‘There’s something of the Scandi shows about The Fall…Celtic noir? Move over Denmark, Belfast is the new Copenhagen? Could be’ (guardian, 2013). Sam Wollaston’s interpretation of BBC Two’s latest crime series The Fall got me thinking about the rise of crime series in the UK, particularly those that appear to be styled in the vein of Scandinavian crime drama. However, is this the only reason that viewer’s tuned into this new drama?
There seems to be a pattern emerging whereby critics are labelling every new crime drama as the new Forbrydelsen, Wallander or The Bridge. On the other hand, these new British crime series are also seen to fill the void left by these Scandinavia imports. For example – and even I am guilty of this (for promotional purposes of course!) – ITV’s Broadchurch brought up many comparisons with Forbrydelsen and in several articles it was revealed that the show was modelled on Scandi drama, ‘There’s a stillness and quietness and bleakness, a sense of allowing you to work things out for yourself, which they picked up from Scandi drama’ (Williams, 2013) The success of Broadchurch was, to a degree, based on this marketing strategy and several other shows including Shetland and Mayday have benefitted from these comparisons with successful Scandinavian imports. So, Broadchurch filled the Scandi crime hole we were all feeling on BBC4, and now Broadchurch has gone…you guessed it, The Fall is here to fill the void.
To some this obsession with relating every new crime series to a Nordic drama is getting rather tiresome. Ok, it’s a way of getting them off the ground, but media executives need to be aware of oversaturation – at least I worry about this. Britain has a great back catalogue of crime series devoid of Scandinavian influence i.e. Cracker, Prime Suspect, Silent Witness, A Touch of Frost and, to a point, we’re on the cusp of forgetting this fact. The media seem to be consumed with attaching a televisual label instead of embracing the quality drama that the British television industry has to offer.
Mark Lawson of the Guardian states that ‘British TV has always been prone to a version of “cultural cringe”…For years they have envied the snappiness of camerawork, conversation and subject matter in American programmes…but more recently have been made to feel inadequate by Scandinavia’ (2013). This suggests that the television industry in Britain has recently gone into yet another phase of re-education in order to reinvigorate serial television. Moreover, it’s no secret that the British Film Industry has been shaped by international influences since the very beginning because this undoubtedly aids exportation and creates a rich and varied style of cinema. Therefore, absorbing a variety of international methods and styles has always been in the industry’s genetic code. But there’s always that nagging feeling that we just can’t get it right. Does this anxiety mean that we are in danger of losing some part of who we are or does it simply signal a new phase of rebirth?
This anxiety is undeniably internal and does not appear ostensible on an international basis. In a recent online interview Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen (aka TROOOOOOELS!) expressed his admiration for British TV (and talent). The actor confessed to being a fan of classic British crime shows like Frost, Miss Marple and Poirot, but also of the contemporary crime show Luther – one of the most exceptional original dramas to emerge in recent years. ‘I always say that you produce the best actors in the world, because you do. It’s got to do with the approach you take; you do stage, television and films so you’re not confined to one thing. I love seeing British actors, they are just so good’ (leedsstudent.org, 2013). Moreover, fellow Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen has also spoken of her love for Sherlock and quirkier affairs like Upstairs, Downstairs (Renfrew, 2013).
Britain and Scandinavia’s mutual affection for each other’s television production methods and talent has resulted in a number of collaborations on British soil. 2012’s one-off crime drama Murder: Joint Enterprise (now set to return for a full series) saw the first UK-Danish collaboration set in Nottingham. The drama was directed by Birger Larsen – an established Danish talent known for his work on Forbrydelsen and the lesser known/short lived mini crime drama Those Who Kill – and written by Robert Jones. Jones has worked as a writer on a number of successful British productions including The Bill, Ballykissangel and Channel 4’s political drama Secret State. Also, you may have heard about The Tunnel, the imaginatively titled 10-part Anglo-French co-production based on The Bridge
More recently, this collaboration and mutual respect emerged in Cannes at this year MIPTV (Marché International des Programmes de Télévision) event. The event played host to the BBC’s Drama Commissioner Ben Stephenson and DR’s Head of Drama Piv Bernth who, together on stage, discussed their strategies for successful programming and co-productions. The exponential rise and demand for Scandinavian dramas abroad has increased DR’s external financing. However, it has yet to increase the company’s percentage of drama output. Bernth states that ‘The in-house budget is still the 4% of the DR budget.’ She credits this rise and international breakthrough, specifically, to BBC4. When asked about the trend for increased co-production, Stephenson ascribes this to two things: the ‘ambition of the creative talent’ and the sensibilities of today’s audiences (Dredge, 2013). Audiences today are more receptive to a variety of cultures and they have found, as have the creative talent, a cultural and televisual link between themselves and another country. He proclaims that British audiences today “are getting smarter and smarter and smarter, and expecting more complex stories, more interesting stories, and are not excluding any stories set abroad.” So, the British TV industry is trying to keep up with audience demand and what is hot right by palpably ‘borrowing’ and applying aspects of Scandinavia production methods as well as certain cultural characteristics.
In Denmark, one of the hottest shows right now is the long-running British crime series Midsomer Murders. It’s one of the most successful imports Denmark has invested in leading the network DR1 to Saturday night ratings gold. Kaare Schmidt, DR’s acquisitions executive, said that the network ‘can’t fail if we get a good British detective story’ (Batty, 2013). However, DR’s recent purchase of the Welsh police drama Hinterland raises other questions. In an article by BBC News Mid Wales, Commissioners at DR were quoted as saying ‘the Welsh landscape will appeal to its viewers familiar with the Copenhagen-set series.’ Moreover, Schmidt expects the series ‘to be kind of the same style as we have in The Killing’ (BBC, 2012). This suggests that Denmark is now looking for the familiar in overseas products too, as Hinterland looks set to be one of many international dramas the network will be buying. However, according to Glenda Cooper of the Telegraph, this is not simply a question of selling Nordic Noir back to the Scandinavians. She argues that the Welsh perfected the gloomy, mysterious and dark style way before Sarah Lund donned her famous knitwear, and the isolated landscape is a historical and cultural representation of this fact (2013). This raises some questions: If Britain’s own version of ‘Nordic Noir’ was already in existence, why has the television industry hidden it for so long? More importantly, why have they waited for another culture to demonstrate (or confirm) that this type of show is successful?
Anxiety. The success of Scandinavia television, not just in Britain but abroad, has undoubtedly made the British television industry have reservations about the current state of crime drama. It’s not merely a coincidence that many of the contemporary crime series have a Scandinavian feel about them, but was it really always there and were we simply just waiting for someone else to validate it?
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Batty, D. (2013), ‘Midsomer Murders keeps Danes glued to TV’ at http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/may/02/midsomer-murders-denmark-hit [Accessed 18th May 2013]
Cooper, G. (2013), ‘Woolly Jumpers on Cardigan Bay – it’s the Welsh ‘Killing’’ at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/wales/9837224/Woolly-jumpers-on-Cardigan-Bay-its-the-Welsh-Killing.html [Accessed 18th May 2013]
Curtis, N. (2013), ‘The British Killings: new UK dramas draw inspiration form Nordic cousins’ at http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/the-british-killings-new-uk-dramas-draw-inspiration-from-nordic-cousins-8522242.html [Accessed 16th May 2013]
Dredge, S. (2013), ‘Liveblog: BBC and DR talk creative commissioning at MIPTV’ at http://blog.mipworld.com/2013/04/liveblog-bbc-and-dr-talk-creative-commissioning-at-miptv/ [Accessed 18th May 2013
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This is Cornwall: ‘Bleak British drama has a Scandinavian edge to it’ http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Bleak-British-drama-Scandinavian-edge/story-16765825-detail/story.html#axzz2TTz1br7q [Accessed 16th May 2013]