The Killing — Killer TV No 7

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DR1 (Danish TV), 2007 series one, 2009 series two, 2012 series three

‘Why do you insist on going to work, now you can have a proper life?’ – Sarah Lund’s mother

Sofie Gråbøl, Lars Mikkelsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Søren Malling, Nicolas Bro, Charlotte Guldberg

Identikit: In Copenhagen, Detective Inspector Sarah Lund is about to begin her last shift before moving to Sweden with her fiancé when she becomes entangled in the disappearance of 19-year-old Nanna Birk Larsen.


logosFour years after it was shown in its homeland of Denmark, The Killing turned up complete with unknown cast and subtitles on minority channel BBC4 in the UK – and sent a thunderbolt through television drama. Not since Prime Suspect had anyone realised just how engrossing and emotionally deep a crime series could be. The advantages it had were that 20 hour-long episodes were devoted to the story of Sarah Lund and her team investigating the rape and murder of Nanna Birk Larsen; the cast was superb, fronted by an enigmatic performance from Sofie Gråbøl, who single-handedly blew away the cliché of the Nordic blonde dollybird; and the writing (by Søren Sveistrup) focused on character and the impact of a violent crime on the victim’s family, rather than just the whodunit. Moving and engrossing, set in an alien Nordic world, this was a mature, fascinating drama. Series two and three were also a cut above your average TV crime fare, but the first instalment was a true classic. TV execs at the Beeb and ITV hate to hear it, but The Killing was far superior to just about every drama made in the UK in recent years.

Spin-off: The 2011 US copy fiddled with the story and failed to convince viewers, but somehow kept going for another couple of series.

Classic episode: number 18, in which Jan Meyer is murdered at the warehouse. Having spent the entire series trying to get Sarah to clear off and being rude to her, Jan had – without any verbal acknowledgement between them – become a partner with Sarah, a team that had begun to value each other, with Meyer expressing concern for Lund and addressing her ‘as a friend’. His death was a shocking, emotionally affecting twist. Lund almost cracks when she’s told the news.

Music: Soundtrack composed by Frans Bak.

Watercooler fact: Sofie Gråbøl had no formal training as an actor. Encouraged by her mother and having responded to a newspaper ad, she got the role of a young girl in a film about Paul Gauguin and that ‘summer job’ led to others and suddenly she was an actor. She’s done Shakespeare and appeared in a Danish romantic drama, Nikolaj go Julie, before achieving international stardom as Lund.

Midsomer Murders 100th episode, DVD Review

DVD: ★★★½

Extras: ★★★

A CRICKET BAT, a fire iron, a saucepan, a faulty microphone, a pitchfork, a Celtic spear, liquid nicotine, a syringe, toxic fungus, a plough, a gargoyle, bottles of relish, a poisonous frog, a longbow arrow, a French guillotine, a prop theatrical knife, King Neptune’s trident and a hatpin have been among the murder weapons in ITV’s long-running crime series Midsomer Murders

It’s as batty as the village idiot. It’s the ‘drama’ that no one can take seriously. It’s a lark, lighthearted, murder as pantomime. And Midsomer Murders, which has been running since 1997, is incredibly popular.

Around 225 countries lap it up – among them Denmark. So, what a cunning plot it was to celebrate its 100th episode by partly setting the intrigue in Denmark. The Killings of Copenhagen, shown recently by ITV, included some well-known faces from The Killing and Borgen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen among them, to join the cast.

The story begins when the boss of the Badger’s Drift biscuit firm keels over while in Copenhagen. Needless to say, the weapon is out of the ordinary.
 

As Sarah Barnaby (Fiona Dolman) says to her detective husband, ‘A biscuit tin as a murder weapon?’

‘It’s hardly conventional, I know,’ he says with a straight face. Neil Dudgeon, now firmly at home in the lead having succeeded John Nettles, has certainly won over most Midsomer devotees.

This special episode should do too. It’s a lavish production, the mystery is fun, and the cast play it with relish, with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Joanna Scanlan among the non-Nordic guests.

It is also intriguing to wonder why the Scandinavians like the series so much. Perhaps after all the dark, moody dramas they’re so good at producing they need a bit of a laugh.

Included on this DVD edition is an interesting behind-the-scenes film, an interview with director Alex Pillai and more.

Running time 127mins, Certificate: 15, £17.99

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Spies of Warsaw BBC4 with David Tennant, Janet Montgomery PREVIEW

BBC4's Spies of Warsaw with David Tennant as Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier
Watching the Nazis – Colonel Mercier (David Tennant). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★ 

BBC4: starts Wednesday, 9 January, 9pm 

Story: It is 1937, and Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a decorated soldier from the First World War, is a French military attaché in Warsaw, Poland, while Hitler’s Nazi regime looms over mainland Europe. He leads a double life – embassy official by day, spy by night, with the latter role making him highly distrustful of Germany’s military schemes.

‘Tis the season for spy dramas. Following the excellent Restless on BBC1, sister channel BBC4 keeps up the intrigue with this second wartime espionage story.

It’s a classy, engrossing tale, based on Alan Furst‘s acclaimed novel, and adapted by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who are big fans of the American author’s books. And in David Tennant, a captivating performer whether playing Doctor Who or Hamlet, the two 90-minute films have an actor who is suitably dashing as the decorated French soldier and hero of the story.

BBC4's Spies of Warsaw with Jane Montgomery as Anna Skarbek
Mercier has a complicated romance with Anna

His character, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, is a cultural attaché at the French embassy in Warsaw. For a former man of action, the embassy dances and complacency of French diplomats in the face of covert military activity on the Nazi side of the border is frustrating.

Jane Montgomery is Anna Skarbek
By deceiving a German engineer into passing on Nazi tank secrets and by launching his own night-time border raids, Mercier begins to understand that Hitler is getting ready for war – a prospect his diplomat colleagues dismiss.

But there is also romantic intrigue in the shape of a Parisian lawyer for League of Nations called Anna Skarbek, played by Jane Montgomery. She is hitched up with a drunken Russian journalist, and it is not long before Mercier is launching his own covert operation to seduce her.

Mercier is a chevalier, a French knight, and a gentleman, but where the beautiful Skarbek is concerned, needs must. However, it is his sense of honour that pushes him to risk his life to expose the brutal plotting of the Nazis.

David Tennant and Richard Lintern in Spies of Warsaw
Mercier and Colonel Lessard

Mercier is like a pre-war, French James Bond
Period detail is understated, moody and convincing, bringing a period to life when Europe was in a state of apprehension and totally alien to its current-day union, where intrigue and plotting generally take place round the conference table.

Spies of Warsaw is an old-fashioned espionage tale in setting and tone, with Nazi evil-doers in black trilbys and leather overcoats up against Mercier, a pre-war, French James Bond. But it is a nicely complicated drama, with the personal lives of Mercier and Skarbek tangled in the great issues of era.

The cast is full of excellent actors, with Burn Gorman as Mercier’s dismissive embassy colleague, Anton Lesser as Mercier’s German contact, The Killing‘s Ann Eleonora Jorgensen as one of Mercier’s agents, the granite-faced Polish actor Miroslaw Zbrojewicz as Mercier’s sidekick, and Julian Glover as the French general, among others.

David Tennant and Janet Montgomery in Spies of Warsaw
Dangerous love – Mercier and Anna

David Tennant – hero and romantic lead
And David Tennant rounds off the ensemble superbly, looking every inch the French officer while also throwing himself into the action and being romantic lead. Though he makes an excellent spy, his cover as an actor was soon blown in Poland when Polish Doctor Who fans tracked him down for an autograph.

All respect to the current Doctor Who, Matt Smith, but Spies of Warsaw is a reminder of how charismatic a performer Tennant is.

Cast: David Tennant Jean-Francois Mercier, Janet Montgomery Anna Skarbek, Marcin Dorocinski Antoni Pakulski, Ludger Pistor Edvard Uhl, Burn Gorman Jourdain, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen ‘The Countess’ / Olga Musser, Piotr Baumann Maxim Mostov, Miroslaw Zbrojewicz Marek, Ellie Haddington Madame Dupin, Tuppence Middleton Gabrielle, Anton Lesser Doctor Lapp, Adam Godley Julius Halbach, Nicholas Murchie Johannes Elter, Mel Giedroyc Trudl, Richard Lintern Colonel Lessard, Julian Glover General Beauvilliers, Fenella Woolgar Lady Angela Hope, Richard Teversen Roddy Fitzware, Magda Poplawska  Princess Ewa, Jan Pohl Zoller, Rad Kaim August Voss, Linda Bassett Malka Rozen, Alan Corduner Viktor Rozen, Tusse Silberg Helena Skarbek, Julian Harries Duff Cooper

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Why The Killing is the best thing on television – 10 reasons

Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl), non-confrontational but very strong. Pics: BBC

 

The Killing is tucked away on BBC4 (Saturdays 9pm), but don’t underestimate this Danish cult hit – it’s the best series currently on TV.

1 Sarah Lund
Actress Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah Lund (above), a deputy superintendent with Copenhagen police, has become something of an icon across Europe – and it’s not just because of her jumper, which is now a fashion must-have. She is the antithesis of most female cops on TV – no suit, no ball-busting bust-ups with male colleagues, and she’s not a dolly or glam in the mould of Anna Travis (Above Suspicion) or Marg Helgenberger (CSI). She is low-key and shrewd, and while non-confrontational she remains a very strong personality. When her colleague, the un-subtle Meyer (Søren Malling), says to her, ‘You owe me an explanation,’ she just walks away. So, that will be a no then, Meyer. The camera often simply focuses on her eyes, and we sense her mind moving way ahead of her colleagues’.

2 Better than most Brit/US shows
For depth of character and storytelling honesty, The Killing is up there with the best US shows, such as The Wire and The Sopranos. When it comes to the procedural stuff – CSI, Law & Order, Silent Witness – or the pretty postcard mysteries made in the UK – Marple, Midsomer Murders, Inspector George Gently – oh, please, let’s draw a veil over such non-comparisons.

3 Good whodunnit
Liable to spark lengthy debates on the front-room sofa – was Nanna’s killer a psychopath, her teacher, boyfriend, or part of a political conspiracy? When the series was originally shown in Denmark in 2007, large bets were placed on the perpetrator’s identity.

4 Better than a whodunnit
But it’s so much more than a whodunnit. The power of the series is the brilliantly drawn, complex characters, who can make bad choices or lie but never lose our empathy.

5 Focus on relationships

The ever-watchful Sarah Lund

Most crime dramas lack any emotional pull because the victim is treated indifferently, as a device to kick-off the plot. How often do such shows start with grumpy detectives turning up a murder scene, where the victim is showcased in all their gore, and then virtually forgotten. In The Killing the murder of student Nanna Birk Larsen reverberates through the whole series, it’s impact on her family being portrayed with respect and painful honesty. And the relationships shift – Lund and Meyer, with all the pace of a glacial thaw, gradually form an unlikely partnership.

6 No ludicrous plot shifts
No, it’s not likely that Lund’s colleague Meyer will turn out to be a bent cop turned nutty killer who frames her, or that Lund will form an alliance with a serial killer (why does the BBC’s Luther come to mind here?).

7 Multi-strand storylines brilliantly juggled 
Where most British series focus solely on the investigation and the cops, The Killing superbly interweaves Lund’s tangled relationship with her mother, son and lover, a political election and all its dirty tricks, police department power games, and the ongoing, heartbreaking trauma for Nanna’s family.

8 Atmospheric
Forest, rainy nights and sombre interiors.

9 Beautifully paced 
We’ve all seen those series that are desperate to stop us turning over, with three murders and/or several dismembered corpses before the first ad break. The Killing savours every scene, devoting one episode to each day of the 20-day investigation.

Bjarne Henriksen as Theis

10 Tremendous performances
If any actor can convey more anguish with the blink of an eye than Bjarne Henriksen as Nanna’s rough-diamond dad, Theis, then please fill out the comment box below. Theis and his wife, Pernille (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen), are the soul of the series. Lars Mikkelsen as the mayoral candidate under suspicion, Troels Hartmann, is moving. Any actor who can make us feel for a politician has to be a marvel.

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