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.


DVD Review: The Saboteurs


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.


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: Mammon – The Complete Season One

On New Years Day viewers in Norway settled down to watch the première of a brand new conspiracy thriller series possibly unaware that it had taken creators Vegard Stenberg Eriksen and Gjermund Eriksen nine years to bring their idea to the small screen. After several abortive attempts to attract interest in the project the decision to give the go-ahead for Mammon to enter production was made in 2010. Filming occurred between autumn 2011 and the summer of 2012 with a January 2014 transmission slot pencilled in by the Norwegian equivalent of the BBC, NRK.

The tenaciousness of the pair of creative siblings who birthed the show’s concept and then nursed it throughout every bumpy stage of the production process was suitably recompensed when the network gave it a prestigious slot at the dawn of a new broadcast season.

Long before the series aired a buzz about it had been building within the industry suggesting that here was what generations of creative professionals had been trying to create, a hit which would cross borders and possibly crack into the all-important English speaking market. Several months ahead of the première news broke that format rights had been sold to 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment. Momentum accelerated in the coming months following the announcement of the American remake as broadcasters across the globe expressed an interest in buying this dark and intense suspense-filled programme. By the second week of transmission, sales had been confirmed for Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Switzerland. That a UK network would buy Mammon was with hindsight inevitable but in a development which may have surprised some fans, the show found a home not with the traditional place for Scandinavian drama in Britain, BBC Four, but a new berth was offered by Channel 4 who immediately recognised the series’ high quality and wanted to bestow upon it the notable distinction of being the first ever foreign language series to air on its sister network More 4.

Published figures show that an average forty-eight percent of the Norwegian viewing population sat down each week to watch Mammon giving the network NRK its highest share of the audience in over a decade. This data was further bolstered with the addition of over a hundred thousand people who viewed it using catch up services, a not inconsiderable sum in the context of such a relatively sparsely populated country. An undeniable success in its homeland, Mammon arrived in the UK as fans were still mourning for the loss of Borgen and The Killing whilst at the same time feeling frustrated at having to wait for the third season on The Bridge. In short, the British audience has never before been more ravenous for fresh Nordic Noir and with Mammon fans have got the show they deserved.

Save for the American co-production Lilyhammer, Norway’s contribution to the blossoming of Norse TV was until recently scandalously under-represented leaving fans to construct an incomplete picture of the movement’s evolution. Barry Forshaw’s Pocket Essentials: Nordic Noir and Eva Novrup Redvall’s recently published Writing and Producing Television Drama in Denmark: From the Kingdom to The Killing validates claims that whilst our attentions were focused elsewhere Scandinavians were tearing up the rulebook and finding new ways to craft well written popular drama which would revolutionize the industry. Trailblazing at a frantic speed, their international competitors have been caught unawares and are left behind scrabbling around in the dust looking for series to remake or in the case of Broadchurch applying lessons learned from studiously analysing The Killing and The Bridge. The much-anticipated DVD release of Mammon affords fans the opportunity to finally recognize that Norway is capable of creating a sophisticated and adventurous bleak thriller that is equal to anything currently being made by its neighbours.


Inspired by All the Presidents Men, Three Days of the Condor, and the BBC series State of Play, Mammon is a tale of sibling rivalry told over the course of six days (with the exception of introductory and concluding sequences) which riffs on the turmoil wrought upon Norway by the global banking crisis. Fearless journalist Peter Verås (Jon Øigarden) works in an evening newspaper. An idealist, he clings to a form of press ethics that has become largely outmoded in an age where the industry faces the ever-present threat of irrelevancy due to social media and charges of moral bankruptcy as a consequence of the practices of a red top paper.

Haunted by guilt after writing a story about financial misdeeds that triggers his brother’s suicide Verås sifts through his records trying to discover the identity of the anonymous source who gave him the initial tip-off. The mystery takes an unexpected turn when it is revealed that the informant was his now deceased brother. Aided by a former member of the Financial Crimes division, Vibeke Haglund (Lena Kristin Ellingsen), Peter uncovers a murky conspiracy with tendrils infecting his own paper, political figures, the financial elite, and a business school.


Genre aware, Mammon is simultaneously familiar and strikingly original. Unashamedly brandishing its influences, the programme meshes high and popular culture. Not many mainstream drama series get to reference, Baudrillard, Kierkegaard, the Old Testament, and 1976 horror film The Omen. Over six episodes the screenplay plays mischievous games with viewers expectations and this spirit was present throughout the production as evidenced in a decision taken by the key creative team of writer, director, and producer not to tell the cast who was playing the villain until the final days of shooting. The absence of key information about characters motivations until very close to the end of principal photography created a palpable tension on set and ensured the actors were on the same voyage of discovery as the audience at home.

A Kane and Abel for an age that fetishizes wealth. Mammon casts a critical eye over capitalism and places Norway at the centre of a Greek tragedy in which the entire nation is enslaved by dark forces that operate without checks or balances. Intelligently directed, packed with breathtaking moments, this is a high-quality example of Nordic Noir so tense it will have fans chewing their fingers to the bone.

Mammon is available to order from Amazon.



Book Review: Nordic Noir by Barry Forshaw


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nordic Noir – The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV is published by Pocket Essentials.

Nordic Noir as a category

In the context of an article discussing the forthcoming latest televisual adaptation of Simenon’s literary Maigret texts, Tara Conlan classified the relatively recent televisual trend of broadcasting subtitled television programming to niche audiences as being part of a ‘Euro-crime invasion.’ Certainly, if one specifically focuses on the publication of literary texts a case may be made based on an analysis of sales figures, accompanied by other investigative methodology, to demonstrate that the distribution of Scandinavian crime fiction over the last decade within the UK and Ireland has resulted in an increased audience awareness of cultural, subcultural and geographic factors that are specific to the Nordic condition. However, with regards televisual texts, to talk of Scandinavian programming in the context of an ‘invasion’ is deeply problematic and raises several significant issues, most notably due to the connotations attached to this term as it implies a displacement and/or eradication of the indigenous form. That a number of televisual and filmic texts have not only been imported and broadcast on free to air networks but have also found an audience in quantitative terms and audiences with regards to qualitative approaches of classification is a potential area of enquiry for the rapidly emerging discipline of Fan Studies. The promotion of said texts by various international embassies is also an interesting development particularly in terms of the legitimization of popular culture artefacts and their corresponding fandoms.

BBC Four’s limited financial resources and available slots has resulted in a very narrow sample of televisual texts being available via broadcast platforms although Arrow Films and other DVD distributors have announced several titles for 2013 release which are not presently scheduled to be carried by any UK based free to air broadcaster. In terms of generic classification/codification Nordic Noir may be fluid and consequently, with each new text the parameters are redefined. The inclusion of Lilyhammer, for instance, suggests that the generic form may now be sufficiently defined for it’s audience to appreciate parody. Also, BBC Four’s transmission of Icelandic series Næturvaktin (The Night Shift) whilst marketed by the broadcaster as comedy has been classified by several fans on assorted forums as being a Nordic Noir text. Have we now reached a point where the term Nordic Noir is simultaneously meaningful and meaningless? Is the term now an intersection which facilitates a struggle between audience and institution over ownership of generic boundaries?

As we, the viewing audience, ready ourselves to engage with the final season of Forbrydelsen the object of our fandom is analysed in press commentary, promotional materials, and user generated content such as forum postings and blog entries. The Irish Independent has published an article which debates potential sources of viewing pleasure for Nordic Noir programming, forms of cultural identification, and associated motivational factors with regards audience loyalty. Another example of institutional discourse being made available to the fan community is the well researched booklet that Arrow Films has distributed alongside several of its titles, this text contains a narrative account of the development by Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen of Nordic Noir as a literary genre that emerged in response to generic developments in other territories and as a consequence of social and political developments within the post war Scandinavian cultural context. Stougaard-Nielsen also addresses cinematic and televisual developments. Furthermore, Arrow Films booklet announces several titles which will be released in the UK and Ireland in 2013; Anno 1790, The Eagle, The Protectors, Unit One and Van Veeteren. With the release of each title the boundaries of what constitutes Nordic Noir could conceivably shift/expand. Through the utilisation of social networking and via the film club that enables distributor to directly interact with the consumer within a physical setting Arrow Films has engaged with its fanbase and it will be interesting to see how audience conceptions of the generic category impact upon the release strategy and optioning of further texts for UK and Ireland release.

Tara Conlan’s article on Maigret can be read here; http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/oct/16/maigret-return-tv

The Irish Independent’s article on Nordic Noir can be read here;


For those interested in reading further about the formation and maintenance of Nordic Noir as a genre Vicky Albritton’s well researched blog contains many articles which debate individual texts, key generic, social and historical developments;


TV Review: Lilyhammer


Aware that an audience exists for foreign language programming BBC Acquisitions has cast its net far and wide in the hope to build on the ratings success of The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge but with its latest purchase Lilyhammer viewer loyalty may be tested to its limits.

At the time of writing a transmission slot for the programme has yet to be formally announced and to avoid spoiling viewer appreciation this blog shall primarily refer to the pilot episode although events in later episodes will be loosely referenced.

The series is a joint production between Norwegian broadcaster NRK1 and the American online content provider Netflix. Interestingly, subscribers to the American version of Netflix are able to access all eight episodes thus we may perhaps be entering into a new paradigm shift with regards the production and consumption of televisual texts, one in which the week-long interlude between segments is eroded by online broadcasters emulating the experience of consuming a DVD boxset.


Lilyhammer is a comedy-drama which knowingly and playfully recycles the tropes of the American gangster genre within a ‘fish out of water’ narrative. The approach taken by the producers is not new and was previously undertaken by the French-Canadian filmic text Crime Spree and whilst that movie is relatively obscure the similarity in tone, obviousness of the humour and predictability of the narrative’s arc suggests that British audience may lose patience with the show long before the eighth episode is screened.

To non-music aficionados, Steven Van Zandt may be most recognizable for his role of Silvio Dante in The Sopranos. As Silvio Dante Van Zandt would frequently invoke other filmic and televisual gangster texts and his casting in Lilyhammer acknowledges and accentuates the intersection of assorted archetypes which the audience may draw upon when engaging with the transmitted artifact. In this series, he portrays a gangster known as Frankie “The Fixer” Tagliano who is forced to enter into the Witness Protection Programme and relocates to Lillehammer, Norway.


The series opens at the funeral for a leading member of the American Mafia. As is the norm within this subgenre the proceedings are held in a Chapel of Rest, gangsters hold court within proximity of an open casket coffin and through clunky expositional dialogue, we learn of the backstory, current group dynamics, and potential sources of narrative disequilibrium. The viewer will, inevitably, feel that s/he has seen this before many times and that is the key to the scene and the text, as a series. Depending on one’s viewpoint the over-familiarity of (sub) generic codes employed either affords the producer to construct a postmodern text which recycles tropes for the purposes of social and cultural commentary or signifies an alarming sense of derivativeness which is worthy of significant critical scorn and the employment of the tv remote in the quest for better programming than this drivel.

Following a bungled assassination attempt Frankie agrees to enter into the Witness Protection Programme on the basis that he is relocated to Lillehammer having been impressed with televisual footage of the area whilst watching the 1994 Winter Olympics and with this clumsy set up the producers yet again ram home the point that this is a series which plays upon media representations and referentially. Having relocated to Norway under the assumed name of Giovanni Henriksson, Frankie swiftly becomes proficient in the language despite spending much of the pilot listening to an instructional CD.


Scenes frequently switch from English to Norwegian in a dramatically implausible manner which is no doubt an attempt to cater for the two producers and their respective audiences. Whenever this occurs I find myself experiencing a level of disbelief that I haven’t encountered since the BBC canceled Eldorado.

After the expositional cold open the series firmly begins with a scene set on a train which is designed to introduce several characters that viewers will come to know more fully over the following weeks and show Frankie’s dramatic and comedic strength. Riffing off a similar sequence in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Frankie remonstrates with anti-social behaviour displayed by youths and wins the tacit approval of the woman who will become his love interest and an elder male who will assist in ensuring Frankie is not convicted of an offence by the end of the episode. This early sequence demonstrates that the set-ups are far too obvious but viewers may gain pleasure from the text’s predictability.


By the end of the pilot, Frankie has managed to become the owner of a local nightclub, infuriate the local police and embark upon a relationship whilst simultaneously corrupting the fabric of Lillehammer’s society. By the end of the series, he manages to make the Chief of Police an accessory, after the fact, in a murder and on one reading this may just be the comic extrapolation of the archetypes dramatic potential. Alternatively, this may be a televisual discourse coded within a popular generic form that transmits the message that immigration is bad for Norwegian society.

My reading of the text increasingly became sensitive to the deeply problematic racial stereotyping employed particularly in scenes where the immigrant population were being forced to assimilate but were represented as being harmful to community cohesion and the impartiality of Norwegian public services.

Netflix and NRK1 have expressed their support for the series through the commissioning of a further season which is due to start filming when Van Zandt’s commitments for Bruce Springsteen’s tour come to an end.

I can only hope that BBC Four decides to invest its money elsewhere and drops this turkey from its schedules.