Tag Archives: European TV

Those Who Kill – the Danes come to ITV

The murder squad with Katrine on the left and the chief, Bisgaard, in the front.

For readers outside the UK, ITV3 is the third digital channel for the main terrestrial UK broadcaster ITV. A quick glance at the BARB audience figures reveals that it is actually the sixth biggest UK TV channel, outgunning any of Sky’s channels or its sister stations ITV2 and ITV4. It achieves this by targeting ‘over 35s’ (and probably more women than men – ITV4 is ‘bloke TV’) and offering them re-runs of popular drama series. ITV chiefs have no doubt noticed the big success of Scandinavian drama series shown on BBC4 which have attracted record audiences of over 600,000 per episode. BBC4 is usually invisible to the tabloid press writers on TV but The Killing and Borgen have attracted a great deal of coverage in the broadsheets.

Now ITV3 have begun broadcasting Those Who Kill, their new Danish import, at 10pm on Thursday evenings. The big questions are: will the BBC4 audience migrate to ITV3 for their fix of ‘Nordic Noir’ and what will the existing ITV3 audience, fed on a diet of Wycliffe, Morse, Poirot etc. make of a show with murky lighting and subtitles? It’s probably thirty years or so since ITV stations (then regionally owned) put out European art films in late night slots. Can they make a success of it again?

On the basis of the first 90 minutes episode, Those Who Kill appears to be a more American-style crime series – or perhaps the grittier end of UK crime series such as Wire in the Blood. It has one of the tropes of the BBC4 Danish serials – the intelligent, fearless and strong-willed female lead. In Episode 1 Katrine (Laura Sofia Bach) takes the initiative in leading a police team investigating a serial killer of young women. She co-opts a profiler of ‘dissocial’ characters who has been previously used (and discarded) by the Copenhagen police and she has a close relationship with another young woman who is a forensic scientist. This trio solve their first case and despite his initial misgivings, the homicide chief (played by The Killing I‘s ‘Troells’, the actor Lars Mikkelsen) decides to promote Katrine. We also get to see at least two other actors from The Killing II and Borgen.

The four characters listed above (and a fifth junior police officer) are presumably going to be central in the series but so far we have learned only a little about their family backgrounds. I don’t get the impression that we are going to get the family melodrama offered by the serials nor their political narratives. The serial killer story is rather too familiar from US and UK series (even if, as we are often told, they are not in Scandinavia – though Jo Nesbø has just written one). This one was quite well done and was certainly grisly, but it didn’t have that usual Nordic Noir element of some kind of social comment on the collapse of social democracy or the impact of globalisation. It could easily have been a British or American story. Finally, there hasn’t been much sign of an overall serial narrative developing – a ‘story arc’ that will run through each episode. Still, this was the first episode. The big question is whether the audience will find the show on the schedules. The Guardian, home of blogs on The Killing and Borgen, doesn’t list ITV3 programmes, only trailed this show on the day of broadcast and hasn’t reviewed it so far.

More Danish delights!

Sidse Babett Knudsen, in her first TV series, plays coalition Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg.

This is just to add to a chorus of praise for Borgen (Denmark 2010), the BBC4 political-thriller series set within Danish coalition politics. It’s produced by the same company that did The Killing 1 and 2, though the virtuoso combination of both a focused (one killing) and a spiralling set of plot lines over 20 episodes is not repeated here. ‘Borgen’ (‘castle’) is the Danish equivalent of Westminster in the UK – the general term for the centre of government. See the UK trailer on BBC website.

There’s lots of plot buzz about it, especially in blogs (see The Guardian’s) and they are understandably focused on the convincingness of plot lines, which caused controversy for The Killing 1 and 2. What Borgen does well is to mix a ‘glossy’ often thriller-ish narrative form and look with what feels like a properly complicated account of coalition politics involving a woman Prime Minister.

Also involved are journalism, ‘spin’, and familiar gendered issues around the work involved in bringing up a family, work outside the family, and sexism for many modern working women. It has been casually brilliant in its restrained construction of sexual relationships and their aftermath, or the trauma of abortion for the woman who has to take the decision. And its treatment of sexism at the highest levels of negotiation, which a woman in such a post would enter, is likewise restrained: the muttered ‘Mummy’ behind her back as she leaves a discussion with military top brass, for example.

Casting for a kind of glamour in its leads, it plays questions of appearance, for both men but especially women, superbly well. See discussion of Laura Mulvey and others in Representations chapter of MSB5. In particular it keeps complicating our sense of how scenes and imagery of women will go. I loved the high angle shots of a de-glamourised Katrine, tousled rather than infantilised-by-tousle, getting out of bed to answer the (dangerous) call at her door. The jokes, as well as the difficulties, in the sex life of a married, powerful woman with children are done with a light touch. Maybe decades of experience of Scandinavian social-democrat education and equality debates is sedimented here? And the treatment of small-nation dependency, with the hard political questions that raises, as well as the brute force of certain kinds of US power—all this has wide resonance and was superbly constructed in episode 4.

Enough! Glad to hear in this Independent article that a 2nd series has just been shown in Denmark, and a third is due. And a US version, involving the BBC, and aimed to be a kind of successor to The West Wing, is in development.

See also http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/jan/14/borgen-danish-tv-thrillers for an account of ‘the thriller factory’ within Danish public service broadcasting, from which such series emerge. The rules: ‘Commissioners insist on original drama dealing with issues in contemporary society: no remakes, no adaptations.’ I’ve also heard the cold winter evenings in Denmark make the 8pm slot popular.

And finally, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Kinnock for some real world British connections to the first Danish woman Prime Minister—said to have enjoyed the series, broadcast a year before her election victory.