Danish-Modernism, Nordic Noir, Scandi-Noir; whatever term you use for the new output of Drama from the scandinavian countries it’s undeniable that its popularity – especially in Britain – is higher than ever. Just as a Steinbeck novel would provide a joyless and depressing world, viewers are presented with hour long episodes of detectives on murder cases, dystopian futures and sometimes in the case of ‘Arvingerne’ a family torn apart by greed. So its no wonder a British audience have a new found love for scandinavian dramas as the parallels between our own Dramas are very evident. But how did the new breed of ‘noir’ dramas make its way to our shores and what’s the next step in increasing the exposure of scandinavian shows in the UK? And why should you even care?
The introduction of Danish drama’s to a UK audience came with BBC4’s acquisition of ‘forbrydelsen’ (The Killing) in 2011 which drew an audience of 472,000 – a phenomenal amount for the channel. And with that a new breed of Danish dramas began to gain popularity and the number of imports to BBC4 began to increase. In 2012 the political Drama Borgen aired to great reception further cementing the British popularity for Danish programming and took all 3 seasons which ended in 2014.
Sue Deeks, head of BBC’s programme acquisition, said “I think there’s probably quite a lot of similarities [between Danish and British drama]” to which I would wholeheartedly agree. Not only are they long, slow paced episodes but the artistically dreary tones, strong and diverse female cast, and often police themed programmes reflect our own dramas over the last few years.
I think one of the strengths of Scandinavian programming is it’s ability to present a range of diverse female characters that broadcasters (especially in America) find difficult to represent. Forbrydelsen’s Sarah Lund is a brave police detective who works harder (physically and mentally) than her male counterpart Jan Meyer.Then we have the polar opposite to Sarah – Penille Birk Larsen – whose daughters death has left her in a manic and depressed state unable to cope with her murder. But it’s not just that each character has an identifiable characteristic, it’s the unpredictable manner in which the they react that truly creates a fluid and complex character. The same can be said for Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Saga’s relationship with police work and her personal life over the series; a change that see’s her turn from an anti-social heroine to a fragile bystander. Over the years it’s been Britains preference to have female lead characters in police dramas – namely ‘Scott and Bailey’ and ‘Life of Crime’ – finding a new refreshing perspective to that of long running shows like Inspector Morse or Taggart.
The love for the police drama in Denmark stems (in all seriousness!) from Midsummer Murders, one of the longest running (12 years) exported series played in Denmark. The regular, self-contained, easy to follow ‘who-done-it’ episodes were popular in a time when DR or TV2 had almost no-budget for their own ‘home-grown’ dramas. So with the 40% audience viewership it was DR1 who commissioned The Killing to compete with imported dramas. From then on DR (The PSB of Denmark similar to the BBC) has been consistently producing top quality programmes that are now rivaling even our own.
‘Arvingerne’ or ‘The Legacy’ is one Denmarks newest dramas focusing around a death-bed will and four upset siblings each claiming they have a stronger case to inherit their mothers multi-million kroner estate ‘ Grønnegaard’. The plot itself sounds underwhelming but the siblings storylines, which evolve with each new piece of evidence to support their claim to Grønnegaard, develop in the most extraordinary way creating jealousy and animosity between each other. It’s in those conflicts you can see how exceptional the script is, and to achieve the mise-en-scène to an equally high standard (in reference to the Grønnegaard building and it’s interior) is only comparable to a show like Mad Men.
The accessibility of Scandinavian dramas is even easier to legally obtain now with BBC4 (as I have mentioned before) and now Netflix gaining the rights to several of the higher rated shows on SVT and DR. Netflix have even created a “Scandinavian” sub-section to cater for those who want to discover even more from the regional broadcasters. So it’s not just a TV enthusiast like myself who can watch these shows, they are readily available on almost all streaming platforms. However more exposure is needed to direct people to these programmes.
To me the Danish and Swedish dramas are the starting point to appreciating not only “nordic-noir” but world TV series. It’s no longer the UK and America that fully dominate the market of drama which is fantastic for not only the broadcasters of the various countries, but for us who can start to understand different cultures and assess the differences and similarities between our own TV shows. And still, some people still have the stigma of ignoring all subtitled shows because they don’t have the popularity behind them as HBO programming does. And even now shows like ‘The Bridge’ have been held to critical acclaim from all broadcasters prompting an American and a British remake. But commissioning these remakes shows an unwillingness for the public to watch a show in anything other than their native language; and broadcasters show they don’t have faith in showing subtitled programmes for the same reasons. However it’s unfair to blame broadcasters for gambling with viewership – instead I urge you to leave your comfort zone, find The Bridge or The Killing or The Legacy and watch them. Programmes with this sort of quality shouldn’t be ignored.