Happy Valley Series 2, Arctic thrills (Nesbo & McGrath)…and going green

My day is made: I’ve just heard the news that the second series of Happy Valley begins on BBC 1 next Tuesday, 9 February at 9pm.

Happy Valley 1

The first series of Happy Valley was one of the best TV crime dramas I’ve ever seen, with a wonderful lead, Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), and a storyline that was gripping and moving in equal measure. The script by acclaimed screenwriter Sally Wainwright was top-notch, celebrating female strength and endurance while exploring tough themes such as grief, gender and power, and the consequences of greed.

Series 2 picks up the story eighteen months after the end of series 1. Tommy Lee Royce is still safely locked up in prison, but continues to cast a shadow over Cawood’s life as she attempts to get on with raising her grandson and doing her job. Episode 1 starts off with a mild case of West Yorkshire sheep rustling, but things soon take a more serious turn… There are six episodes in total.

Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite and a great Guardian piece on the show (‘What makes Happy Valley TV’s most realistic police drama?’):

Other TV dramas I’m enjoying at the moment include Channel 4’s Deutschland 83 (which I’ll blog on more fully at the end of the series) and Vera, which has just started over on ITV. I’ve had to consciously pull myself back to some reading, not least as the Petrona Award judges will be meeting soon to shortlist for this year’s prize.

Midnight Sun

One of the submissions is Jo Nesbø’s Midnight Sun, expertly translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith (Harvill Secker, 2015). I confess that I’ve sometimes struggled with Nesbø’s novels. While I like some of the ‘Harry Hole’ series, such The Redbreast (2006), and always initially enjoy the writing, I’ve put more than one of the novels aside when the violence becomes too eye-watering. Midnight Sun stayed within acceptable boundaries for me on that score, and as a result, I really enjoyed this tale of a young man on the run from Oslo’s nastiest underworld boss. Jon’s escape route leads him to Kåsund, a small (possibly fictitious) settlement near Alta in the Finnmark region of northern Norway, which lies in the Arctic Circle (close to Tromsø on the map below). Here, this city dweller has to deal with northerly solitude, the disorientating midnight sun, his Sami and Laestadian neighbours, and the threat of being found. The novel’s characterisation is rich, the geographical and cultural settings are intriguing, and the plot unfolds in a leisurely fashion, allowing Jon’s relationship with a young woman and her son from the nearby Laestadian religious community to grow at a natural pace. The novel also features the most original fugitive hiding place I’ve seen in a long time.

Another novel with a similar setting, which features the Norwegian Reindeer Police, is Olivier Truc’s Forty Days without Shadow see my earlier review here.

Arctic Circle

I’ve also just started M.J. McGrath’s third ‘Edie Kiglatuk’ novel, The Bone Seeker (Pan, 2015). I’m delighted to be back in Edie’s world as I love her company, and one of the series’ big strengths is the detail it gives about Inuit life on Umingmak Nuna (Ellesmere Island, in green on the left of the map) up in the High Arctic. The history, geography and culture of the region all fascinate me, bearing out Karen’s comments in the previous post about enriching the reading experiences of far-away audiences.

The novel opens with the disappearance of young Inuit Martha Salliaq, one of the students Edie has been teaching at a school in Kuujuaq. When a body is discovered in a polluted lake near a decommissioned radar station, a complex investigation begins… Like Nesbo’s novel, The Bone Seeker is set during the arctic summer in seemingly eternal daylight, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more. It’s beautifully written and a genuine crime fiction treat.

Bone Seeker

Finally, some of you may have noticed that this blog has turned a little green. The new design and colour scheme celebrate the fact that Crime Fiction in German has gone to press! The blog banner is taken from the marvellous cover by the University of Wales Press. Watch this space for further news about the publication date and launch.

🙂

CFIG

New Year goodies: The Young Montalbano (BBC4) and Deutschland 83 (Channel 4/Walter Presents)

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you’ve had a wonderful festive season and are heading into 2016 with a spring in your step.

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We kick off the year with two fabulous series from Italy and Germany – the second season of The Young Montalbano on BBC4 and spy drama Deutschland 83 on Channel 4. The latter also marks the launch of the new on-demand service Walter Presents, which looks like a must for fans of international crime.

The new six-part series of The Young Montalbano begins on Saturday 2nd January at 9.00pm, with the episode ‘The Man who Followed Funerals’. Montalbano investigates the brutal murder of Pasqualino Cutufa’, a Vigata inhabitant who made a habit of showing up at people’s funerals to mourn their deaths. Livia has also come to stay, but is acting rather strangely…

Montalbano S2

Young Montalbano (Michele Riondino) looking rather pensive

I thoroughly enjoyed the first series of The Young Montalbano, which did a stylish job of depicting the Italian policeman’s early years in 1990s Vigata, when he still had an unruly mop of hair. If you’re looking to escape from a wet and windy Blighty to sunnier shores, then this one could be for you. I blogged some background to the first series in this 2013 post. And here’s a link to Olivia Sellerio singing ‘Vuci mia cantannu vai’, which closed the series 1 episodes. Divine!

deutschland-83

The eight-part spy thriller Deutschland 83 (Germany 83) begins on Channel 4 on Sunday 3rd January at 9pm (in German with English subtitles). I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to seeing some quality German drama on our screens.

Here’s an overview from Channel 4:

‘It’s 1983. The Cold War is heating up. Russian SS20 Missiles in East Germany are pointed West, while American Pershing II Missiles in West Germany will soon be pointing East. Against this perilous political backdrop, DEUTSCHLAND 83, a gripping coming-of-age story and a suspenseful, fast-paced thriller, follows Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), a 24-year-old East German, who is sent to the West as an undercover spy for the Stasi. Hiding in plain sight in the West German army, he must gather NATO military secrets while trying to resist the pleasures that the West has to offer. Everything is new to him, nothing is quite what it seems and everyone he encounters is harbouring secrets.

Stylish, fast-paced and utterly gripping, the series, created by German-American husband and wife team Anna and Joerg Winger, reveals the experiences of Germans from both sides of the Berlin Wall during a pivotal period of Cold War tensions.

The series was the first German-language drama ever to air in the US, proving a hit on Sundance TV channel this summer where it has was hailed as “engrossing” (Time Magazine), “slick” (The Hollywood Reporter) and “fresh and enjoyable” (The New York Times).’

Here’s the Sundance trailer of Deutschland 83 to give you a taster – with a storming 80s soundtrack:

The series premieres on the same day as Walter Presents, a new, FREE digital service showcasing ‘the best in world drama’ and available exclusively on All 4. The creation of this service testifies to the progress British TV has made in relation to foreign-language drama in recent years. Subtitled films/dramas, once the preserve of indie cinemas and international film nuts, are now positively mainstream, which is splendid. Judging by the website, there will be lots of international crime goodies available on Walter Presents, including the marvellous ‘Cenk Batu’ episodes from the German series Tatort. This Independent article has further details about the line up.

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New Welsh noir! Hinterland Series 2

Series 2 of the acclaimed Welsh crime drama Hinterland kicks off on BBC One Wales with four 90-minute episodes from Wednesday, 23rd December at 9.30pm. Viewers outside Wales will be able to watch live on satellite (Sky channel 952 or Freesat 964) and cable (Virgin Media 864).

UPDATE: BBC4 will begin showing Hinterland on Saturday 23 April at 9pm. The 2015 special will be shown first (which is well worth watching), followed by Series 2 (5 programmes in total). Further information is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0791w11

See below for an overview of Series 2 and some great insights from Hinterland’s producers/writers and Richard Harrington, who plays DCI Tom Mathias.

hinterland 2

Here’s the BBC overview of Series 2, Episode 1: ‘In this new series, Mathias is under pressure. Meg, his wife, has turned up in Aberystwyth, and he’s under investigation by the IPCC. When a bus driver’s body is found shot on an isolated mountainside, the investigation provides a welcome escape. In his current state of mind, Mathias is fascinated by the lifestyle choices of suspect and ex-soldier John Bell. He also knows that he cannot avoid Meg for much longer.’

And rejoice! Here’s an absolutely wonderful two-minute sneak preview from Series 2, Episode 1… Just click on the image below.

Season 2 Episode 1 clip

Now for an (almost exclusive) extra:

I had the good fortune to attend a TOP-SECRET Hinterland press briefing in Cardiff, at which Richard Harrington (Tom Mathias) spoke about the making of series 2, along with its Fiction Factory co-creators, producers and writers Ed Thomas, Ed Talfan and Gethyn Scourfield. They had some very interesting things to say about DCI Mathias, the series’ Welshness and international success, and the musical adventures of Hinterband… 

Richard Harrington told us about the challenges of playing the troubled Mathias in series 2, as more of his backstory is revealed. He was aware that some viewers felt frustrated at not knowing more about Mathias by the end of the first series, but didn’t feel it was a bad thing to keep the audience waiting a little. Series 2 was all the more exciting due to Mathias’ character development – a ‘seismic shift that changes everything’.

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Mathias in his caravan. They don’t make Harrington live there for the whole shoot…

The producers discussed the Welshness of the series from a number of intriguing angles. The brooding Ceredigion landscapes provide a ‘big space for big stories’. Hinterland is ‘a love letter to a disappearing Wales’ and a ‘distillation’ of a particular regional Welshness, but also a ‘made-up Wales’ that deliberately avoids contemporary political references to remain timeless. Harrington described the famously hostile Welsh weather as having a biblical feel and being an apt metaphor for Mathias’ mind.

Hinterland landscape 2

Close to the edge…

The producers are very proud of the drama’s Welshness. They talked of a Welsh ‘hunger’ for creating and consuming television dramas in both Welsh and English. These provide an opportunity to ‘reflect the Welsh back to themselves’ and to promote Wales to the world, which is a way of ‘helping people to get us better’. When the producers went to France, armed with images of amazing Ceredigion landscapes, they encountered a number of people who knew nothing about Wales, but loved what they saw. The series is shot completely on location in and around Aberystwth, and the producers feel this is key – they can’t imagine filming it in any other way.

Harrington spoke about the challenges of filming in two languages. The series is filmed twice over – once in Welsh for S4C and once in English (with some subtitled Welsh) for the BBC. This is hard work for the actors, who tend to feel more comfortable in one of the languages, and requires flexibility on the part of the writers – for example, they have to find ways around procedural police language that doesn’t work as well in Welsh. But working bilingually is also rewarding, and Harrington says he ‘finds certain emotions in Welsh’ that he doesn’t find in the same way when speaking English.

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Mathias’ colleague DI Mared Rhys, played by Mali Harris

Hinterland/Y Gwyll has been a huge international success. It’s sold to over 30 countries and has been picked up by Netflix. The producers hope this will lead to further success stories for Welsh-made drama, but stressed that understanding the ‘physics of distribution’ is vital. Hinterland is made with investment from S4C, BBC One Wales and other partners, and feel this kind of approach is the way forward. They clearly know what they’re doing, as series 3 has already been commissioned and begins filming in early 2016.

So how do cast and crew relax when they’re not filming? By playing in their very own HinterBAND, with Hannah Daniel (DS Sian Owens) on vocals and Harrington on drums. They’re so good that they headlined the Aberystwyth Carnival in the summer 🙂

There’s a great piece about Hinterband by Kathryn Williams – with photos – on Wales Online here. And here’s the band in action:

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas – Nadolig Llawen from Wales!

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Bron III Broen – The Bridge is back!

The Bridge 3

It’s back…! Bron III Broen (The Bridge series 3) returns to UK screens tonight after what seems like a very long wait. Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) may no longer be around, but the wonderful Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) will be strutting her stuff as usual – in her highly individual way.

The first and second episodes will air today, Saturday 21 November, on BBC4 between 9.00 and 11.00pm. The series contains 10 episodes in total, which are in Swedish and Danish with English subtitles.

Here, for your delectation, is the BBC4 trailer ‘A new Saga begins’ (terrible pun)…

And here’s an overview of the series from the BBC:

>> The Bridge 3: When Helle Anker, the founder of the first gender-neutral kindergarten in Copenhagen and a high-profile debater on gender issues, is found murdered in Sweden, the Danish and Swedish police are compelled to join forces once more for a third series of The Bridge. The brutal killing turns out to be only the first in a series of gruesome crimes, strung together in a case which involves Saga Norén of the Malmo Police personally and which will change her forever. A powerful, intriguing and unpredictable tale of crime, played out by fascinating and complex characters, the new season will revolve around the concept and structures of family – new, old, deviant, classical, constructive and destructive. At its heart, The Bridge carries a central theme of personal responsibility and its consequences. <<

The Radio Times also features a piece on Sofia Helin winningly entitled ‘I’d rather be a feminist icon than a sex symbol’. There’s an extract here and the full interview is carried in the RT magazine.

And over at Nordic Noir, there’s an insightful interview with Sofia about the new series and dealing with Kim’s departure (may contain the odd spoiler).

Happy viewing!

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Smörgåsbord: New BBC crime (River, Arne Dahl) & German Histo-Krimis

There are some tasty morsels on offer this week…

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 04/08/2015 - Programme Name: River - TX: n/a - Episode: River - First Look (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: EMBARGOED UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 4th AUGUST, 2015 John River (STELLAN SKARSGARD) - (C) Kudos - Photographer: Nick Briggs

John River (STELLAN SKARSGARD) – (C) Kudos – Photographer: Nick Briggs

Tonight (Tuesday 13 October, 9.00-10.00) sees the start of an intriguing new six-part crime drama on BBC One.

River is set in London, but stars well-known Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård as police officer John River – just the latest evidence of the mark Scandinavia is making on our crime culture. The series is a police procedural with a twist, because it seems that River is able to commune with the dead, including his former colleague ‘Stevie’ Stevenson (played by Nicola Walker, who’s also the police lead in Unforgotten over on ITV at the moment). I’m very interested to see how the excellent Cardiff-born screenwriter Abi Morgan pulls this idea off, which we see surfacing in crime series every now and then – the 1969/70 TV series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) springs to mind, as do the historical crime novels of Maurizio de Giovanni, featuring Commissario Riccardi. The image of detectives haunted by the victims of cases they haven’t yet managed to solve is a very powerful one, and in the hands of these actors, could be very effective indeed.

There’s a nice interview with Stellan Skarsgård by Jake Kerridge in today’s The Telegraph.

UPDATE: I’ve just watched Episode 1 and am VERY excited. This is one of the best British crime dramas I’ve seen in a long time (probably since Happy Valley). It has a hugely original premise, which is flawlessly executed, and the writing and acting are both top-notch. The opening, which involves an ABBA reference, Tina Charles’ ‘I Love to Love’ and a gritty chase scene, had me completely gripped, and if anything, things just got better from there. Skarsgård is particularly good, projecting an almost tangible sense of grief following the loss of his colleague Stevie, but there are a number of other great characters too, from Stevie herself to River’s no-nonsense boss and new partner Ira (look out for a breathtakingly audacious quip after they are introduced). The cinematography and styling are also wonderful: London takes on a Bladerunner feel in places and there is a striking use of colour (reds, greens and blues in particular). Original – stylish – brilliantly written and acted: make sure you watch this SOON.

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The A-Unit team, series 2

Over on BBC Four, Beck is making way for Arne Dahl, which starts on Saturday, 17. October at 9.00. This is the second series about the Swedish A-Unit – an ensemble police drama with a number of quirky characters, including a new team-member I’m pleased to see is a languages expert. I have to confess that I never completely got into series 1, but know that plenty of viewers did. The first episode involves the murders of a number of Polish women and is in Swedish and Polish with subtitles. In it, we also see Kerstin Holm take up her new role as A-Unit leader.

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Lastly, historical crime fans may be interested in a piece that Marina Sofia and I have written about German Histo-Krimis over at ‘Crime Fiction Lover. Our flimsy cover was a celebration of the Oktoberfest (cue naff picture of Bier maidens), but what we really wanted to do was tell everyone about the MASSES of great historical crime fiction that’s been produced in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, especially since reunification. Some of the novels are already in translation, others are not (needless to say, we’re working hard on getting the latter published in English…).

Welsh delights: Series 2 of Y Gwyll (Hinterland) and Graffeg’s The Starlings & Other Stories

UPDATE: Hinterland series 2 airs on BBC One Wales on 23rd December 2015. For further details, see here.

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Last weekend was a bumper weekend for TV crime drama in the UK. Swedish crime drama Beck aired on BBC4 on Saturday, and the second series of Welsh crime drama Y Gywll / Hinterland began on Sunday on S4C.

hinterland (1)

I hugely enjoyed the first series of Y Gwyll/Hinterland, which followed brooding DCI Tom Mathias and his team through a series of investigations in and around Aberystwyth in Wales. Well written and beautifully shot, with a brooding Cymru Noir feel, it’s polished crime drama that’s well worth viewing (see my earlier post here).

The second series kicked off in style, with Mathias (Richard Harrington) dealing with the dramatic fall-out from his previous case and investigating the murder of a bus driver. We also begin to find out more about Mathias’ troubled past, when his wife arrives from London out of the blue. I was pleased to see this aspect of the narrative getting more attention, as it was the only thing I felt was under-developed in series 1, and will help to add definition to Mathias’ character  – and to that of his partner DI Mari Rhys (Mali Harris), who’s also dealing with family problems.

Those of you who saw series 1 will remember that two different versions were aired – one in Welsh and one in English. The series now on S4C at 9.00pm on Sunday nights is in Welsh with English subtitles – and I do recommend watching this one if you can to get a real flavour of the language. If you’d like to catch up, you can do so via Clic, S4C’s online version of BBC iPlayer (the subtitle button is on the bottom right of the screen next to the volume). You can see the subtitled trailer for episode 1 below.

English version Hinterland (which still has some subtitled Welsh bits) will be broadcast on BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Four at a later date, yet to be confirmed.

Starlings

Welsh publisher Graffeg has dipped its toe into fiction with an intriguing collaboration. In The Starling & Other Stories, edited by Ann Cleeves, twelve crime authors have contributed stories inspired by David Wilson’s bleakly beautiful photographs of Pembrokeshire, and the result is an aesthetic delight: a high-quality softback that features twelve black and white photos ahead of the resulting tales. It’s very lovely and would make a pleasing gift (check out the online sample here).

The authors are ‘The Murder Squad’ – Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Cath Staincliffe, Chris Simms, Margaret Murphy and Kate Ellis – and six ‘accomplices’ – Christine Poulson, Helena Edwards, Valerie Laws, Jim Kelly, Mary Sharratt and Toby Forward. So far, I’ve dipped into ‘Homecoming’ by Cath Staincliffe and ‘The Starlings’ by Ann Cleeves (the latter featuring one of my favourite police investigators, Vera Stanhope) – both of which were great. Having the photographs as a starting point is also very effective: I found myself looking at the relevant photo in a fair bit of detail before reading the story, and was then watching out to see which visual or thematic elements the author picked up and how she wove them in. Great fun, and a feast for the eye and criminal imagination.

Further details about The Starlings can be found over at the Graffeg website.

Review of ‘Beck’ episode ‘Buried Alive’ (Levande begravd) on BBC4

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Peter Haber as the iconic Swedish detective Martin Beck

Viewers in the UK were treated to the Swedish crime drama Beck for the first time this evening on BBC4. This highly regarded series, starring Peter Haber and Mikael Persbrandt as Inspector Martin Beck and Detective Gunvald Larsson, has been running since 1997 and draws on characters from Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s seminal ‘Martin Beck’ novels. The latter were published between 1965 and 1975 and are recognised as the forerunners to Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ novels and countless other Scandi police procedurals foregrounding social issues.

A total of twenty-six Beck films were made between 1997 and 2010, with a new set of dramas airing in Scandinavia at the beginning of 2015. The episode we saw tonight – ‘Buried Alive’ (Levande begravd– is number 26 from 2010. My review is below. It avoids major spoilers, but if you’d rather watch first then look away now.

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The first thing to note about Beck is that it’s very different in tone to BBC4’s previous crime drama, the Italian Young Montalbano (sunshine, pasta and the odd murder).

Yes, fasten your seatbelts – this is Scandi Noir with a capital N.

While ‘Buried Alive’ does contain some moments of humour (look out for the guest appearance of a cucumber), the dominant atmosphere is dark, violent and extremely scary. The opening scene sets the tone for the whole episode: public prosecutor Annika Runfelt is shown being abducted late at night; her body is found the following morning in a coffin that has been buried in the sandpit of a children’s playground. The main suspect is the leader of a notorious motorcycle gang, but it soon becomes clear that the solution is going to be far more complicated…

While the plot contained elements I’m not usually keen on (high levels of violence, a borderline sadistic focus on the suffering of the victims and a fair old dollop of melodrama), it was kept grounded by the portrayal of the police team’s methodical investigation and by the level-headed, intelligent presence of Inspector Beck. The dynamic between him and his police colleagues Gunvald Larsson (tough guy), Lena Klingström (experienced and practical) and Oskar Bergman (nervous rookie) was very well-drawn, and it’s this that will bring me back next week rather than the plot, which wore its original ‘season finale thriller’ status rather too obviously for my liking. I’m hoping that the next episode will be a little calmer and closer to the police procedural roots of the Beck novels.

Nonetheless, a promising start, not least because one of the key bits of investigation was carried out in a bookshop. I also found myself rooting strongly for Beck after less than an hour and a half of his company, which is a very good sign, given that we are joining the series such a long way in.

Next week’s episode is called ‘Room 302’ (Rum 302). In it, Beck’s team is called to investigate the murder of a teenage girl in Room 302 of Hotel Stureplan in Stockholm. This episode is the first of the Beck dramas that aired at the beginning of 2015 (number 27 overall).

UPDATE: I’ve just watched the ‘Room 302’ and it was excellent. Made five years after ‘Buried Alive’, it feels like a reboot that properly honours the police procedural roots of the novels. The storyline is plausible and nuanced, and both Beck and Larsson get a real chance to shine – great acting all round. Good to see and I look forward to the other episodes very much.

Beck rum 302

For those interested in the original ‘Martin Beck’ novels, there are further details over at Crime Fiction Lover. Radio 4 also dramatised the series a little while back (hopefully these will be repeated soon). You can hear short clips over on the BBC Radio 4 website.

Please be aware that there are a few (minor) spoilers in the comments below 🙂

Stop Press! BBC Four announces autumn Scandi dramas: Beck, The Bridge and Arne Dahl

UPDATES: The first episode of Beck aired on Saturday 12 September at 9pm on BBC4. My review of ‘Buried Alive’ (no major spoilers) is available here.

Beck has now finished. Arne Dahl begins on Saturday, 17. October at 9.00.

The start date for The Bridge 3 is Saturday 21. November (9pm; double episode). Mrs P blog post and trailer available here.

Series 2 of The Young Montalbano starts on Saturday 2. January 2016. More info available here.

                                                                   ************

BBC Four’s Channel Editor Cassian Harrison made some exciting crime drama announcements at the Edinburgh TV festival today. Below is an extract from the BBC4 press release:

>> BBC Four brings viewers an autumn of gripping Scandinavian drama with the return of the hugely popular The Bridge (the final episode of the last series was enjoyed by over 1.5m viewers) and Arne Dahl, as well as the launch of new crime thriller Beck.

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Beck: Based on the characters of the hugely popular Martin Beck detective series of novels by Swedish husband-and-wife writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Beck sees the much-loved detective brought to life on the small screen. Following the fortunes of enigmatic and extremely methodical detective Martin Beck and his partner, the irascible, impulsive Gunvald Larsson, Beck is arguably the originator of what has become known as Scandinavian crime: the good-cop, bad-cop partnership which went on to form the modern crime-fighting blueprint.

The brand-new feature-length films see detective Martin Beck investigating the shocking death of a young woman found strangled in a hotel room, a gangster kingpin executed by a sniper in front of his family, a terrorist attack and a suspicious hospital death which sourly turns out to be premeditated murder. It’s an intricate web of characters and lies. Think again. The killer is never who you expect it to be.

Starring Peter Haber (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as Beck and Mikael Persbrandt (The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug) as Larsson, the drama’s combination of complex woven details of police detection and beautifully realised characters combined with twisting, masterful storylines has ensured that the award-winning series won fans and acclaim from around the world.

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The Bridge 3: When Helle Anker, the founder of the first gender-neutral kindergarten in Copenhagen and a high-profile debater on gender issues, is found murdered in Sweden, the Danish and Swedish police are compelled to join forces once more for a third series of The Bridge. The brutal killing turns out to be only the first in a series of gruesome crimes, strung together in a case which involves Saga Norén of the Malmo Police personally and which will change her forever. A powerful, intriguing and unpredictable tale of crime, played out by fascinating and complex characters, the new season will revolve around the concept and structures of family – new, old, deviant, classical, constructive and destructive. At its heart, The Bridge carries a central theme of personal responsibility and its consequences.

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Arne DahlThe Swedish crime drama returns with five new stories. The A Unit has been disbanded for the past two years. When a wave of brutal murders hits Polish nurses in Sweden, the National Police see their chance to reinstate the The A Unit, and Kerstin Holm, previously a member of the team, is assigned to lead them.

We meet a chastened team of individuals who have allowed the all-consuming nature of their police work to eat away at their private lives. Demands and expectations have never been higher and a cold wind blows through the corridors at the National Police head-quarters. Can Kerstin get the unit to deliver, or is this new effort a misguided attempt by a paranoid police force in a time of increasingly unusual and refined criminal activity?

It is produced by Filmlance International AB in co-production with Sveriges Television and ZDF Germany, written by Erik Ahrnbom, Linn Gottfridsson, Peter Emanuel Falck and Fredrik Agetoft, adapted from the novels by Arne Dahl.<<

This is all very fitting on the day that sees the UK publication of the fourth in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, authored by David Lagerkranz (it’s out in the US on 1st September). Reviews appear to be pretty favourable thus far, as this example by The Telegraph‘s Jake Kerridge shows. So glad to see Salander living to fight another day.

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True Detective 1, Top of the Lake 2, Y Gwyll/Hinterland 2

The title of this post may look a bit like a line of football scores, but as you’ve probably guessed, the numbers denote the seasons of the crime series being discussed…

So…I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve *finally* managed to watch the box set of True Detective 1 (HBO 2014) that’s been sitting on my shelf for over a year. And what a treat it turned out to be – grown-up, complex crime drama at its absolute best.

The-DVD-cover-for-True-Detective

There was so much to like: the complex characterisation of Louisiana state police detectives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle, the absorbing interview/flashback structure, the stunning cinematography, the Deep South gothic-noir mood, and of course, that iconic title sequence featuring The Handsome Family’s ‘Far From Any Road’.

I watched the series with my son, and we were both impressed with the consistently high standard of the eight episodes. We ended up rationing them to one an evening, because each was such a rich viewing experience that we wanted to dissect them afterwards. While the investigation – into the ritualistic murder of a woman and the earlier disappearance of a child – was extremely compelling, what lingered in my mind was the story of Marty and Rust’s own development and the evolution of their relationship over a period of twenty years. Their characters were very different, with individual complexities and flaws, and were brilliantly brought to life by actors Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

I particularly loved Rust’s tenacity (bordering on worrying obsessiveness) in refusing to let the case die. Here he is scouting a site for clues with his ‘taxman’ notebook.

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I hear that True Detective 2 hasn’t (ahem) quite lived up to expectations, so if you haven’t yet seen True Detective 1, now could be the moment to check it out. It will stand the test of time as a standalone series, I’m sure.

Some very good news: a second series of Top of the Lake has been commissioned by BBC2, with Elizabeth Moss reprising her role as Detective Robin Griffin.

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There’s a major change of location, though: season 2 will be shot and set in Sydney, Australia and Hong Kong rather than New Zealand. I admit to having slightly mixed feelings about this, as the New Zealand setting was one of the big strengths of the first series for me. On the other hand, Jane Campion and Gerard Lee are once again co-writing, with Jane also set to co-direct, so I’ll be watching come what may. Production begins in December.

There’s further information about season 2 at indiewire and if.com.au. My earlier post on the first series of Top of the Lake (2013) and its wonderful female protagonists is available here.

And finally… The second series of Welsh crime drama Y Gwyll/Hinterland will air on British screens in mid-September:

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WalesOnline reports: >>The ground-breaking crime drama, starring Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias, will premiere in Welsh, with optional English subtitles, on S4C in the prime drama slot of 9pm on Sunday nights. The first episode of the eight-part series starts on September 13 and Mathias’ wife Meg turns up, hopefully revealing some of the moody detective’s shady past <<.

And here’s a nice little article by Kathryn Williams on ‘5 Things to Expect from Y Gwyll / Hinterland Series 2′. It looks like we’ll be finding out a lot more about both Mathias and Mared Rhys, which is a welcome development. While series 1 was great, a few people (myself included) thought a bit more backstory on the key investigators would have been good (see my earlier post here).

The English-language version will be shown on BBC Cymru Wales and BBC4 at a later date. Riches galore.

Berlinale 2015 showcases international crime dramas and thrillers from Germany, Israel, Denmark, Sweden and Italy

The 2015 Berlinale – one of the world’s top international film festivals – closes today in Berlin. As ever, a host of wonderful films have been shown during the packed ten-day programme, with the Iranian film Taxi, directed by dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi, awarded the coveted Golden Bear.

While reading coverage of the festival, I was interested to see that some international TV dramas were premiered as part of the programme, and that a number of these had a pronounced crime/thriller/spying dimension. Alessandra Stanley’s excellent article in the New York Times provides a good overview, and also discusses how such series are beginning to be picked up in the States (and not always to be remade in English either), which is a very good sign.

Here are a few of the series in question:

Deutschland 83. There’s quite a lot of buzz about this spying drama in Germany and beyond, and it has now also been picked up by an American network (in the original German!). The central protagonist is East German border guard Martin Rauch, who is sent across the border as an undercover agent by the Stasi (the East German secret police); his task is to pose as an aid to a West German general working with NATO. Stanley describes the series as ‘an ingenious, counter-intuitive look at the Cold War’ and a recent Guardian article sees it as indicative of rising interest in the divided Germany of 1949 to 1990.

Deutschland 83

Shkufim (False Flag). According to Stanley, this Israeli political drama was inspired by the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in 2010. That scenario has been reworked for the series, which shows five Israeli citizens waking up one day to find they are prime suspects in the kidnapping of a Iranian official in Moscow. The drama is produced by Tender Productions, which also has links with Homeland (which was itself based on the Israeli series Hatufim).

The five suspects in False Flag

Follow the Money is a Danish crime thriller series by DR Drama (the makers of The Killing and Borgen) due to air later this year. It focuses on corruption in big business, with a lovely twist: the business in question is a wind-power company called Energreen, with supposedly impeccable ecological and moral credentials. Insider dealings and dodgy deaths indicate that all is not as it should be.

Follow the Money. Photo credit Christian Geisnæs

1992 is an Italian drama that was picked up in Berlin by the UK, according to Stanley (though no specific channel is named). This time, the corruption of political life by big business is the focus: the drama explores the Italian bribery scandals of the 1990s, and the attempts of Milan magistrate Antonio Di Pietro to clean up politics through Operation Clean Hands (Mani Pulite).

Italian crime series 1992

Last but not least, Blå ögon (Blue Eyes) is a Swedish-German crime series that explores racism, discrimination and immigration issues. Stanley describes it as having an anti-racist message, but also wanting to ‘upend expectations’ by giving characters on all sides of the debate a voice. One of the murder victims is a female, right-wing politician, who is assassinated while out in public.

STV’s Blue Eyes

Stanley ends her piece by noting that none of these series feature the disappearance or death of a child, as seen in earlier crime series such as The Killing and Broadchurch. Or to put this another way: these dramas are moving from highly personal cases whose investigations focus on the family and small communities, to cases that address larger historical, political and social issues. Interesting times. As ever, I’m hoping that a good number will make it on to our UK and US screens.