DVD Review: Seaside Hotel – Season One (Badehotellet)

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A period drama starring The Killing‘s Bjarne Henriksen has become an unexpected hit, proving that Danish TV has more to offer than a continuous stream of crime shows.

Series creators Hanna Lundblad and Stig Thorsboe worked on Krøniken (Better Times), a mid-noughties programme that focused on two families alongside the development of Danish broadcasting up until the 1970s. Keen to work on another historical based show they drew inspiration from the UK drama Upstairs Downstairs. The pair decided to use the setting of a beach hotel after reading a newspaper article about coastal resorts during the interwar period.

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Planned to run for five seasons, Seaside Hotel is a Downtown Abbey style show that mixes romance, tragedy and comedy as it follows the lives of the affluent and serving classes from 1928 through to 1932. From the giddy heights of the Jazz Age to the depths of the Great Depression, the personal lives of staff and tourists are transformed by events far beyond Denmark’s borders.

During the Summer of 1928, Europe was still healing after the trauma of World War 1. Within a year the world would face a financial crisis that paved the way for a second global conflict. In the first season, a group of holidaymakers descend on a northern coastal resort seemingly intoxicated by misguided beliefs in a future free of conflict. Oblivious to the forces that would soon change their lives the wealthy patrons of this resort celebrate their holidays with reckless abandon.

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Deliberately paralleling the current economic crisis with events from eighty-nine years ago the screenwriters are discretely commentating on the profligacy and inequalities that brought misery to millions and allowed extremist beliefs to flourish.

Meticulous in attention to detail, costume and set designers have taken great care in recreating the golden age of seaside hotels. Unable to find an existing hotel which would be available for many months of filming the producers constructed a detailed exterior set in a field. With the addition of some sand dunes and computer generated imagery, a highly effective illusion was created convincing viewers that they had been transported to a real seaside hotel.

A significant gamble by its broadcast network, DR. Seaside Hotel represents an attempt to broaden the range of home grown series and demonstrate that Denmark has more to offer than Nordic Noir.

Seen by 57 percent of the Danish TV audience, at the time of writing work has begun on the fifth and final series. Subtitled versions of the first two seasons are available on DVD.

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Each series focuses on the characters’ lives in a specific year. Tonally very different from Matador, this version of Danish history mixes broad comedy with moments of intimate tragedy. Through the prism of the past, the writers provide a subtle commentary which suggests we have not learnt from the past mistakes of history.

Scrupulously researched, Seaside Hotel is a brilliantly sketched account of false optimism. This warm, witty, and moving series is worth tracking down.

Seaside Hotel – Season One is available to order from Amazon


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DVD Review – Matador Kollektionen 1929-1947

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For a generation, Matador is the most fondly remembered series on Danish television. A generously budgeted period drama that followed the lives of people in the fictional town of Korsbæk between 1929 and 1947. Against a backdrop of rivalries and class conflict , the series dramatized key moments of national history that were still within living history.

Taking its name from the Danish version of the board game Monopoly, Matador was created by Lise Nørgaard. A journalist and novelist in addition to a screenwriter, she drew from her own experiences of living through The Great Depression wartime occupation to create a show loosely inspired by the British series Upstairs Downstairs. The template of a relatively self contained community adjusting to changes in society against the backdrop of turbulent historical episodes has recently been dusted down and used in Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel) with press and the public commenting on the parallels between the two series.

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Travelling salesman Mads Andersen-Skjern (Jørgen Buckhøj) arrives in Korsbæk with his son and soon sees scope to expand his business interests. A rigid social order and refusal to embrace social and economic opportunities has left the town looking like a relic from the nineteenth century. Andersen-Skjern’s plans for a new clothes shop stocking the latest lines is seen as a threat to the town’s traditions. Local banker, Hans Christian Varnæs (Holger Juul Hansen) refusal to finance the venture ignites a fued which will span decades and force friends and family members to choose sides.

Denied funds to establish a new emporium the merchant refuses to be beaten by this rejection and strengthens his resolve to secure financing for this venture.

Tradition and family loyalty are challenged by modernity alongside the threats of wider social and political changes in the wake of the Wall Street Crash and war in Europe.

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Despite only running for twenty four episodes, the series continues to resonate in contemporary Danish society. An estimated one in four Danish viewers is reported to have watched at least two repeat screenings. In 2011 the thirtieth anniversary of the series’ launch was marked by the publication of a book covering every every conceivable detail of the production history and packed with reminiscences from cast members. This was followed by an exhibition of surviving props and costumes by Film Nordisk.

Prior to the launch of a repeat in the spring of 2012 it was revealed that DVD sales were in the region of 3.6 million. Despite the success of VHS and DVD releases, forty per cent of the nation were willing to tune in and catch the seventh airing for this chronicle of key moments in recent Danish history. This rerun proved so popular the main rival station hastily rescheduled its flagship programming to avoid being annihilated in the ratings.

With each repeat Matador gains a new generation of fans who are possibly able to connect stories told by their grandparents with plot-lines or set-pieces. This tale of class conflict and modern Denmark’s birth pangs continues to provide comfort for fans of nostalgia and unites the nation with each transmission.

A subtitled DVD is available to order from Amazon.

DVD Review: Follow The Money – The Complete Season Two

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Second season of the corporate drama proves that even Nordic Noir can have an off moment.

As the closing credits rolled on Follow the Money‘s first season it seemed that the story had reached its natural conclusion. Energreen’s CEO Alexander Sødergren may have been able to evade the forces of law and order in his Brazilian hideout but was unable to avoid the wrath of the firm’s chairman, Knud Christensen.

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Picking up events 18 months after Sødergren’s assassination, Follow the Money’s second season stumbles at the starting block and never recovers. The first series managed to finds its unsteady feet after an opening episode which committed the cardinal sin of hitting the viewer with too much exposition. Problems already evident in the first season are magnified in this second outing. Never recovering from an implausible opening episode which sets up a succession of improbable alliances this sophomore outing is a surprising misfire from DR’s drama department.

A brave but ultimately doomed attempt to fuse the visceral thrills of a crime series with an exploration of corporate malfeasance. Follow the Money is occasionally thrilling but mostly infuriating.

Lacking the depth of shows from Nordic Noir’s golden period, it’s a bland attempt to rehash the limited successes of a failed format. A tolerance for clumsy dialogue and an unhealthy suspension of disbelief are required to sit through Follow the Money.

Follow The Money – The Complete Season Two is available to order from Amazon

 

DVD Review: Follow The Money – The Complete Season One

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Nordic drama exposes corporate corruption.

Is greed good? Gordon Gekko’s infamous speech in the 1987 movie Wall Street made a case for the pursuit of corporate self-interest. After the devastating effects of the global economic crash corporate raiders pursuing fast profits were seen as sharp-suited vultures who had wrecked lives and saddled future generations with insurmountable debt. Taking the financial services industry to task, Follow the Money looks at the drive to green-light renewable energy projects and dares to investigate the legitimacy of its funding.

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Inspired by The Wire, Follow the Money is a flawed exploration of fraud and its consequences. Ambitious in scope, the series endeavours to offers a sprawling, intelligent, and shocking expose of crooked deals and cold-hearted morality but is occasionally crushed by a lack of focus. Attempting to prove that something is rotten in the state of Denmark Follow the Money‘s novelistic approach occasionally misfires. A brave experiment? Sign that Nordic drama is in transition? Signal that the well is starting to run dry? Far removed from the creative heights of The Bridge or The Killing, the series is a predictable schedule-filler.

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With a continent still reeling from the aftershocks of the 2008 crash a drama exposing the practices which brought the world to its knees should have been a recipe for riveting television. Starting with the death of a windshore turbine engineer Follow the Money‘s opening episode is a spectacular misfire. Teetering on the tightrope to failure it tosses in familiar, all-too-familiar, elements of more accomplished Nordic Noir series before loading the opening episode with too many characters and far too much plot. While later episodes settle into a more relaxed pattern it may be too late for viewers that have already pressed eject on their remote and decided to watch something else.

Follow The Money – The Complete Season One is available to order from Amazon

DVD Review: The Saboteurs

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An epic recreation of one of World War Two’s most significant acts of sabotage.

Previously filmed as Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water and The Heroes of Telemark, The Saboteurs is a balanced re-telling of the Nazi regime’s attempts to be first in the race to create nuclear weaponry and the daring efforts of Norwegian troops to destroy a plant being used to create fission material. A supremely well-crafted series brings to the screen a turning point in the war and places events in historical context.

The Norsk Hydro plant in Telemark, Norway, had been producing heavy water in large quantities since 1934. At the outbreak of hostilities, an arrangement was in place to supply the French government with heavy water for the duration of the conflict. After Nazi occupation supplies were commandeered and sent to Germany where they were used by scientists in experiments to create the first atomic bomb.

Allied governments suspected that Germany was trying to create a nuclear weapon and that heavy water may be a core ingredient in the process. Destroying the plant could change the course of the war.

Perched atop an icy ravine, the plant was protected by several layers of concrete and armed guards. To reach the facility the saboteurs had to cross a frozen river and climb a gorge. Senior officers doubted that the raid would be successful. KAMPEN_OM_TUNGTVANNETBreaking viewing records, The Saboteurs achieved the highest ratings this century when it was screened in Norway. 1.7 million viewers tuned into the series (the country’s population is 5.1 million).

Eschewing the triumphalist “boys own” tone employed by previous adaptations the series presents people on both sides of the conflict as complex emotionally driven individuals wrestling with moral dilemmas. Screenwriter Petter S. Rosenlund and Director Per-Olav Sørensen have produced a tense series that trounces all previous attempts to dramatize the mission.

Deep in the heat of Germany’s war machine, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg (Christoph Bach) conducts experiments to build the first atomic bomb. His superiors are convinced that this weapon will ensure Germany is victorious. Heisenberg requires heavy water to control nuclear fission.

Following Germany’s occupation of Norway chemistry professor Leif Tronstad (Espen Klouman-Høiner) flees to London and makes contact with Military Intelligence. Working alongside Colonel John Wilson (Pip Torrens) and Captain Julie Smith (Anna Friel), Leif plans a sabotage mission.

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Several changes have been made to the story for dramatic purposes. The on-screen director of Norsk Hydro is a fictional creation that amalgamates several figures. When Leif arrived in London he was not met by Captain Julie Smith (Anna Friel). Records show that no female officer was involved in planning the mission.

Undoubtedly the definitive screen version of the mission. Per-Olav Sørensen’s cinematic direction offers up a succession of breathtaking set pieces which highlights the human drama and .communicates the dangers faced by troops as they attempted to cross a treacherous snow-covered mountainous landscape.

A fitting tribute to the real-life heroes of Telemark. The Saboteurs is a complex slow-burning drama that attempts to understand what motivated each side in this conflict.

The Saboteurs is available to order from Amazon.

DVD Review: The Spider

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A host of familiar faces star in an impressive post-war noir mystery series.

In 1949 Denmark was a traumatised nation unable to conceal the visible scars of a brutal occupation by Nazi forces that had killed over 3,000 people. Liberation ushered in an era of shortages and rationing. Struggling to rebuild its infrastructures, the fragile government appeared to be impotent when confronted with the black market economy.

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Left-leaning journalist Bjarne Maden (Jakob Cedergren) is an idealist eager to forge a career as a crime reporter. Unwavering in his belief in the press’ power to effect significant social change he covers stories which highlight cracks in the battered country’s system. Son of a noted union leader he uses the printed word to continue his father’s work standing up for the marginalised and persecuted. Championing social justice, Bjarne is striving to craft a new Denmark untainted by criminality.

A tip-off about organised crime leads the intrepid reporter on a trail which uncovers a web corruption that infects the upper stratums of society. Ignoring cautionary advice from the newspaper’s senior crime writer, Bjarne embarks on a self-appointed crusade to expose the toxic tendrils of lawlessness contaminating Copenhagen and bring the criminals to task.

Although the process of rebuilding Denmark is underway, the country remains divided along lines fought during the war. Bjarne’s brother Ole (Lars Mikkelsen) returns to Copenhagen. after several years in America. Enthused by time spent living in New York and flush with dollars he plans to open a jazz club. Ole’s reinvention is viewed with suspicion by those who are unable to forgive him for being a Nazi sympathiser during the occupation.

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First broadcast in 2000, The Spider is loosely based on the true story of journalists Anders B. Norgaard and Poul Dalgaard’s dogged attempts to expose a criminal network and highlight the police’s complicity in a black market economy built on smuggling, stolen goods, drugs, and prostitution.

Bjarne Henriksen is perfectly cast as an ice-cool racketeer who controls the crime syndicate with an iron glove. A Danish Al Capone type figure based on the real-life criminal Svend Aage Hasselstrøm who rose to prominence during World War Two and maintained a vice-like grip on Copenhagen’s underworld for eight years.

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An era of lawlessness and crushed hopes is meticulously recreated in a multi-layered and engrossing high-quality series that traces Denmark’s attempts to expunge the corruption which threatened to strangle the post-war administration.

Director Ole Christan Madsen’s affection for Film Noirs shines through in an exemplary production which doffs a fedora to classic crime films of the 1940s and ’50s. Cinematography, costuming and set design work in tandem to create the sense of a time when gangsters held entire cities under their command.

Complex and engaging, The Spider is an arresting drama packed with an array of now well-known Scandinavian actors at the top of their game.

The Spider is available to order from Amazon.

 

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 is available to buy from Amazon.