DR’s Head of Drama, Piv Bernth talks about lessons learnt from The Killing and future projects.
Regular viewers of BBC Four’s Saturday evening foreign language slot may have become accustomed to deferral with regards the resolution of whatever drama they might be enjoying at any particular moment. Knowing that they might have to watch ten hours of television to finally learn who perpetrated a particular crime and the motive behind such a heinous act, the committed viewer might consider the several weeks spent watching various stages of the police’s investigation to be one element that contributes to their overall appreciation of the show. Piecing together various clues contained within the narrative over a prolonged period of time the viewer may try to predict the eventual outcome ahead of the series’ detectives and at the end express delight at getting it right, frustration due to being utterly wrong, or simultaneously being stunned and ecstatic over an unexpected twist that took the conclusion in a totally unexpected direction thereby rendering all forecasts invalid. Furthermore, this specific mode of seriality is enjoyed by active enthusiasts who engage in regular fan based online communication as competing perspectives on plot points and character actions are shared, and discussed. That BBC Four’s current series Arne Dahl‘s narrative disequilibriums are resolved within the space of two Saturdays as opposed to several weeks creates a very different viewing dynamic. The series is comprised of five two part stories as opposed to a lengthy serial narrative thus enabling the audience to dip and out whenever she or he wishes to do so without the fear that not seeing a couple of editions will make it very hard to comprehend what might occur in later segments. Every second Saturday becomes a first night in terms of story and the potential for a different relationship between show and audience is an interesting development, rather than maintain a consistent core group of viewers what might happen is that new and curious spectators sample fresh storylines whilst others might withdraw until the next one.
The commencement of a second story, Bad Blood, sourced from a novel originally entitled Ont blod facilitates us being able to compare it to the previous two parter in order to evaluate a number of factors including, but not exclusively, possible tropes which might be specific to this series, development of character arcs, changes in tonal quality, and improvements in the overall quality. Additional episodes may confirm any observations made or subvert all previously held assumptions so on that basis critical commentary concerning the series, as opposed to individual segments, is provisional due to it being too early in the run to make any prescriptive statements.
It might perhaps be unfair to compare Arne Dahl to Danish series on a like-for-like basis due to country specific broadcasting factors and cultural cues that have given this series its distinctive stylistic signature so wherever possible I attempt to resist the temptation to refer to other series which have been transmitted by BBC Four or released on DVD by Arrow Films.
Adapted for television by SVT, the Swedish company that brought The Bridge to our screens and who will soon become the source of much praise when the excellent Anno 1790 and Real Humans are released on DVD in the UK, Arne Dahl has arrived on our shores having proven to be the most successful property that we had never heard of until a few weeks ago. Some 2.5 million books have been sold in Europe and this figure will no doubt be enhanced now that Vintage have begun issuing English language translations. The profile of the TV series and range of books the author may be increased following the author’s forthcoming tour of selected the UK and Irish book stores. .
With each subsequent episode we become better acquainted with this series and assumptions based on pre-transmission publicity are constantly being modified by the new narrative information enabling us able to accept it on its own terms, rather than in comparison to any other series, and find elements that are pleasing.
The first part of the second story, Bad Blood, has a darker texture than that of The Blinded Man. Having introduced the A-group in the previous two-parter and established its modus operandi, team members, their specific skills, whilst giving tantalising glimpses of how they will interact with each other the new scenario benefits from not being burdened with having to perform scene setting and selling thereby enabling the writer to open this edition assured that the overall story-world has been successfully communicated.
This episode is packed with incident and a number of enigmas that playfully invites the viewer to see how these separate elements are connected. The script is one part Chinese puzzle and other part cat’s cradle. It throws up several scenarios each of which could conceivably be the sole basis for a book or movie but here they merge, separate and conflict at various points, often simultaneously. Deferral, as a form of pleasure is intertwined with the exhilarating thrill of watching whatever action is happening at any give moment. Trying to figure out how each event will be resolved in the next episode and ways an individual plot element might be knitted into the killer’s motivation is something this series encourages.
Acting on a tip off from an FBI operative, Jenny Hultin and the members of A-group race to Arlanda Airport aware that a serial killer may be en route to Sweden from Newark, New Jersey. Boarding the plane could create a hostage scenario and lead to unnecessary death so Hultin makes a judgement call, allowing passengers to disembark as normal hoping that this will not alarm the killer. Closing a busy airport for the purpose of apprehending a suspect is not an option in this instance as the team has scant information about the killer’s identity and physical appearance so the only available option is to patrol the arrival area scanning for any signs of suspicious information until the FBI provides more a detailed description of the suspect.
Reprising a motif from The Blinded Man, criminality is imported into Sweden necessitating cross boarder multi-agency co-operation and causing the series’ budgeting department to have serious headaches over how to arrange the finances to balance the budget so that the filming schedule includes some overseas filming. Last time we were taken to Estonia and now the audience, along with Jenny Hutlin, is taken on a whistle stop tour of New York. It would have been very easy for the director to redress some European streets but the producers have decided, possibly with an eye on American sales, that a trip to the U.S.A. is a worthwhile investment and it gives off the impression that the creative team behind this series have absolute faith in the novel they are adapting and believe having a character walking against a green screened composite would sabotage any attempts at convincing the audience this is a translation into a different medium that respects the originating novel.
The New York based sequences continues the adoption of Americana which was a an important element in the preceding story, specifically, though not exclusively, through the use of diagetic and non-diagetic music. Confident that viewers are visually literate in terms of identifying cinematic and TV reference points the soundtrack designer has thrown in some mournful jazz chords which alongside visual nods to The Sopranos and William Friedkin’s The French Connection celebrates the city’s rich heritage in terms of crime fiction and rewards those who pick up on these Easter Eggs.
The gruesome methodology applied by the killer and how it is represented on camera might be another occasion in which themes thus far present in each episode are applied to both protagonists and antagonists; penetration and religiosity. David Fincher’s Se7en provided a template for exploring and representing of serial killer activity and both Jan Arnald/Arne Dahl’s text and the director refer back to it at selected moments.
In addition to the primary plot, individual members of the A-group are fleshed out and it is here that we finally get to know them as characters as opposed to cyphers. Their dreams, whether realized or thwarted are slowly being revealed to us in terms of professional and personal decisions they have made over the years and how this has impacted upon where they are at this precise moment .
Now that this series is starting to emerge from the shadows of other series aired in this slot on BBC Four it’s with this third episode I am finally sold on the emotional and investigative journey that the A-group will travel on over the coming weeks and am very keen to see the remaining seven episodes and acquire the books as English language editions become available over the next few months. If the author is reading this, please give the cleaner his own show.
Arne Dahl will shortly be released on DVD;
The book of Bad Blood is available from Amazon and all other booksellers;
Tickets are still available for Jan Arnald/Arne Dahl’s appearance at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones;
As an experiment this review has been written whilst the episode aired on BBC4. Aside from proofreading to edit any grammatical errors no further changes have been made to the content.
Although his published credits dates back to 1990, it is with the 1998 printing of Misterioso that Jan Arnald embarked upon a critically and commercially successful career as a crime novelist which would run in parallel with his literary criticism and journalistic output. The use of multiple identities (Jan Arnold and the pseudonym Arne Dahl) is not a secret known only to a privileged few within media circles but enables the author and his publisher to issue titles to specific audiences without fear that a fan of one specific mode of writing will not feel aggrieved should they accidentally purchase a title that they would not ordinarily consider reading.
It is under the pen name Arne Dahl that Arnald has enjoyed his most significant marketplace penetration. Over a ten year period Arnald authored a series of crime novels about a division within CID that is alternatively referred to as the A team or Intercrime. Individual members of this team are recruited on the basis of research specialisms, career record, and biographical information which may be pertinent to a specific investigation. Whilst Arnald’s Intercrime novels have already been translated into several languages, including English, a set of new editions is to shortly be issued at regular intervals via Vintage Books. Am unable to ascertain if the reprints will employ the same translation as previous editions or if the publisher has commissioned a fresh conversion. However, in line with the TV adaptations that have been brought to us courtesy of the BBC and Arrow Films the first book, Misterioso, has been rebranded as The Blinded Man. Although ten books were written as part of Arnald’s Intecrime series this TV adaptation is sourced from the first five. Each book is spread across two ninety minute episodes. That the source of narrative tension is resolved within the space of three hours creates a very different viewing dynamic to that which enthusiasts have reported experiencing when watching The Killing or The Bridge but alternatively might facilitate new modes of appreciation amongst fans of Nordic TV.
The Intercrime division is tasked with investigating new breeds of criminality that have emerged in Sweden since the assassination of Olef Palme. In terms of lawlessness as a social development, the ever changing relationship with former Soviet states with regards judicial courses of action and the ease with which relaxed borders enable the importation of illegal practices is a central theme found in many examples of contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction and due to the nature of the illegal activity contained in this opening episode its inclusion is simultaneously inevitable, edifying, and gratifying.
A serial killer is targeting wealthy businessmen and in this première installment the police must gather evidence to ascertain any potential connections between the deceased, prevent further murders from taking place, explore all possible motives that might have triggered this wave of assassinations, and catch the executioner. Although billed as a series revolving around an ensemble cast, the first episode primarily focuses on Paul Hjelm (Shanti Roney), a police officer whose entire career is jeopardized when he implements what he feels is to be a socially responsible method of ending a hostage crises. One that enables the captor to live, albeit wounded by gunshot, and for his family to evade deportation. Whilst being interviewed by an internal investigation team he is head-hunted by Jenny Hultin (Irene Lindl) on the basis of his previous exemplary career record. The appointment to the A-team is provisional and Hjelm is warned that it might be terminated at any moment should the internal investigation find he is guilty of unprofessional conduct. As is the norm with TV detectives Hjelm’s devotion to upholding the law means his private life suffers. He displays a highly developed level of sympathy when interviewing the surviving victim of a sexual attack and later on when encountering the grief deranged brother of another victim who was so traumatized by the experience that she took her own life. This ability to empathize with others and alleviate their distress doesn’t translate into the home context. Hjelm’s life partner is made to worry unnecessarily about his career for several hours due to his not accepting her telephone calls.
Although Hjelm is the primary identification figure that enables the viewer to access the fictional world contained within the narrative biographical information concerning other members of the team is relayed primarily in the form of dramatic action as opposed to expository dialogue. For instance, the precarious balance between domestic and professional duties is exemplified in a scene in which Arto Söderstedt (Niklas Åkerfelt) is eager to reach his workplace but in attempting to deliver his children to the school he manages to drive off leaving a son behind.
In the latter moments of the episode the televisual canvas broadens as Viggo Norlander (Claes Ljungmark) travels to Talinn, Estonia to investigate a potential lead concerning a Russian mafia organization. In the final minutes of this sequence the occasional references to mythological belief systems that have up until now been loosely threaded suddenly function as foreshadowing. in the course of ninety minutes we’ve been treated to explanations of various elements of historical Nordic belief systems and the episode closes with a re-enactment of the crucifixion narrative paralleled with a team member engaged in a worshipful act, choir singing.
Within a very packed ninety minutes this first episode covers a tremendous amount of story information. A number of tropes present in other Nordic Noir shows we have seen over the last few years are present; threats against the feminine, distaste for excessive capitalism, issues surrounding immigration, and policing as destructive to the family unit. However, at present aside from Hjelm I’m left with a nagging feeling that I don’t know the other characters well enough to sympathize with them but this may change in the coming weeks as I get better acquainted with Arnald’s fictional world.
Arne Dahl is available to pre-order on DVD:
The book of The Blinded Man is available to buy from Amazon and all other booksellers;
For further information on Arne Dahl and Scandinavian fiction Barry Forshaw’s book Nordic Noir – Pocket Essentials is the best place to start;
Arrow Film’s recent releases of Unit One and Above the Street, Below the Water have been enthusiastically received by a voracious fanbase that is always happy to receive new shows but until 2013 had to make do with a strictly administered ration of content. The logistical hurdles involved in obtaining a licence to release series for the UK and Irish DVD market were such that it might not have made commercial sense to embark on a strategy of issuing titles from Scandinavia’s untapped mine of high quality back catalogue TV shows until now. Secure in the knowledge that sales are strong enough to justify bringing a series to our shores, Arrow Films continues its expansion of the Nordic Noir range with its latest title The Protectors.
First screened in 2009, The Protectors is an incredibly popular series in Denmark where it is known as Livagterne. Recognition and appreciation of the astounding level of craft displayed throughout this series has spread far beyond Scandinavia and in 2009 this production was recognized by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences who awarded it the International Emmy Award for best non American television drama series.
Created by Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe, The Protectors is, alongside Unit One and The Eagle (coming to DVD later this year), part of a thematic trilogy exploring differing dimensions of criminality and the moral imperatives which compels some people to act in such a socially destructive manner whilst others may experience a similar emotional trauma but will continue to be law abiding, and socially productive citizens.
The Protectors is a series set within the Danish police’s bodyguard unit (P.E.T.). Members of this unit provide protection to the Danish political elite, royal family, visiting foreign dignitaries, and influential figures within the public and private sectors. In addition to providing round the clock security, the bodyguards within this elite team must be impartial in political matters, make huge sacrifices in terms of social commitments, and be prepared to suffer a potentially fatal injury in the line of duty. Those wishing to join must undergo an intense selection process that rejects the majority of applicants. Decisions made by PE.T. employees have to be made in an instant, often amidst frenzied chaos and that judgement call may save lives or end them so the recruitment process is designed to find those who have the elusive requirements needed to work within the unit.
Jasmina (Cecilie Stenspil), Jonas (Søren Vejby), and Ramus (André Babikian) are three recruits who are swiftly plucked from the training camp and placed on active duty when a father tormented by grief is hell bent on assassinating a government minister. The class room, gymnasium, and obstacle course are supplanted by an urban landscape which provides excellent cover for a new breed of extremist.
The three new members of the unit swiftly form a strong professional and personal relationship despite their differing backgrounds and this is in direct contrast to criticisms of cultural erosion expressed by family members and those whom are intent upon destroying modern Danish society. Central to The Protectors is the justly held belief that modern multicultural societies are a positive development that should be preserved at all costs.
This is a high octane series that thanks to some incredibly sophisticated writing manages to explore the present state of Danish society, the country’s role within international affairs, and how the media report scandal. The fluid direction embellishes what is already a breathtaking show and the use of aerial photography ensures that Denmark looks sexier than ever.
Fans who like to indulge in a bit of “actor spotting” will be in seventh heaven for not only does The Bridge‘s .Ellen Hillingsø appear as a series regular but several other familiar faces feature prominently in various episodes including a key member of the Borgen cast who plays a radicalised Muslim.
The Protectors is available to buy from Amazon;
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 sub genre 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 available to buy from Amazon:
On a February night in 1986 the Swedish Prime Minister and his wife were walking home, without bodyguard protection, after seeing a film at a cinema when a lone gunman appeared. Olof Palme was fatally wounded and at the time of writing no one has been successfully convicted for his assassination.
To coincide with the twenty-seventh anniversary of Palme’s murder Swedish police launched a helpline that members of the public could phone if they had any information which would help in the ongoing criminal investigation. Early estimates suggest that at least a hundred calls were made and some new facts were presented to the police but it remains too soon to state with any certainty if this will result in any arrests being made.
With death Palme becomes an ever present presence in the modern Swedish consciousness, a proverbial ghost always seated at the table. In tandem with an appreciation of his political legacy, his supporters and detractors have speculated on what he might have achieved had be not been slain. In his lifetime he was a prominent figure within the European Social Democrat movement and recognition of his achievements continues to the present day, not just in Sweden as exemplified by Ed Milliband’s recent reappraisal of Palme; “He was an extraordinary leader, an incredibly successful leader of Sweden. Someone who gave a huge inspiration to so many Social Democrats not just around Europe, but around the world, with an incredible vision of a more equitable society, a more equitable form of capitalism. He is an inspiration for us in Britain.”
Without an arrest or a known motive, a plethora of conspiracy theories about who was responsible for the killing have been discussed, analysed, and contested in ordinary day-to-day conversation and within books, films, radio, and TV programming. Adding to the debate of possible institutional complicity is SVT’s 2013 adaptation of Leif G. W. Persson’s trilogy; Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s Cold, Another Time, Another Life, and Falling Freely, as in a Dream.
Starring Rolf Lassgård, En pilgrims död is a four part mini-series directed by Kristian Petri and Kristoffer Nyholm from a screenplay by Sara Heldt and Johan Widerberg. The series is set within two time periods; 1985 and the present day.
Following an informal discussion with a superior officer, Lars Martin Johansson ( Rolf Lassgård) sets up an informal investigation into Palme’s murder that runs parallel to, but is independent from, the official investigation. Johansson’s largely self-imposed parameters are to explore the historical documents within the police archive to assess if all data was recorded and interpreted correctly and to see if his own personal inaction may have inadvertently led to Palme’s death or the killer being able to evade justice.
The police service of 1985 is riddled with corruption and fascist sympathisers. From top to bottom the force is tainted by the stench of improper activities. With no checks or balances the police can act as they please and frequently do just so long as the thin veneer of public respectability is maintained. Rumours about senior colleagues once heard are denied and false alibis are constructed for officers suspected of illegal activity. Johansson might be good at his job but he commands very little respect from his colleagues, his sociopathic approach to interrogating suspects is used to make the viewers aware of how very different modern police methods are from those employed in the 1980s; an early scene features Johansson tormenting a suspect by supplying him with details of his father’s death.
As the months fly away and we head towards that tragic night upon which Olof Palme died we, as viewers, are passive observers to a police force so paranoid that the Prime Minister may be a covert Soviet Agent that it will commit murder in order to obtain a manuscript which may confirm its fears.
Despite some minor anachronisms, specifically with regards 1980s male fashions this series succeeds in selling the era to the viewer and resists the all too obvious temptation to dress the cast in pastel suits and espadrilles whilst a soundtrack of Nik Kershaw and Frankie Goes to Hollywood ramps up the action. The period clothing is very sombre and the kitsch cultural references are reserved for the present day sequences. Demis Roussos’ Forever and Ever is used specifically as an ironic counterpoint to a particular moment of the story which adds a new layer of meaning to the track in a manner reminiscent to how Lynch employed Roy Orbison’s In Dreams within the movie Blue Velvet.
This is an exceedingly well-made series. Prior knowledge of Swedish political history is not a prerequisite for viewing, all the relevant information is relayed wherever it is necessary for an understanding of the plot and the use of appropriate archive material enhances the sense of verisimilitude. After several episodes containing discussion about Palme both as a man and a politician the moment when the assassination happens is far more emotionally potent than I had anticipated and in addition to forcing me to continue watching on the edge of my seat to see what conclusions the series would make it also led to me being actively interested in reading about this period in Swedish history.
For further information of Palme’s assassination and the effect it has had on Swedish crime fiction the best place to start are two superbly researched blog posts by Vicky Albritton;
Leif G. W. Persson’s trilogy is available to buy from Amazon:
Details on Ed Milliband’s speech about Olaf Palme can be found here;
‘We zombies should help each other.’
In the years following the theatrical release of 28 Days Later the zombie sub-genre has undergone something of a commercial resurgence. In addition to several highly successful gaming franchises, multiple graphic novels, and a thriving literary scene, the number of films and television series competing for marketplace supremacy and viewer loyalty has increased substantially and at present the dominant televisual brand is the HBO produced series The Walking Dead. Into this very crowded and ever more inventive movement French pay-to-view broadcaster Canal+ has launched a new series based on a 2004 film that was released internationally as They Came Back.
Adaptations of films can be a tricky business. For every Buffy the Vampire Slayer or M*A*S*H viewers are hit with several shows that lack the very ingredients which made the original film so enjoyable. Although promoted as a remake Les Revenants is a re-imagining of the 2004 film. In the original version a global phenomena occurred one morning as every single person who had died over the previous ten years was suddenly resurrected. The opening sequences saw hoards of stiff moving zombies march out of the graveyards which had a few moments earlier been home to their corpses. With a massive influx of reanimated corpses needing housing, and employment, the government establishes temporary refuge centres whilst it tries to reach a consensus on the socio-cultural implications posed by having to provide resources for seventy million people. At various points in the film we are presented with information that informs us of ways the zombies differ from humans; they exhibit symptoms similar to acute aphasia, have a lower body temperature, do not require sleep and need minimal amounts of food . The debate on if it is possible to integrate what is effectively a large migrant community is a central theme to the film but one that becomes somewhat muddied by the need to resolve the plot in under two hours and by localising the action; despite being a global event we only experience it from a French perspective.
The 2012 eight part series, scripted by Fabrice Gobert, relocates the action to a small French Alpine town. In this version a very small number of deceased individuals have returned, none of whom are, at first, aware that they are dead. With the exception of an inability to sleep not one of the returnees initially displays any obvious physiological and psychological abnormalities but in later episodes they experience enlarged appetites, a resistance to alcohol’s intoxicating effects and a very high sex drive. The cause of death is the only information missing from the returnees memories and in the introductory moments returning to a community many years after being buried in the grounds of the local cemetery causes no disorientation or depression. In the film version it was only those who had died within the previous ten years that returned to walk once again amongst the living whilst in the series returnees are indiscriminately plucked from a thirty five year time frame. The resurrected have no direct connection and what links them is a mystery. Amongst the re-animated corpses are the wife of a school teacher, a child who was murdered by a pair of house burglars, a cannibalistic serial killer, a girl who was killed in a coach accident, and a young man who died on the morning of what should have been his wedding day. Each wants nothing more than to return to their loved ones and resume the life they once lived but encountering family members who have already undergone the grieving process opens emotional scars strong enough to drive one person to murder and suicide.
Once the wider community becomes aware that those to whom they had bid farewell many years ago are now living again in the town the sense of disbelief is rapidly replaced by anger at person X being revived but not person Y. Competing theological perspectives of the phenomena are presented by the local Catholic parish priest and a worker at a local community organization, both individuals are fighting to maintain their ideological supremacy and justify the belief system to which they subscribe. As the town becomes embroiled in psychological and spiritual mutilation the local police force has a wave of procedural problems for which there is no precedent such as how to go about booking a suspect that has been officially recorded as dead for the last decade.
A visual motif of water as a source of life and death plays in the title sequence and the main body of each episode. The town is situated near to a vast dam and at one point in the last forty years its banks have burst, killing many of the local inhabitants. That the local abundant water supply may somehow factor into whatever has caused the spate of resurrections is thankfully not resolved for the series ends with a visually stunning and emotionally engaging cliffhanger.
Les Revenants is a series you will watch again and again in order to pick up any clues about what or who has the power to revive the dead, why have they chosen to only revive these specific individuals, do the dead have a part to play of which they are, as yet unaware? It’s a very confident and consistent series that doesn’t fall into the obvious trap of filling screen time with mass hysteria each time a character meets someone who is supposed to be dead. The direction is reminiscent of David Lynch’s work on Twin Peaks and if that wasn’t enough of a reason to lobby for a UK release it also has a soundtrack from Scottish band Mogwai that is, at differing moments, elegiac, restrained, and reassuring.
A second season will air in 2014.
A trailer can be viewed here:
The Returned can be pre-ordered from Amazon;
Mogwai’s soundtrack is available to buy from iTunes and all other online music retailers;
Arrow Films will be releasing the 2004 film Les Revenants (They Came Back) on DVD in July:
Channel 4 will be screening this series throughout the summer months.