TV critics are continually berating the BBC for wasting our hard-earned cash (although The Voice is looking like a better investment every week) but you have to say that whoever’s responsible for snapping up Scandinavian drama for BBC4 probably deserves a pay rise. Swedish crime series Wallander was the first show to cross the North Sea back in 2008, but its success was dwarfed by the arrival of Sarah Lund and her iconic jumper a couple of years later. The second season of The Killing proved even more popular, many of us enjoyed Borgen at the start of the year (expect that to return for a second series in 2013) and the latest Scandi-noir thriller will be arriving on our screens this Saturday, as is tradition.
Produced in tandem by Swedish and Danish TV networks, The Bridge marks a satisfying return to the murky world of murder investigation after the relatively upbeat environs of the Danish parliament in Borgen. “It makes The Killing seem cuddly” said Radio Times’ Alison Graham, which when you remember that Forbrydelsen is often darker and more downbeat than your average Radiohead B-side, that’s quite a statement. She might just be talking about the murders themselves (unlike The Killing, they are graphic and frequent) but from the first episodes, you sense a real malevolence at work here. Those Nordic writers know what we like and they don’t mind giving it to us..
Saturday’s first episode (of two that evening) opens with the discovery of a corpse in the centre of the ten-mile Oresund Bridge, which connects Sweden and Denmark. The act of dumping the victim exactly half-way between the two nations demonstrates the kind of calculating psychopath investigators are dealing with and as this two-hour introduction unfolds it becomes clear that a serial killer is at work.
This highly-efficient murderer models himself as ‘The Truth Teller’ and the explains that his(?) terrible crimes are the only way of dealing with what he considers a broken society. Perversely and strangely, he begins righting the wrongs of modern-day Scandinavia by knocking off some of the most vulnerable people he can find, including homeless and mentally-incapacitated people. It sounds a bit like a Scandinavian Se7en (and the victims are sometimes dispatched in horrific circumstances) but it’s important to point out that for all the stylistic and structural similarities that exist between The Bridge and The Killing, the crimes that lie at the centre are very different.
The tale of a deluded yet patiently ruthless killer coming up against a detective with a disfunctional social life (more of that later) may have been done to death, but the quality of this series transcends convention. The Bridge is bleak, tough, adult fare, with social isolation as and intricate plot detail as its keystones. It will compel and infiltrate audiences.
Yet for all the corruption and grisly macabre, no Nordic Noir would be worth its BBC4 salt without a leading lady at the fulcrum of the police’s investigation. For Sarah Lund, read Saga Noren, the latest emotionally-detached lady-Holmes to emerge from across the North Sea. In the very first episode she lays down a marker by refusing to let an ambulance with a dying person inside over the bridge. Apparently rules are rules.
“Saga is everything I’m not,” says Swedish actress Sofia Helin, who plays the lead. “She doesn’t know how to behave socially; though she is very good at her job and has the best results in her department. But when it comes to relationships, she is very bad and she is very lonely. It is very modern today in drama to say someone has Asperger’s or autism. But we didn’t want to make it like that. We just wanted to make her different. No one knows exactly what’s wrong with her. Saga doesn’t know what’s wrong her, but she lives with it..”
We’ll probably learn to live with it as well..
THE BRIDGE Begins on Saturday 21st April on BBC4