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.

The Killing III – the last weekend

Shooting star – Sarah Lund. Pics: BBC
Reinhardt and Zeuthen

The devotion of British viewers to The Killing will be cut tomorrow night when the third series concludes and we say Hej hej to Sarah Lund and what has been a memorable TV drama. As Lund’s cowboy strut takes her off into the sunset (or, as this is Denmark, into the gloom), will it end happily for Sarah, the obsessed but shrewd detective? Will she be reconciled with her son? Seems unlikely she will end up with Borch, the man she loves, after that visit from his wife last week. But surely writer Søren Sveistrup won’t be cruel and kill her off… Oh, and then there’s the investigation. We now know it was Zeuthen’s right-hand man, Reinhardt, who seemed to have provoked the whole killing spree and kidnapping of his daughter. Will the killer get Reinhardt, or will Lund stop him? Will Kamper win the election, and what has been Karen’s game? This series has had its slow stretches (anyone care if Kamper’s party forms an alliance with the Centre Party?) and its implausibilities (how did the killer vanish after Lund shot him from a few feet away, and then again when he limped away from his pursuers at the government HQ?). The Killing III may not have matched the superb first series, but it has still been a sophisticated, emotionally charged thriller. And in Sofie Gråbøl (Lund), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Mathias Borch), Morten Suurballe (Lennart Brix) and the rest, the series once again gave us a gripping display of ensemble acting. It’s about time UK broadcasters tried to match The Killing‘s depth and quality. The final two episodes of The Killing are on BBC4 tomorrow night (Saturday, 15 December), starting at 9pm

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The Killing series three starring Sofie Gråbøl PREVIEW

Sarah Lund at the murder scene that launches the third series. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★½ 

BBC4: starts Saturday, 17 November, 9pm 

Story: Detective Sarah Lund has found some peace in the form of a new home, hopefully a move to a less front-line job, and the impending recognition of her 25 years police service. But homicide again gets in the way of her plans…

Sarah Lund returns in the third and final series of the acclaimed Danish crime drama – but with a difference. She’s let her hair down, has new jumpers, a garden, is cooking proper meals, and half-smiles at one point.

That the uncommunicative, obsessive detective is trying to reclaim her life will catch her many devotees off-guard. This is the woman whose compulsion in series one to solve the Nanna Birk Larsen case led her to lose sight of her boyfriend and her son.

We get reacquainted with lonesome Lund as she is about to be rewarded for 25 years of police service. So eager is she to pursue some happiness in her personal life that she is trying to get a transfer away from the crime scenes to the analysis department, and also tries to duck out of investigating a mangled body found in a junkyard by the port.

Lund is pushed into investigating by Borch (right)

The audience knows the Lund enigma so well
Then comes a painful scene. Lund has invited her teenage son to dinner with his girlfriend, whom Sarah has never met. She has prepared a meal for the couple, got her new home ready – but then the lad calls to blow her out.

It’s sad for Lund, who starts apologising to her boy for having failed occasionally as a mother. But while doing this, she absentmindedly flicks through some crime-scenes photos of a dismembered corpse. A tattoo on a severed arm offers her a clue, and she begins to ignore her son, once again working through the possibilities of this clue.

Sarah Lund is back, her son forgotten again. In a moment, sadness switched to laughter when I saw a preview of this opening episode at the BFI in London on Friday. The audience now knows the Lund enigma so well, they could only laugh when she reverted to her murder-immersed old self.

Sarah Lund’s old flame is on the scene
The global financial meltdown is the backdrop to this 10-part story, and the apparently random death in the scrapyard turns out to have links to the crisis.

Lund with new partner Juncker and Brix

It’s a rich mix of a story, with the strands including Sarah Lund’s old flame, Mathias Borch from the National Security Service, reappearing in her life, while Prime Minister Kamper is facing re-election and trying to avert the disaster of having Denmark’s oil giant Zeeland pulling out of the country and moving operations abroad, costing many local jobs.

Zeeland’s boss Robert Zeuthen is facing a boardroom coup, and there’s a shocking development concerning his family. It’s a tense opening episode, kicking off with chilling murders on board a tanker ship, but one containing a lot of the political machinations of the kind we saw in The Killing 1.

The Killing was the TV drama of 2011
The original series was only shown in the UK last year, a remarkably short time in which Sarah Lund – the awkward, silent, puzzling heroine – has become a much-loved leading character in the crime genre. Having been around since 2007, the subtitled Danish series with no household names in it was a word-of-mouth sensation, clearly catching BBC4 completely unaware.

Is there a link between the sordid murder and corporate powers?

We’ve watched Lund’s decline into loneliness, particularly in series two, where she found herself in uniform on border duty. This second outing lacked the emotional power of the first, which was a heartrending portrayal of the impact of the kidnap and murder of teenager Nanna on her family.

Will series three be a fitting send-off? Some of the novelty has inevitably worn off what was initially an exotic drama for Brits, but the opener is packed with intrigue and Sofie Gråbøl is again very strong and sympathetic as Lund.

Sofie Gråbøl: ‘I cried all the way home’
It should also keep us guessing. The actress was at the BFI last week and said that for the third she had guessed wrong who the writer Søren Sveistrup had made responsible for the crimes.

She also acknowledged that finishing her role as Lund had been emotional. ‘It hit me like a hammer,’ she told the audience. ‘I had three big emotional scenes on the last day and it was stressful.’ Having been given a bottle of champagne, she said, ‘I just ran off because it would be pathetic to cry at work. I cried all the way home.’

Sofie Gråbøl at the BFI. Pic: Robin Jarossi

Sveistrup was also at the BFI and emphasised that series three is definitely the final one. ‘It’s been great,’ he said. ‘We agreed from the start that it would not be a neverending story. I’d hate it to become just another mass-produced show.

‘So much television stinks. It’s important to reinvent yourself. Do something, be proud of it and finish it.’

He’s surely right. But Sarah Lund will be much missed.

Cast: Sofie Gråbøl Sarah Lund, Nikolaj Lie Kaas Mathias Borch, Morten Suurballe Lennart Brix, Sigurd Holmen le Dous Asbjørn Juncker, Anders W. Berthelsen Robert Zeuthen, Helle Fagralid Maja Zeuthen, Stig Hoffmayer Niels Reinhardt, Olaf Johannessen Kristian Kamper, Jonatan Spang Kristoffer Kamper, Trine Pallesen Karen Nebel, Tammi Øst Birgit Eggert, Peter Mygind Tage Steiner

Read on:
Why The Killing is the best thing on TV – 10 reasons (CrimeTimePreview)
The Killing BBC4
The Killing (Forbrydelsen) Wikipedia
Sarah Lund’s Jumper
Crash course in Danish for Killing fans

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Could The Killing’s creator be about to make a series in the UK?

Soren Sveistrup, the man who created The Killing, made a rare interview appearance at Crimefest in Bristol at the weekend. He was attending the launch of the novelisation of The Killing with the book’s British author, David Hewson.

One tantalising possibility that came out of their interview with critic Barry Forshaw before an audience of authors and crime fiction fans was that Sveistrup could make a British series when The Killing 3 finishes filming in September. Forshaw asked Sveistrup if would be interested in making a series for the BBC, which showed series one and two of the acclaimed Danish murder drama on BBC4.

Sveistrup – as can seen in this clip from the interview – said the BBC had not approached him, but he has had an approach or two from UK producers, which he is thinking over. He said the project would have to be something original, that would allow him to have a ‘rebirth’ in creative terms.

So, which British channel could be brave enough to commission something new and exciting from the writer/creator of The Killing?

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