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Forbrydelsen (2007, Denmark)

27/03/2011

If this television drama is anything to go by, the Danes are a grim lot. I don’t mean this as an insult, it’s just that Forbrydelsen (which translates into English as “The Killing”*) is an extremely straight faced whodunnit series spread over twenty dark and moody episodes and is, well, grim. Given that it deals with the police investigation into the brutal and disturbing murder of a teenage girl this is probably a good thing, let’s face it it’s not exactly grounds for fun and frolics. The fact that it’s taken us four years to cotton on to the series in the UK is a little surprising, but thankfully the BBC managed to get their mits on it. It’s just finished it’s run on BBC4 and the early episodes have dropped off iPlayer but it hits DVD in the UK on the 4th of April.

If you haven’t seen it, it comes off as a fairly traditional whodunnit cop show but filtered through the likes of The Wire, combining a murder mystery concept with a slow burning, multi-threaded plot a la the better work of HBO. Working at a rate of an episode equating to more or less a day in the investigation by the Copenhagen police, led by Detective Superintendent Sara Lund, into the murder of young Nanna Birk Larsen. Lund is the typically driven character you would expect, putting her life on hold and risking her family and personal life in order to see the investigation through. Original? Not really, but then cliches become cliches for a reason and Lund (Sofie Grabol) very much represents the thing we would all hope for if our lives were touched by a tragedy like this, a tireless, relentless crusader who will stop at nothing to bring the perpetrator to justice.

There are three main lines the story takes. Obviously the police investigation features heavily but a lot of time is given over to how Nanna’s family cope with their loss. Her parents Theis and Pernille (outstanding performances from Bjarne Henriksen and Ann Eleanora Jorgensen respectively) both struggle to comprehend what has happened, never mind deal with it and are left having to break the news to their two young sons that their big sister will never be coming home again. The focus on the victims of crime is somewhat unusual in the genre, at least to the extent it is shown here and it is a very welcome element of the series. I found it much more interesting than the relatively conventional detective elements as the family are battered by the discovery of well kept secrets, constant intrusion by the police into their lives and home and shifting suspicions that fall on friends and family as the police chase one fresh lead after another. I think it would be easy to overlook that the trauma for the family only just begins with the discovery of the dead girl and is compounded rather than eased by the subsequent tumult and am incredibly glad the makers of Forbrydelsen opted for this more in depth approach.

The third element (and the easiest to draw comparisons to other shows with) is where the case crosses over with the political world of Copenhagen’s local government. Here I think the influence of David Simon can be felt most keenly as local politician Troels Hartmann (Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Mads Mikkelsen of James Bond and Valhalla Rising fame) finds himself embroiled in the case which rapidly becomes the basis for political point scoring in scenes that are very reminiscent of the political sub plots in The Wire.

Because it takes place over twenty, hour long episodes, it does feel a little bit like the investigation is going on for months rather than the three weeks or so it actually does. I’m not sure if this is a flaw as such, but I do know that by the time the last two episodes were being broadcast last night I felt a sense of relief that I was going to get closure on a mystery that had been frustrating me for weeks. The one thing that annoyed me about it and it’s really a trifling complaint given that it’s probably an actually quite realistic representation of how an investigation of this kind unfolds, is (and the rest of this paragraph contains mild spoilers, don’t worry I won’t give away anything specific) how the suspects appear out of the woodwork week to week, often suspicion landing on characters that hitherto hadn’t been mentioned or even shown in the background. When part of the fun of these kinds of shows is trying to figure out who the culprit is before the on-screen police do it makes it kind of frustrating when you don’t know if by episode twenty some new character is going to have been introduced that you had no prior knowledge of.  It is, however, a minor complaint against an otherwise well above average show.

Obviously lots of other people agree with me as there is a second season (presumably already broadcast in it’s native Denmark, God knows when it’s due to be broadcast in the UK) and American network AMC have fashioned what would appear to be a shot for shot, though undoubtedly less impactful and interesting, remake for their own domestic audience. Regardless, if you were unlucky enough to have missed it and like your drama dark and gritty, get yourself the DVD on the 4th of April. You won’t be disappointed.

*For those of you who speak Danish, before you say “It translates as Crime actually!” , I have been made aware of this but at the time of writing was forced to assume that the subtitling of the show’s title screen was an accurate translation of the text and not one that had been adapted for presumably dramatic purposes. So to set the record straight just substitute the offending part of the text with: “Forbrydelsen (which has been translated, incorrectly, into English as “The Killing”)”

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