The British affair with the Scandi drama genre continues apace with the return of “The Bridge” for it’s third series. The Nordic influence has by osmosis influenced drama commissioning in the UK with Sky’s “Fortitude” starring Richard Dormer (the brother of my good friend from Uni days and Stuarts Gardens Snooker Champion Paul) and BBC1’s “River” drawing heavily on the dark mood and existential themes.
The strength of The Bridge, in common with its Nordic stable mates is in the character driven nature of the plot. We see the evolution of the socially awkward Swedish detective Saga (Sofia Helin) as she struggles to marry her exceptional police skills with the everyday office social interactions. We learn this season of her dysfunctional family background marred by abuse and scarred by suicide. It is this slow unwrapping that is so compelling a component and common to The Killing and Borgen (set at the heart of Danish politics). This is diametrically opposed to the breakneck speed of UK police dramas where the producers seem terrified that we may get bored and turn over. “The Fall” (BBC N.Ireland) bucked this trend somewhat as we were party to the internal politics of the PSNI as the case developed.
The interesting part with Saga is the acceptance of her colleagues who (mostly) recognise that her talent outweighs other considerations. This is not the case here where we are so quick to judge others and defy eccentricity by labelling it as a fault, or in some cases even as a disability. How many times in the last ten years have you heard someone being described as being “on the spectrum?” This is offensive to those whose lives are blighted by autism and to those whose foibles (let’s face it, we all have them) may (Or may not, it’s all about perception) set them apart from the crowd. It strikes me as part of the need to assert conformity as a means of social control. Ally this to the time deficit of modern life and you have a recipe to strangle dissent and class solidarity.
The Killing (2009) set the ball rolling for the Scandi invasion. As with Borgen and other series the lead is played by a woman in a man’s world which provides an interesting dimension. Unlike Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect there is no sex appeal; it’s all about the case which, incidentally took 20 episodes to solve.
Borgen was a wonderful and unashamedly indulgent foray into the politics of politics replete with horse trading, back stabbing, gossip and justification of decisions which go against long held “principles”. The relationship between the politicians and the press is a universal theme of the modern age and overlaps with the West Wing were obvious to the political nerds amongst us who must have made up the vast majority of the audience if Twitter is anything to go by. It did seem to me though that the Danes have much more of an ability to say, “shit happens, move on”, whereas in the UK we are doyens of the long memory. (Guilty).
But for me The Bridge is the leader of the Scandi drama genre. The stories are multi faceted, and the relationships unpredictable with the crimes being the thread that holds them together. In this season we have a new Danish cop with an unexpected secret life and Saga’s character really drives things along more directly this time around as she clashes with her new, less understanding boss. It’s a must watch for me and spends no time at all waiting on my planner, the mark of a great show.
It seems to me that the Nordics are cooler than us, not as hung up about stuff like class or sex and are highly educated (as borne out by international league tables). Their apparent laid backness and schooling success is down to a progressive tax system and coming well down on tables of inequality. This is why the Breivik shootings of 2013 when a young right wing extremist killed 77 people came as such a shock in the region.
“The Spirit Level: Why Inequality Matters” (2009) by Wilkinson and Pickett makes a strong case that it is in fact inequality rather than poverty measures alone that determine how successful and stress free a country is. Inequality in the UK is rampant and we are not a nation at ease with itself. Whilst TV can’t provide all the information, it can hold up a mirror and maybe our fascination with the Scandis is because we wish lif in the UK was more like our Nordic neighbours. Sweden has resettled 7,400 Syrian refugees this year, we have taken 187. Makes your think.