I like the most is the bathtub cue. There’s a young girl in the bathtub. I did something I’ve never done before , slowing down and pitch- bending an upright piano which is not usually the thing you do. That scene just popped up on the server and I read it and I just felt that as a standalone thing it just worked and then was a part of the whole thing it worked really well for me. Other than that it’s just, to be honest. it’s work for us until we get other people’s reaction on what we do. There are ,of course, always moments where you feel that OK, this felt right and then there are, of course, the more nagging moments where you feel I should have done this differently or should have less of that and less of the other. That’s never going to stop. That’s what we every creative person takes with them. If you look at something you did four years ago the first thing  you can say is that I should have done this differently which is a curse and a blessing because it moves us on our way to being better at what we do. There are times when you can sit down and say OK this was good. This actually works.’

Thanks to Pétur Jónsson, Medialux Music Productions, and Anthemico Records.

Pétur Jónsson’s soundtrack is available to buy from Amazon.

Here’s a selection of tracks from the soundtrack:

Follow the official Case Facebook page.

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From The Court to Case: Star of dark drama on playing a tortured character, his acting technique, and the future of Icelandic TV.

An intense ride into the darker recesses of the human soul, Case is inspired by a real-life investigation. The latest Nordic import is a watershed moment which will transform the genre. The bleakest Noir series to reach our screens, it is not for the faint-hearted.

Set to become Nordic Noir’s most critically acclaimed drama yet, Case is a spin-off from Icelandic series The Court. The original series focussed on a trio of lawyers as they brought human traffickers, murderers, financial scammers, and leaders of religious cults to justice. Uncovering Reykjavik’s criminal underbelly in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, The Court was a timely and energetic series that made history as Icelandic TV’s first home-grown legal drama.

The Court‘s maverick lawyer Logi was a Promethean figure who famously never lost a case in his entire career. Moving away from Law & Court Inc’s city centre’s offices, The Court‘s spin-off series Case is set several years after the original. No longer Reykjavik’s top lawyer, Logi is now a booze-soaked broken man. His reputation in tatters, the investigation into an apparent suicide offers Logi a slim opportunity for redemption. Powerful forces conspire to conceal the truth and Logi is faced with the prospect of perpetual damnation.

Playing Logi since 2009, Magnús Jónsson is one of Iceland’s most accomplished actors. A renaissance man, he has recently directed his first feature film, is preparing to hold an exhibition of his paintings, and has recorded an album of his own compositions.

In a Reykjavik coffee shop Magnús Jónsson talked about playing Logi once again, his stage career, and the future of Icelandic film and TV.

*Spoiler warning*

When you were told you were going to play Logi again did you know he was going to be in a very different, very dark place?

‘Yeah, quite early. The first script was totally there. It changed a little bit after Baldvin Z came in and decided to do it. So yeah, I was quite aware in the beginning that it was going to be a totally different story and something had happened. We played with it that it’s like five, six, maybe seven years since the last one so we could have a fresher start with this new Logi as you see him in Case. He’s totally different and it evolves throughout the series that something happened. There’s still some kind of connection between him and Brynhildur. We learn pretty soon that he fucked up everything they had together and Benedikt, the older gentlemen at the office, he took her on because Logi fucked everything up and Logi was just on a streak of hate and vengeance. We kind of built up this backstory of what had actually happened. ‘


When you joined the project Baldvin Z wrote a mini story of what happened in those lost years. Did he tell you about it?

‘He told me a little bit about it. He told me enough because it’s good to have like some kind of imagination of how to go this dark. My technique, the older technique that I used for The Court, was totally different because he was a winner. He was a success. He was the best in the game. The technique that I have to try to work with to deal with this human tragedy that he is, he’s got this old murder at his back. He’s confused. Sometimes remembers it. Sometimes he doesn’t, like in The Court, but then it reveals in a different way then really I thought it was. So that story in itself is kind of complicated from this new approach. We kind of built up this sequence. He wrote this backstory, told me about it and I instantly related because of this five, six years that have passed.’

I noticed the difference in techniques in your performance between the original series and Case. In The Court he was a triumphant character and you physically dominate the scene. This time he’s a broken man and you’re acting a lot more with your eyes. You are giving the sense of a man who is physically crushed and can only communicate with the world is through his eyes.

‘I have a new technique as an actor. I have developed, as well, and I have the baggage of those two series behind me. It was really challenging to go into these deep, dark alleys with this character and be him instead of playing him. I think that’s a bit of a difference between The Court and Case, I was playing a more extrovert character but now I’m more introvert and more broken inside and the best way to perform it is through eyes.’

You’ve got a new creative team on board. It’s shot in a very different way. It’s more cinematic. Was it hard to get used to this fresh approach?

‘Of course, they are just different types of technique. We were more focusing on style in the first series so a lot of time went into just styling it or fitting the frames, fitting the surroundings. Now it was more lose. Totally different directors as well. They have totally different approaches of directing. For instance, Baldi he was very strict on working the script to the bones so I learnt three versions of the script before we came on set. They were all different. I had to learn everything basically before we came on set because there’s no extra time because this is such a roller coaster ride for this big role. Because of these changes, there was a lot of rehearsals. It kind of happened in that way because when we were shooting it we threw it all away.. So just so it was easier to just improvise the scenes because it was so alive in me. It wasn’t that strict to the script as it was in the first two series of The Court. They were very scripted, they were very produced in that sense, Now we were more lose. We would just get everything down. Throw it away, throw it away. Nobody says it like this. This isn’t Icelandic language. We never speak like this. Just like throw it, throw it. We were killing the babies just like that. It gave you the freedom of being instead of acting. It was just there. It was a tough character to play for the three months of shooting.’


Logi is a tortured character. He’s in a dark place at the start of the series and falls into a personal hell as it continues. How difficult was it at the end of the shoot to leave the character behind and go back to your friends and family?

‘It was quite hard basically because I’m such a, in a way, method actor so I was this character all the time. My family, they had to live with this guy and the mood swings that I was having just to keep him alive. In Court, for instance, that’s like an extreme character in a different way from the other one. I’m used to playing dark characters. In my career, I always get the murderer. I get the criminal. I get the dark lord or whatever. In a way, it was very suitable for my energy to feed on these forces.’

Logi is an alcoholic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. As a method actor did you research these conditions?

‘My method is a mixture of Michael Chekhov technique and method. I actually have a school in Iceland with Þorsteinn Bachmann who is another actor. We have had this school for six years. I didn’t have this school and this technique when I was doing the first series. Now with this new technique, it’s easy to go into these dark forces without really affecting what I have lived or if I’m this dark character. I never have to relate to my dark sides. I just have to use my imagination and go from there. So in a way, when I shaved the beard off after the last scene it took me two or three hours to get back.’

When I interviewed Baldvin Z he said that on the last day of shooting just before the wrap party you shaved the beard off and left the character behind.

‘Nobody knew me at the wrap party. Then I had my happy face. In Europe or America, you always have a trailer. You have your place to figure out your technique and work your energies, In Iceland, we are always like in the same bus. Everybody is there so it can be difficult to hold this in before because then “action” and you have to be on your toes. In that sense, this technique is very helpful of getting back and holding in these forces. A big difference as well, which I like very much in this series, Case, is that we kind of shot it in chronological order. The other one was shot so we took all the office scenes in all the episodes two weeks. So it was two weeks ago we were coming in this door and after two weeks you were coming out of it. Now it was more fluent so you were kind of having the throughline of theatre in this one. You kind of went through the process as one through line instead of lots of chop-offs. That was really helpful for staying in character and staying in the mood of the thing and these nuances and conflicts that happen during the play.’


Pétur Jónsson composed the soundtrack before the start of physical production and it was played to all the actors to help you get into the mood of the drama.

‘Really, really helpful. I really like it when filmmaking is combining all these aspects. It’s like one big thing happening. It’s not like you come and deliver and then you go away. You are all contributing. I had Pétur’s music as well while I was getting into character and getting into the scenes. Of course, these were just flavours that he was producing. It was really helpful to get it before otherwise he would have to layer it afterwards but now we were like ah, yeah, yeah, we know how it is. Baldvin made a mood video as well so you could instantly get into the mood of what going to happen. That was really helpful.’

In the early days of TV all drama was live. Music was composed prior to production. Actors listened to it during rehearsal and it helped shape their performance.

‘Painters do it. I’m a painter as well so I paint a lot with music. It’s inspiring to put something on the canvas so it’s basically the same.’

Case is not a show that’s been assembled in a cut-and-paste fashion. It’s an authored series. Performances, cinematography, and music combine.

‘It was really helpful because in productions I’ve been in there’s always this distance. The actors don’t really know what they are doing. They don’t really know what the others are doing. Nobody knows really so there’s kind of a weird conflict.’


Have you taken lessons from Case’s production that you will apply to future projects?

‘Definitely, definitely. I shot my first feature this summer. It’s very independent, very low budget. I had this idea three or four years ago and I was like you got to do this and then it’s like you’ve got to apply for grants. It’s like this production just like kills me but then I found this place in the summertime. It was going to be a summer movie so I found this place in the countryside. When I found it I was like OK fuck it, I’m going to do it. I called up some actor friends of mine and we shot the whole movie in eight days. I’m editing it now. So I took a lot of that out of this. Just like ah yeah do it. All experience give you wind under your wings to go fuck it, yeah do it, let’s make it happen.’

Do you have a release date for your movie?

‘No, no, I’m just in the editing process of it. Probably February, March, maybe. It’s getting along. Could be sooner. I also have another show. I have an exhibition of my paintings here at Gallerí Fold in January so I’m doing these two things now. I’m that kind of an artist. I have to be making music, painting, writing, and now I just did my first feature.’

You’re also an accomplished stage actor. Readers may not know that you played Dr. Frank-N-Furter in an Icelandic production of The Rocky Horror Show.

‘That was a complete sold out show. It was like four or five years ago or something. I kind of go into the theatre with a bang and then I leave with a bang. Theatre life is too possessive for me. I can’t just do theatre. I’ve got to be able to do a lot of other things as well. I did another one in the theatre three years ago and then I haven’t been in the theatre since. I have to be very mobile.’

Might we seen you on stage in London at some point in the future?

‘Might happen, yeah. I’m kind of kicking myself in the butt to just push my acting forward. I have been doing a lot of things. I’ve been getting a lot of fun from both directing and teaching. I really take real pride and joy in teaching the technique that I work on myself. I have this school where I teach this. The actor in me is pushing me.’


Is the end for Logi or are you going to play him again?

‘I don’t know. It depends on the script, basically. It depends on how this goes. This was supposed to be a spin-off from the original series. The actors never really know what is going to happen. We are the last to know. With this kind of attention there comes pressure on the production side to do more. They could totally write me off if they want to, You never really know. Of course, I would love to go further with this series but it’s never really up to me. It’s kind of good that it’s like that. It’s not in my hands. If they produce a good script, if they want go further, if they want to write me off it’s not really up to me. They are maybe strict to other kind of rules as well. If everybody loves Logi then they would maybe have to write me in.’

Because of the place Logi is in at the end of the series any future seasons would have to be true to that. It can’t be a cheat.

‘Of course. They have a few possibilities. I could go to prison. Can they prove anything? Nobody saw anything. Nobody knows anything. They have a lot of options basically.’

When you started making Case did you know how it was going to end?

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I knew that. The first script kind of went there but it was a bit more of a surprise in the first script that I saw, what really happens in the end. They kind of changed it because of TV and drama and suspense and all that. I knew it was going to end very, very up, it could go in any direction. In The Court it was the same. Did she kill me? There were always these question marks in the end because you had to have the audience wanting more.’


In Iceland people already knew Logi. In Case they see a very different Logi. Were they shocked at this new direction? Did people come up to you in the supermarket and say that they didn’t like what the character was doing now?

‘Of course, for some yeah, yeah. I experienced that, especially for people orientated in law because it was very much a law drama. It ended in The Court, it was Case. Now it was like one case throughout the series. You always have these conservatives wanting things to be as it was. They really liked this arrogant lawyer as he was in The Court but now he’s like broken. He’s more human than he was in the first series. There’s more you can really relate to, his dark sides and arrogance than in Court. Of course, I heard a lot of this. Especially people working in law they were like oh, this guy doesn’t represent how we are. These kind of comments. Case is a new thing, for me, of course we have this backstory and we have these series that happened. We have to look at it with new eyes and we have to figure that something has happened. Five, six, seven years has happened before this. I wasn’t like this a year ago. Then again what Trapped and Case, if you compare those two… Trapped was shown for all Icelanders on RUV, the national TV, but Court and Case were only on Channel 2 which only has, I don’t know, 20,000 subscribers so not everybody saw Case and Court.’

Five years ago aside from Jar City and The Night Shift, Icelandic film and TV was largely unknown in the UK. You couldn’t get hold of DVDs. Now you can order DVDs from or watch streaming films on Icelandic Cinema Online. People are intrigued after Trapped and want to watch more.

‘I think we also have to thank the Scandinavian drama. We are learning a lot from Scandinavian and British drama as well. Most definitely Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian is coming strong as well. We are kind of riding that wave as well. If weren’t for Borgen and Susanne Bier and all these great Danish actors that are coming out like Mads Mikkelsen and that lot from Festen. All those guys. They kind of paved the way for us. Because of Scandinavia. they were getting more acknowledged in the UK and America. It wasn’t that case ten years ago with them.’

In the UK it started with Wallander, and it ignited something in the public. The Killing, Borgen, and The Bridge followed. Now you have Scandinavian actors guest starring in British shows and Hollywood movies. That’s already starting to happen with Icelandic actors.

‘I think we have something for us. We have exceptional writers. I think that was maybe the hardest way for us in the beginning. That’s why we weren’t really acknowledged. The scripts weren’t good enough but now for the last seven, eight years there has been a lot of development in that. “OK, this is what we need to do. It’s got to be a good story.” It was definitely not the case early on.’


Was there a moment when you noticed Icelandic TV was competing on an equal footing in terms of quality?

‘Well Court, the first series, it kind of got that stamp. It was kind of we’ve got something now. And then they followed a few other ones, Astridur and Pressa. We all of a sudden had writing teams. It wasn’t just this one person, this one scriptwriter. The writer of The Court is the same writer that wrote Trapped. I think it was, I don’t know, seven or eight years ago I had this feeling that we were on the right track. It’s all combined of course. We had a lot of stage actors so they were performing very stage-like. Big and strong. For the camera, it was like humongous. It doesn’t fit. So we kind of figured OK we’ve got to tone it down. We learnt a lot from Scandinavian TV.’

Researching Icelandic actors I’ve noticed how many went abroad to train. Now you are teaching a method here in Iceland. Is that also part of the increased confidence? Icelandic talent no longer has to go elsewhere to learn. You’re teaching the next generation.

‘Yeah, maybe. There isn’t much self-doubt in Icelandic actors anymore about these things. I think they actually feel they can compete in all platforms today. I think that’s kind of new for us to realise that “oh we actually can do this”. We were kind of “this is shit, this is not going anywhere.” This of course with Case and Trapped is helping us to be more at ease and more confident about doing things that matter. Icelandic cinema and TV is actually on the rise. The government is putting more money into it. Finally, they are accepting that for every krona they put into it they get three back. It took them years to see that. I think we’re on a good roll now.’

A year ago I was in Malmo for the launch of The Bridge’s third season. A government minister spoke at the reception and he said that money invested in culture is never wasted. When you mentioned about for every krona being invested the country gets three in return that quote came back to me. You invest x number of krona in a series like Trapped or Case, the revenue that comes back via tax or overseas investment benefits the rest of society.

‘No society thrives without culture. The sooner governments figure this out. They always have to have the Excel off this. They can’t see the culture rising in people. They can’t see the intelligence in people. They can’t see the adventures growing in people’s eyes unless they see it in a very statistic Excel form which is sad. Of course, I’m very glad that now they are putting more into it. They are focusing more on women which is a really good thing. The women’s voice needs to be heard more in cinema.’

That’s not just an Icelandic problem. I think that’s a problem…

‘Everywhere. We took a stand. The Icelandic Film Fund actually took a stand and said more money is going to be available for women. They going to be up front. They took a stand. I’m really, really grateful.’

Finally, I would like to ask you, is Case is an artistic career high?

‘Yeah, definitely, definitely. Usually, I never want to play the same character again but this guy is a character I haven’t…Of course, it’s a personal high. Every Case is a personal high. I’m very happy that Netflix has taken on the journey and I hope that more attention gets on Icelandic filmmaking because there’s a lot of growth here. There’s a lot of excitement in filmmaking in Iceland. I’m very happy for Icelandic cinema at the moment.’

Thanks to Magnús Jónsson.

Follow the official Case Facebook page.

Desert Island DVDs: Kristján Atli


Kristján Atli has been writing all his life and recently released his debut novel Nýja Breiðholt (New Reykjavik), a post-apocalyptic thriller about the hunt for a serial killer, a father’s determination to save his kidnapped daughter, a mysterious woman’s search for revenge and the potential for an all-out gang war in a city without law and order. A student of comparative literature at the Icelandic University, Kristján has also released short stories and poems and is the founder and main editor of one of Iceland’s biggest independent sports websites. He lives in the town of Hafnarfjordur with his family and sells fish during the day.


The Hunt (2012, Denmark)

‘A stunning exploration of a society lit up by rumours, innuendo and accusation. Nothing is ever proven and we as viewers are never given the truth of the situation, making the story all the more powerful. Are we cheering for a villain or damning a victim? This is a film that sat with me for a very, very long time. It also features a symbolic performance by Mads Mikkelsen, one of the most nuanced roles of his career.’


Life in a Fishbowl (2014, Iceland)

‘This might be the best film ever made in Iceland. It weaves together tales of three people who are down on their luck in the small community of Reykjavík, Iceland, and explores how society treats those who depend upon it for survival. If you asked me to show you one film that best explains how it is to be a person, for better and for worse, in Iceland in the 21st century I would show you this one.’


Luther (2010 – , UK)

‘By far my favourite detective series of all time. Oh, Luther, how I love thee! I’ve been an Idris Elba fan since The Wire (who hasn’t?) and when I found these series I was all over them like a pig in … well, mud. I especially think the first three seasons are great, the fourth one was a little short but it still felt great to see more of the character. Luther is an all time great TV cop for me.’


In Bruges (2008, UK, USA)

‘Just a fantastic film with fantastic performances. One of those I can watch over and over again, and often do while I’m writing late at night with the lights turned off. A good film is better than candlelight to write by, anyway. The titular city comes alive in this tale of crime, betrayal and friendship, among other things. Also, it’s really funny.’


The Spanish Apartment (2002, Spain)

‘A multinational cast comes together in this tale of a Frenchman’s year in Barcelona. I remember picking this up at a videostore thinking it would be a nice romantic tale for me and my (then) girlfriend (now wife). Instead we got a full on exploration of language, culture and an immersion into the city of Barcelona. This film has stayed with me throughout the years as a symbol of how you can make a city become a central character in your story.’

Thanks to Kristján Atli and Iceland Noir.

You can follow Kristján Atli on Twitter:


Theatre Review: Icelandic Sagas – The Greatest Hits in 75 Minutes


An evening filled with killings, puffins, and American football.

Written in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Sagas continue to influence Icelandic culture. A remarkable body of literature, written in a style which is akin to modern fiction. They document the colonization of Iceland. Recounting the formation of the nation’s legal system and early quarrels over land division, the Sagas are set against a backdrop of Viking expansion across Western Europe. Accounts of feuds and killings are told with great artistry.

Still relevant for modern readers, they are the inspiration for George Martin’s Game of Thrones and J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was so enraptured with the Sagas he learnt Old Norse to read the original texts.


Bringing 40 Sagas to the stage is a new production at the Harpa Conference Hall, Reykjavik. It’s an ambitious undertaking, condensing one of the most significant literary works of the medieval era and making it appeal to an audience possibly unaware of the Saga’s literary and cultural significance.

With a cast of only two actors, the play’s breakneck speed barely gives the audience time to draw for breath as it tosses in pop-culture references and some wild and wacky jokes.

Not quite the next best thing to actually reading the Sagas, the play follows the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s template and is packed with enough cringeworthy jokes to keep the audience giggling for days. A hilarious introduction to the colourful world of Saga-era characters Gunnlaugur Serpent Tongue and Mjoll the-biggest-of-all-women-who-were-not-giants.

Ticket booking information.

DVD Review: All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride


Deck the halls with boughs of hygge: Mesmerising journey across a frozen wilderness.

With no commentary or music, and just the sound of hoofs crunching in the snow and reindeer bells, All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride is a hypnotic introduction to the lifestyle of a pair of Sami tribeswomen as they cross an ancient route on their reindeer sleigh.

A huge hit for BBC Four when it first aired in 2015, this eccentric documentary is an easy way to introduce a little hygge into your home. If you want to escape the hectic pace of the run-up to Christmas, then insert the disc into your player and lose yourself in an enchanting and relaxing experience.


Shot from the point-of-view of a reindeer herder, All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride takes viewers on a very special journey across a snow-drenched wilderness. Filmed in Karasjok, Norway, it follows an ancient route used by the Sami people. Showing awe-inspiring scenery not usually seen by anyone except the indigenous culture, this real-time documentary follows a three-mile trail 200 miles north of the Artic Circle. Until the 1970s the region didn’t have a road so for centuries the only way to cross it was via reindeer sleigh.

Occasional on-screen captions provide fascinating information about Sami culture.

Watch while unwrapping your presents or nursing a glass of mulled wine, it’s an opportunity to appreciate the sights and sounds of a frozen landscape. The shots of snow covered forests, hills, and traditional Sami settlements without intrusive narration is the next best thing to actually being there.

Give a gift of All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride to put some hygge into your loved one’s life. Watching this two-hour trek is as soothing as enjoying a warm mince pie in front of an open fire.

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride is available to order from Amazon.

TV Review: CASE


Is this taut Icelandic drama Nordic Noir’s next big hit?

Secrets and lies buried for decades are exposed when a police officer and a pair of lawyers examine the circumstances behind a teenage ballerina’s death. A routine investigation into an apparent suicide spirals outward in unexpected directions as the community discovers it has unwittingly harboured a terrible evil.

Following hot on the trail of Trapped, Case is the latest flowering of Icelandic TV’s creative renaissance. Lawyers Logi Traustason (Magnús Jónsson) and Brynhildur (Jóhanna Vigdís Arnardóttir) from the series The Court have left behind Law and Court Inc’s plush offices and are living very different lives while working on opposite side of the investigation. Both characters are forced to confront painful demons and put aside personal animosity as they join forces with detective Gabriella (Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir) to expose a horrific crime and smash a web of corruption which has infected every level of society.

Undeniably distinct and remorselessly intense Case is an emotionally potent multi-layered mystery. Densely plotted, the series’ real-life inspired narrative demonstrates that a single event has the power to wreck multiple lives. Constantly rewarding attentive viewers, it may be the most significant contribution to the genre since The Bridge.


Showcasing aspects of Icelandic society that tourists probably don’t suspect exists, an entire community is placed under the microscope as Case’s web of labyrinthine complexity exposes the ultimate evil. Friends become enemies and powerful forces are unleashed to crush the investigating trio.

A glacial-paced series in the vein of The Killing and Broadchurch, Case‘s detailed portrait of a township in denial is an emotionally potent and all too relevant exploration of complicity and consequences.

Unremittingly bleak, Case is perhaps the most outstanding series to hit the screens this year. A turning point for Nordic Noir, the genre will never be the same after its influence starts to spread. Elegant and effective drama with implications and repercussions woven into every scene.


Winner of multiple prizes including FIPA and EDDA Awards and a nomination at the C21 Drama Awards for Best non-English drama series, Case is a BAFTA worthy series stuffed with supreme performances from the cream of Icelandic screen talent.

Director Baldvin Z‘s feature films Jitters and Life in a Fishbowl demonstrated that he was adept at bringing emotional texture to the screen. His episodes of Trapped proved he could contrast immense spectacle with smaller, more intimate, character driven moments. Case represents the flourishing of a talent that will undoubtedly become a major player in the coming years.

Eschewing Nordic Noir’s trademark crepuscular gloom director Baldvin Z shot the series during Iceland’s summer when the sun never seems to set. The warm glow of natural light on a midsummer evening provides a stark contrast to the pitch-black horrors uncovered by Logi, Brynhildur, and Gabriella.

Case‘s first season is a persuasive sign that Iceland’s filmmakers may be leading  future waves of the Nordic Noir screen invasion. An utterly gripping thriller that will get into your head and under your skin. You won’t be the same after watching it.

Follow the official Case Facebook page.

Pétur Jónsson’s soundtrack is available to buy from Amazon.

Here’s a selection of tracks from the soundtrack:

DVD Review: Hlemma Video


One man’s quest for meaning involves late fines, roast beef sandwiches, and Tokyo Drift.

Siggi Hlemmur (Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon – The Night Shift) is at a crossroads in his life. Recently made redundant, he has been unable to find new work as a printer. Seperated from his fiance he mistakenly believes she will return when her current relation has burnt itself out. Forced to move out of their apartment, he now lives with his mother.

Filling the day performing errands, Siggi visits his father’s business to put up some shelves. While clearing an area to work in his father dies in a freak accident.


Siggi’s life is given purpose when he is left his father’s video rental library. A historic shop, it was the first rental library to open in Iceland. Alongside the latest releases, it stocks a selection of cult classics that are unavailable elsewhere in the country. Once ahead of the curve, the shop has struggled to adapt to technological changes. Opening in 1979 with the nation’s largest collection of V2000 cassettes, it soon had to switch to Betamax when customers bought the then new machines. Having survived the demise of VHS, the shop upgraded its stock to include DVDs and Blu-rays and its existence is now threatened by illegal downloading.

Unsure if he wants to spend the rest of his life working in the shop Siggi contemplates opening a detective agency. Mistakenly convinced of his ability to see patterns in things and people that others miss he is thrown in at the deep end when he’s assigned his first case. As word spreads that the video rental library is headquarters for Iceland’s only private detective agency he is engaged to investigate take on ever-bizarre assignments only to be plunged into a real mystery when the discovery of a privately filmed porn video sets in motion a chain of events which will lead him on a trail to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

Video libraries may have vanished from UK high streets but they still survive in Iceland. Quentin Tarantino used his experience working in one as the springboard to his career. Kevin Smith set his directorial debut in one. Would an offbeat detective-comedy series set in a Reykjavik store work? The answer is a resounding yes.

Demonstrating that crime can be funny, Hlemma Video is a  spirited, quirky, affectionate homage to the genre stuffed with film and TV references. Spotting nods makes the series endlessly re-watchable. Some of the shows best moments parody well-known sequences. It’s almost impossible to pick out a best reference but if pressed the sight of Siggi wearing a clown costume trying to dispose of a bomb in a direct echo of a famous scene from the Adam West Batman movie is one the series’ funniest moments.

Veering between absurdity, black comedy, and realism, Sigurjón Kjartansson and lead actor Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon’s sharply written script celebrates video library culture and is scathing in its condemnation of corrupt officials and rapacious property speculators.

A DVD for anyone who has worked in a video library, rented a tape, or dreamt about being a detective.

A subtitled DVD is available to order from

Desert Island DVDs: Sólveig Pálsdóttir


Sólveig Pálsdóttir started writing only five years ago and she has experienced considerable success and acclaim in a relatively short space of time.  

She has an unusually diverse background. Sólveig is a trained actor and has performed in theatre, television and radio. She has a Bachelor‘s degree in literature from The University of Iceland and a degree in teaching. Sólveig taught Icelandic, drama and public speaking for many years and has produced many radio programmes and managed cultural events.

Her first novel Leikarinn (The Actor) was published in 2012 to rave reviews and  spent several weeks at the top of the best-sellers lists. It is now being developed into a motion picture. The second novel, Hinir Réttlátu (The Righteous Ones), was published the year after, and also became a best-seller. Both novels have now been published in Germany by publishing house Aufbau under their German titles Eiskaltes Gift and Tote Wale. Her third novel, Flekklaus (Spotless) was published in March 2015. She is currently working on her fourth.

Sólveig is married with three children and two grandchildren.

Choosing my 5 desert island DVDs was a difficult task. I enjoy watching good films and TV shows and there have been so many that have left their mark on me. It’s been especially fun watching the evolution of TV content that’s been taking place in the past few years, with new platforms like Netflix and Hulu encouraging better storytelling and attracting top quality performers to the format. But that means making this list is so much harder!”


The Hunt (Denmark, 2012)

This cautionary tale is a powerful film with a strong message about rumours, mass hysteria and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” A teacher in a small town in Denmark is accused of a terrible crime. Did he do it? Mads Mikkelsen keeps the audience guessing throughout. The film is a great reminder to stop and examine matters thoroughly before passing judgement, especially in this age of social media where it’s become disturbingly easy to point the finger in rage at any perceived slight.”


Virgin Mountain (Iceland, 2015)

A film by Icelandic film director Dagur Kári. I’m also a huge fan of his first film, Noi the Albino, but Virgin Mountain, or Fúsi in Icelandic, really touched me. It’s so human, both in its writing and performances. The main character, Fúsi, is a bachelor that still lives with his mother. His life is turned around when he enrols in a line-dancing class and gets to know the little girl that’s just moved in downstairs. Fúsi realises that there might be more to life than his WWII models. Gunnar Jónsson who plays Fúsi manages to make the character, who in less capable hands might come off as slightly creepy, completely sympathetic and as Fúsi starts to find his purpose in life you can’t help but cheer for him.”


The Shift Trilogy (Iceland, 2007-2009)

The Night Shift, The Day Shift and The Prison Shift are the three seasons of the best Icelandic sitcom in years, in my opinion. Each season takes place in a new location, a gas station, a hotel and a prison, but the characters stay the same. Former mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr’s character might have been the star of the show but it’s his sidekick Ólafur Ragnar, played by comedian Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon that is my favourite. The writing perfectly captures the realities of modern Iceland as well as its character’s unbreakable spirit in the face of, well, common sense.”


Room (Canada, Ireland, UK, 2015)

I have to admit that when I first heard the subject matter of Room (not to be confused with The Room, called the worst film in history) I wasn’t very excited. A young girl is kidnapped and held captive in a room for years were she endures unspeakable horrors and gives birth to a son. Sounds too bleak for me. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to discover that the film is actually an uplifting exploration of hope, love and courage. Anchored by incredible performances from Oscar winner Brie Larson and wunderkind Jacob Tremblay the film is one of the most affecting I have seen in recent years.”


Happy Valley (UK, 2014)

It’s always refreshing to see a strong, capable woman over 40 in a lead role and Sarah Lancashire is phenomenal as police sergeant Catherine Caewood who is dealing with a tough job while trying to survive a personal tragedy. It’s a fascinating character, and feels like a real, flawed human being. The plotting is also tight and exhilarating and every twist will leave you gasping in disbelief. Fantastic crime show with a superb lead.”

Thanks to Sólveig Pálsdóttir and Iceland Noir.

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Your Iceland Noir DVD Shopping List

The seven DVDs you must have in your collection.

Trapped was a game-changer. It alerted Nordic Noir fans that some of the most exhilarating TV being produced today hailed from the land of fire and ice. Far from being a one-off, Walter Presents’ forthcoming series Case demonstrates Icelandic is experiencing a creative purple patch. One of the most significant European shows to air in the UK since the initial explosion of interest in all things Nordic, Case is a masterclass in thrilling TV which will get under your skin.

Icelandic production company Sagafilm has recently made Out of Thin Air for Netflix and BBC. Described as Iceland’s Making a Murderer, the documentary is a taut and compelling examination of the nation’s most notorious murder investigation.

Whether Trapped has whetted your appetite for more dark and intense thrillers or you want to discover more classic series before watching Case and Out of Thin Air, here is a selection of DVDs that you’ll want to watch again and again…


Jar City

Credited with being ushering a new wave of cinematic Icelandic Noirs, Baltasar Kormákur’s adaptation of Arnaldur Indridason’s novel is the nation’s most successful Icelandic crime film at the box office. An energetic novel filled with dense plotting, vivid descriptions, and psychological realism was transformed into an atmospheric and darkly humorous thriller, Far more than just the film with the hero eating a boiled sheep’s head, Jar City is an intricate and haunting mystery.


Black Angels

Tightly directed adaptation of Ævar Orn Josepsson’s novels. A team of four detectives is investigating an apparent suicide. Researching the deceased’s background the investigators uncover evidence which suggests that he may have been murdered. Presenting a portrait of an increasingly fractured Icelandic society being contaminated by the influence of international criminal organisations, this series has much to recommend. Some impressive stuntwork also marks it out as a DVD well worth tracking down.


I Hunt Men

Trapped‘s Ólafur Darri Ólafsson plays a dishevelled detective partnered with a by-the-book officer. In the Westfjords of Iceland, a serial killer is targeting goose hunters. Adapted from Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson’s Daybreak, I Hunt Men is a cinematic thriller that showcases the beauty of Iceland’s natural scenery. Packed with twist-and-turns, it grips right up to the unexpected conclusion.


The Court

Icelandic TV’s first legal drama is a socially charged series that deftly vacillates between moments of intensity and quirky humour. Screenwriters Sigurjón Kjartansson (Trapped), Margrét Örnólfsdóttir, and Kristinn Thordarson intelligently play with expectations throughout the series. Balancing a judicious mix of plot and character driven moments, the writers have delivered an intriguing Nordic Noir filled with insights into the Icelandic legal system’s workings. Even-handed in it’s treatment of the judiciary, The Court focuses on crime’s emotional impact on victims and their families. See this before watching Walter Presents exemplary Case.


The Cliff

Prequel to Netflix’s The Lava Field. A Reykjavik detective is dispatched to assist the investigation into the death of a construction worker in a remote small town. Tapping into fears about hidden people interfering with building projects, this series plays out like an episode of The X-Files shot by John Ford.


The Press

A high-profile tabloid newspaper provides the backdrop for a snappily paced series that highlights the dangers journalists face when they expose criminality. Compelling and cautionary, the series takes a realistic approach as it takes the viewer on a frenzied whistle-stop tour of Reykjavik’s criminal underbelly and back to an ego-filled newsroom. Bjarne Henriksen (The Killing, Borgen, and Trapped) delivers a bed-wettingly terrifying performance as the second season’s villain.


The Night Shift

Icelandic TV’s crown jewel. Filled with pathos, this comedy of three misfits working the late shift in a petrol station is a perfect realisation of crushed dreams and lost souls. Making history as the first Icelandic series to be screened by BBC Four, it introduced British viewers to the man who would one day become Mayor of Reykjavik, Jón Gnarr. Two sequel series and a feature film continued the story of the shift workers. Perfectly cast, The Night Shift is peerless. Ranks alongside Hancock’s Half Hour, Fawlty Towers, and Father Ted as one of European TV’s all-time great comedies. is the place to visit for all your subtitled Icelandic DVDs

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DVD Review: The Code – The Complete Season Two


Explosive techno-thriller sees two brothers drawn into a web of political subterfuge and conspiracies.

Riffing on topical headlines, the second season of The Code is an urgent suspense-filled glimpse into the shadowy world of digital activists and corrupt private security firms. From Canberra’s corridors of power to West Papua’s lush jungles, the series delivers a hot and sweaty thrill-soaked ride which asks questions about how far government should be allowed to go in order to protect personal freedoms and national security in the Wikileaks age.

Trouncing its first season, The Code‘s politically-charged second series is top-loaded with a succession of intrigues; bullet-ridden bodies of Australian citizens are found in West Papua, the abduction of a child sparks fears he is being auctioned on a darknet chat room, and a notorious hacker is in the possession of an encrypted file that could plunge entire countries into a technological dark age. This cyber crime show doesn’t attempt to ignore that we now live in a post-Edward Snowden world and tackles head-on the thorny issue of hacktivists and the agenda of those trying to apprehend them.

Conceived as a one season show, the producers played all their creative cards in a single session not expecting Australian broadcaster ABC would commission a follow-up. As production progressed on the first batch of episodes the core creative team watched as the actors brought their characters to life the possibility was floated of continuing the story.

During early stages of pre-production revelations about Edward Snowden and the NSA began to appear in the press. Showrunner Shelley Birse sensed that state surveillance would be effective story material for the second outing.


Set shortly after events of the first season, Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) and Ned Banks (Dan Spielman) are confronted with the consequences of chaos they unleashed. As they prepare to bury their mother police officers arrive to notify them that an extradition order has been served. Facing the possibility of trial in an American court where sentencing will be far more severe Jesse and Ned agree to assist the Australian government in exchange for assurance that they will not be sent overseas.

Capricious hacktivist Jan Roth (Anthony LaPaglia ) is hosting an online bazaar on the darknet. Among the listings for illegal weapons, drugs, and political extremist ideologies is an auction for a missing teenager. The government is eager to track down the child before he is sold to a pedophile sex ring. Jesse’s services are secured to shut down the auction and trace the adolescent.

The Code truly takes flight after the teenager has been found. Other series might have made the abuduction and auction the central plot but here it’s a McGuffin to kickstart the story and draw our heroes back into action. The story shifts its focus in the final three episodes and launches towards its dramatic conclusion at breakneck speed. Have the authorities lied to Jesse? How far will they go to ensnare Jan Roth? In the battle to maintain digital security who polices the police?

Corporate, political, and national security power plays on a grand scale set against the backdrop of Canberra’s corridors and West Papua’s exotic landscape. This second outing for vulnerable but gifted hacker Jesse, journalist brother Ned,and girlfriend Hani (Adele Perovic) is filled with uncertainty and paranoia.

The Code – The Complete Season Two is available to order from Amazon.