Bananas, Jumpers & Red Herrings

The recent popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction and its various adaptations has brought characters such as Lisbeth Salander and Kurt Wallander to a wider audience outside of the (fictional) Swedish terrain they normally inhabit. Over the last few months, a detective called Sarah Lund has been added to that list. A schoolgirl has been murdered in Copenhagen and Lund has been put in charge of finding the killer. This forms the premise for a show that was originally titled Forbrydelsen (Crime) in its native land, but goes by the moniker of The Killing for its British screening. It was originally shown four years ago on Danish TV and has been making its way all over Europe before turning up on BBC Four ten weeks ago. It’s a 20-part series that’s set in and around Copenhagen over three consecutive weeks during November. Each hour-long episode covers a 24-hour period and begins in the afternoon and finishes in the darkness of the following evening. The characters and the viewers are kept in the dark for most of the series, with the occasional flicker of light peeping through from time to time

The Killing is a combination of detective show, political thriller and soap opera and possesses many of the familiar characteristics of each genre. The story itself doesn’t contain anything that we haven’t seen before and the plot does unravel a bit towards the end, but the high quality of the direction and the excellent ensemble acting elevates it above the majority of the crap that appears on TV. The most consistent and moving strand of the series comes from one we don’t normally see in a police procedural; the effects of the murder of their eldest daughter on the Birk Larsen family. What could have been pure soap opera in lesser hands is elevated to something more thanks to the performances of Bjarne Henriksen and Ann Eleonora Jørgensen as Theis and Pernille, the parents of the dead girl, Nanna. The lengthy nature of the series gives the writer and director time to show us how they cope with the loss of their daughter, the intrusion of the police, and how the tragic loss of their daughter affects their relationship with each other and their two young sons

We also learn that Nanna’s murder may have further repercussions on a political level. We eavesdrop on the campaign headquarters of Troels Hartman (played with great charisma by Lars Mikkelsen) and his efforts to become mayor of the city in the upcoming election. His tussles with the incumbent Poul Bremer (Bent Mejding) become more complicated as evidence appears that seems to tie Nanna to someone at City Hall. This political aspect of the plot is nothing above the ordinary, but it is made more interesting by the performances of the characters and its relevance to the overall story. Of course, the search for Nanna’s killer (or killers) takes up most of the narrative and it is this that makes viewers return each week. Early in the opening episode, we encounter Detective Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) on her final day at the office as she is about to leave for a similar job in Sweden. She is moving there with her Swedish partner and her son from her first marriage. She is about to hand over the reigns to DI Jan Meyer (Søren Malling) when her boss asks her to stay on until the Nanna case is solved. So begins a fraught relationship between the independent, headstrong and abrupt Lund and the more easy-going, banana-munching Meyer. Their partnership seems to work, however, as they begin to get results and Meyer’s wisecracks are a perfect counterpoint to Lund’s obsessive attempt to find the killer

Over the twenty episodes we get all the usual clichés that you would expect from a cop show, but fortunately there’s a distinct lack of car chases and typical action scenes. Instead, we get nicely paced scenes that often don’t include any dialogue, but rely on meaningful glances and facial expressions from the actors. Again, the length of the series allows the writer and director to include these scenes and, for me, these are some of my favourite moments in The Killing. Unfortunately, this length also brings its fair share of red herrings and a number of plot holes in the concluding episodes. It seems that some of the later shows were written under pressure and this may explain some of the inconsistencies near the end. Nevertheless, the concluding episodes were some of the best television I’ve seen in ages and the series climax was well done and consistent with what we’d seen before. Not bad for a four-year old subtitled series that went out on Saturday nights on BBC Four. Forbrydelsen 2 was screened on Danish TV last year and will appear on BBC Four this autumn. A box set of the first series is about to be released and it has even been remade for American television. The first episodes go out in the US on Sunday and it seems that it will stick to the original plot, but will feature a different ending and fewer episodes. This should sort out problems with the plot, but will most likely lose those slow-paced scenes that were a highlight of the original. I can’t imagine it being as good as the Danish version, but I’ll certainly check it out and give it a chance

The first two songs below are by American singer-songwriters and their different takes on the city of Copenhagen. Scott Walker‘s beautiful and atmospheric song about the city originally appeared on his third solo album in 1969. Walker also sang loads of songs written by Jacques Brel, including one called Mathilde. Another Mathilde, Danish singer Mathilde Bondo, is the subject of Tom Waits‘ equally beautiful song about the Danish capital. Tom Traubert’s Blues opens 1976’s Small Change album and bears the additional title, Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen. Apparently, it was inspired by a heavy night of drinking with the Danish singer on a tour in 1976. Many of Waits’ songs sound like they would form the basis for a good detective story and none more so than this one. The Raveonettes are a Danish duo who formed a decade ago in Copenhagen and are being tailed by the cops on the song from their debut EP from 2002, Whip It On. The final song has nothing to do with Denmark, but is a tribute to the many magnificent jumpers that Sarah Lund wore throughout The Killing. The Sultans of Ping recount an all too familiar tale of missing knitwear that has surely been the lot of many revellers over the years. The singer claims that his outer garment was made from “pure new wool and perfect stitches”, but I’d say it was a lot less expensive that the ones from the Faroes that Lund wears. The ones I lost certainly were, anyway. Still, I’m sure Lund would’ve had no bother tracking down the missing pullover. The jumper would be found, but the Sultans’ sweater song would be lost forever

Copenhagen – Scott Walker

Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen) – Tom Waits

Cops on Our Tail – The Raveonettes

Where’s Me Jumper – Sultans of Ping F.C.

Image taken from Girls With Guns