Forbrydelsen – The Killing – needs little introduction. It is huge, massive, stort. And not just in the UK and beyond. It is also loved at home. 65% of the 5 million Danes tune in every Sunday evening to catch up with Sara Lund in the third and final series of this institution. And what a changed Sara Lund she is third time around. She has shed a few kgs, exchanged her iconic jumper for a svelter, slimmer one and has started to work on her work-life balance. And even lets her hair down. Literally.
On Friday 9th November, the beautiful British Film Institute, in collaboration with the Danish Embassy, played host to a special preview screening of The Killing III’s first episode. And we lucky ones not only got to see it a week earlier and on a big screen. We lucky ones got to sit in on a panel discussion and Q&A with writer Soren Sveistrup, head of drama at DR Piv Bernth and Sofie Gråbol (the real life Sara, that is) after an hour of sublime Danish drama.
The first series may have been aired in 2007, but the idea has been around for far longer. Bernth began formulating the concept back in 2001. And when she and Sveistrup pitched the idea to DR, they were very careful not to mention anything about this being a cop story. At the time there was already a police-centered drama being created and aired. With less money at their disposal than the BBC, Denmark’s national broadcasting corporation is able to make fewer shows and so the competition was on. How, one might ask in astonishment, would you pitch The Killing without mentioning the word politi?? Well, says Bernth, they spun it as a drama exploring the effects a murder has on a family. Whatever the minutiae of the talks, The Killing got through, was made and made it big.
Success of it and other Scandinavian oeuvres like the Swedish-Danish collaboration The Bridge, Borgen and Sebastien Bergman (not long away from gracing British screens) has done wonders for the region’s self esteem. Sveistrup explains that now, they no longer compare what they can do with what Norway and Sweden can do, they compare themselves with the very best in drama from UK shores. And The Killing’s BAFTA award just shows that the Danes are overtaking and influencing our own output. The show’s writer also cites the country’s talented actors, writers and producers as being another factor in how DR’s dramas have gone viral.
The hunger for Scandinavian crime drama has been voracious. How come? Why now? Is the bite of our financial crisis making us yearn for situations that make our lot in life less loathsome? Or are we craving a simpler and less materialistic existence post-Lehman Brothers and find this is in things Scandinavian – from the design to their way of life.
Sveistrup is honest and humble about why he thinks Nordic Noir – as we outside Scandinavia have termed it – has taken off the way it has. He cites and thanks Steig Larsson – author of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo books and father of the genre that spawned the craze. The Killing was just lucky to fall into its slipstream and be made at the right time and in the right region.
And when asked why specifically his TV drama has succeeded, he says it is all down to the people: from writers and actors to the crew. DR has been lucky to retain their personnel across all three series and the result of this is a work of art and a labour of love that has created something that will be watched time and time again. No doubt about that.
Writer, producer and actress describe The Killing and the decade-odd long journey of its making as a family. Like a family, your colleagues know your uglier sides and despite the fights, disagreements and door slammings, you keep going back year after year knowing all will be forgiven. Watching the three of them – writer, producer, actress – chat and reminisce was heart warming. They’d be as animated and garrulous and be having this conversation whether or not there was a cinema full of spectators there throwing the occasional question at them or not. All three Danes were adamant about the fact that this really is the last season. And respect to them for acknowledging that you can have too much of a good thing. They have artistic integrity enough not to try milk it for more dollar. And they definitely could given its status and its fan following.
Rigtig smuk to behold, Sofie Gråbol is also very funny – she actually has a long career in comedy acting behind her – a wonderful story teller – full of little anecdotes about the time when Camilla Duchess of Cornwall came to visit the set (HRH had to wear flat shoes, for once, on account of all the mud on location), the emotional process involved in playing Sara and also the come down after leaving Sara. Gråbol admits to being good at controlling and concealing her emotions, and dealing with the end of the era that was Detective Lund was no different. Yes, she may have burst into tears after shooting her final scene – a car scene, which are the actress’ favourite type as she can immerse herself fully into the character’s world with the cameras shut out the other side of the vehicle windows – but only after she had grabbed the celebratory bottle of champagne handed to her and run out of eye shot! And I particularly enjoyed the way she poured herself some water… and then generously filled the glasses of her colleagues, the sploshing sound magnified by the microphones and turning the whole exercise into something quite amusing.
I didn’t quite get a chance to ask Sofie my question – “out of all the characters you have played in your career, which have you loved the most?” – but one of the more interesting ones was put to Sveistrup. The gentleman wondered whether the reason many Danish made films (such as documentary Armadillo and Susanne Bier’s Brothers) and the Killing’s second series have had the war in Afghanistan as their focus, is because said war is a large focal point of discussion in Denmark. And if it were, it would be for good reason. This is the first war Denmark has actively participated in for hundreds of years – they stayed out of WWI and were occupied in WWII.
No, says Søren. The Afghan war is not the main current issue in Denmark. The main current issue is the financial crisis. And it is the crisis that is explored in the last series of the Killing. As if seeing a preview of Forbrydelsen where Sofie Gråbol was present followed by a drinks reception was not excitement enough, but the new series kicks off on a SHIP! More specifically the Medea – freight ship and scene of the first crime. I’m afraid that is as much information as I am divulging about the episode other than that Lund gets herself a newbie partner – Asbjørn Juncker. The actor Sigurd Holmen le Dous bears a striking resemblance to Søren Melling who played Mejer, her colleague from series 1, and whom I spotted in Copenhagen back in September. My heart leapt and soared when I realised Nikolaj Lie Kaas would be a mainstay throughout the ten episodes as Mathias Borch: special branch detective and Lund’s old classmate from police academy.
Almost TOO much excitement – if there is such a thing – for one evening, but I was in good company knowing that everyone else at the BFI that evening revered what DR does as much as I do.
Catch it on BBC 4 on 17th November at 9pm.