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.

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CrimeTimePreview editor Robin with start of The Killing Sofie Gråbøl

CrimeTimePreview editor Robin with star of The Killing Sofie Gråbøl

CrimeTimePreview.com has been covering the best new crime series and thrillers from broadcasters around the world for five years.

In that time we’ve previewed everything from the new wave of Nordic Noir with The Killing – which is still the post that received our biggest ever response – to Sherlock, True Detective and many more. We’ve also interviewed many of the most brilliant crime writers around, from Ian Rankin (Rebus) to Ann Cleeves (Shetland and Vera).

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Nordicana 2013

Arne Dahl cast: Malin Arvidsson, Shanti Roney, Matias Varela, Claes Ljungmark and Magnus Samuelsson at Nordicana 2013
The cast of Arne Dahl at Nordicana
A DERELICT warehouse in Clerkenwell, London, was the inspired setting for the first Nordicana, a celebration of Scandi TV, film and culture, which finished yesterday. You could easily imagine Sarah Lund with flashlight looking for a suspect within its twisting corridors and forgotten work spaces. 

Instead of killers and corpses, however, were screenings, Q&A sessions with the actors, in addition to glasses of Icelandic vodka, smoked salmon and massages. Oh, and the famous Lund sweater was for sale too. The two-day event featured screenings of TV’s Wallander, Arne Dahl and Borgen, along with panels from actors including Charlotta Jonsson (Wallander), most of the Arne Dahl cast, and Lars Knutzon (Borgen). 

There were sessions with authors Ann Cleeves (Shetland, which is almost in Scandinavia), and David

Nordicana 2013, in Clerkenwell, London
Inspired setting – The Farmiloe Building, London

Hewson, author of the recent novelisations of The Killing. In addition, several movies were screened, including Love Is All You Need, starring Pierce Brosnan, The Hunt, with Mads Mikkelsen, and A Hijacking.


Nordicana is a sign that our liking for noir in the cold climates has taken root since The Killing became such a hit on BBC4. I was struck by how packed the two screenings for Arne Dahl were. 

This cop drama hasn’t generated as many headlines as Sarah Lund, but it was clear at the screenings of the brilliant two-part series finale, Europa, that Arne Dahl has quietly built an avid following. That the cast on the panel interviewed by crime fiction expert Barry Forshaw – Malin Arvidsson, Shanti Roney, Matias Varela, Claes Ljungmark and Magnus Samuelsson – were all so charming and approachable will have done nothing to dent the series’ popularity.
Nordicana was good fun. The next appointments with Scandi dramas will be back in our front rooms as BBC4 lines up Borgen 3 and The Bridge 2 for broadcast.

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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?

Best Crime Dramas on British TV 2011

2011’s TV crimespree blew away the previous year’s good, but not overwhelming, caseload of crime dramas and thrillers. This selection is based on shows that had some heart and emotional depth, rather than the mainstream of whodunits and procedurals. But by all means, fire off your disagreements and preferences in the comments section at the end…
(Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, BSkyB, FX, 5USA)

Michael C Hall as Dexter

10 Dexter series 5 FX (UK)
This was probably Dexter’s best outing since series one. It began with our serial killer protagonist in crisis, with his wife, Rita, murdered and his baby son discovered in a pool of her blood, which eerily echoed Dexter’s own childhood trauma. The emotion-less Dexter is disconcerted, perhaps even moved a little, because by being with him, Rita – who thought she was ‘getting a real human being’ – has ended up butchered. The complications mounted for Dex, with his step-sister perplexed by his behaviour and his trying to deflect Lumen Pierce, whom he rescued from another serial killer, from seeking revenge. The conceit of novelist Jeff Lindsay’s creation – serial killer as hero – should not work, but the black humour, the pathos, the character’s deadpan voiceovers and Michael C Hall’s performance makes this an unmissable and original series.
Highlight: Dexter giving Rita’s family and kids the dreadful news that she’s been murdered – but being so disengaged that he forgets to take off his Mickey Mouse ears while doing so.

Jamie Bamber as DS Devlin


9 Law & Order: UK series 4 and 5 ITV1
L&O: UK is now such a staple for ITV1 that we’ve had two series of it this year. The spin-off from the original US series earns its place here for its consistently good and tightly packed one-hour dramas, which frequently end on an ambivalent note. The stories also cover tough subjects, crimes by children, a gun rampage or killings by negligent doctors, for instance. The fifth season saw Dominic Rowan and Peter Davison joined the legal side of the cast, while the compelling tales continued without let-up. Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber have been excellent as the chalk-and-cheese detective sergeants, though sadly it looks as though that partnership has come to an end. Lead writer Emilia di Girolamo injected plenty of emotional impact into the last series, and finished it with a stunning cliffhanger…
Highlight: has to be the finale of series five, when DS Matt Devlin was shot outside court.

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie

8 Case Histories BBC1
Novelist Kate Atkinson is not solidly in the crime genre camp, and this hugely enjoyable series caught the narrative quirks, mystery and humour of her writing brilliantly. Jason Isaacs, in a sharp contrast to his American persona in the gangster series Brotherhood, was the engaging and vulnerable tough guy Jackson Brodie, who gets dragged into the world of the Land sisters by Sylvia Syms’s missing moggy. The sisters want Jackson to look into the fate of their missing sister, who vanished 30 years before. Edinburgh is the beautifully shot backdrop, and the cast, including Amanda Abbington as the tough cop with a soft spot for the wayward Jackson, was wonderful.
Highlight: any of Jackson’s scenes with his young daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes).

Janet Leach (Emily Watson) accompanies Fred West (Dominic West) to a murder site

7 Appropriate Adult ITV1
Dominic West showed what an accomplished star he is with this unexpected performance as the one-man horrorshow that was real-life serial killer Fred West. It was controversial, but still a haunting and unforgettable dramatisation from the award-winning team that revisited the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors murders on the small screen. Confronting such revolting crimes in a drama is a way of attempting to gain modest perspective on them, but Appropriate Adult ultimately reinforced the feeling that such killers are beyond our understanding. Written by Neil McKay, the drama cleverly approached the horrendous story from an oblique angle, that of housewife Janet Leach, who was the required Appropriate Adult brought in to chaperone the apparently below-averagely intelligent West – a powerful performance by Emily Watson.
Unforgettable moment: Janet Leach’s uncomprehending expression as West tells detectives about his crimes.

Will Sully be a Top Boy?

6 Top Boy Channel 4
Channel 4 is not a top producer of crime dramas, but if it only makes one a year that is as potent as Top Boy then it will be worth waiting for. A four-parter that took a hard look at inner-city drug and gang culture, our escort into this world was 13-year-old Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), whose mother is hospitalised after a breakdown. The programme caught the pressure on young men such as Ra’Nell to ally themselves with gangs for status, but the price exacted by the likes of Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) – both also desperate to be top boys, despite the huge risks – was unflinchingly shown.
Highlight: Raikes telling Dushane he has to give up Sully to the Feds. Reality bites…


5 The Field of Blood BBC1
Based on a Denise Mina novel, this was a gem of a drama that the Beeb seemed almost embarrassed to put out for some reason (10.15pm, Monday night?). But it got a lot of things right. The characters, particularly young Jayd Johnson as Glasgow newspaper ‘copyboy’ Paddy Meehan, were believable and sympathetic, and the 1980s were as sexist and rocking musically as many would have remembered them. David Morrissey played the bullying editor with a heart, and Peter Capaldi was excellent as the old hack. And the story of a young woman with ambitions beyond marriage and a crap job who sets out to discover the truth behind a child murder that has implicated her 10-year-old cousin was captivating. Someone should commission more dramas based on Mina’s novels.
Highlight: Paddy’s character-defining punch-up in the ladies with glamour-puss reporter Heather.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky

4 Boardwalk Empire series 1 & 2 Sky Atlantic
Few dramas have the scope and ambition of this HBO epic. From the mega-budget opening episode, it’s been an engrossing attempt to revisit an extraordinary period in American history. Steve Buscemi has been mesmerising as Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the brazenly corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City, whose policy is less Prohibition than anything goes. Melding real historical figures – politicians, government agents and gangsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano – with the sweep of the jazz age backdrop has brought this age of political madness vividly to life. And it’s been extraordinary watching the performances of two Brits in the cast – Kelly Macdonald as Margaret, Nucky’s mistress, and Stephen Graham as Capone, who doesn’t look remotely Neapolitan but in every episode appears about to erupt like Vesuvius. It’s won a glut of awards, including eight Emmys, and will return for a third series.
Highlight: the whole of the opener directed by Martin Scorsese – a kaleidoscope of music, partying and corruption.

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan

3 Justified series 2 5USA
The second series may have had the edge over the terrific first series, with a strong story arc that saw gun-happy deputy US marshal Raylan Givens facing off with Dixie mafia boss Mags Bennett and her vile sons. The magic of the series, drawn from a character created by the crime writers’ crime writer, Elmore Leonard, is that the setting – a rural Kentucky mining town – is fresh and well depicted, with its clans and bonehead villains and good ol’ boys. However, while Mags (an Emmy-winning performance from Margo Martindale) may have been surrounded by boneheads in her clan, she was sadistic, menacing and well-mannered all at the same time. Timothy Olyphant was again laid-back and almost as cool as Paul Newman in the title role, while Natalie Zea as his on-off-on other half added glamour and attitude. Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss, Art Mullen, gave the show heart and a lot of laughs. Series three will be racked and ready in 2012…
Highlight: the deadly confrontation between Raylan and Mags’s son, Coover.

Watch your back – The Shadow Line

2 The Shadow Line BBC1
In a strong year for conspiracy thrillers – Hidden, Exile, Page Eight – Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line stands out. Great cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea, Rafe Spall, Kierston Wareing, Antony Sher – in a creepy and dark story featuring a trio of psychos to give you nightmares. Stephen Rea was unforgettable as the puppetmaster Gatehouse, Rafe Spall pulled off the best nut job since Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and Freddie Fox simpered as the morally blank Ratallack. Kierston Wareing, who seemed to appear in just about every good crime show this year from The Runaway to Top Boy, was terrific as the sexy, acid-tongued detective sergeant Honey. Blick’s wordy scenes and extraordinary characters created a drama that was not realistic, but felt like a nightmare of foreboding. Midsomer Murders this was not.
Highlight: the moment when Gatehouse finally catches up with the mysterious Glickman, played by Antony Sher. What an amazing showdown.

Bloody business for Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl)

1 The Killing series 1 BBC4

It has to be. There had been subtitled crime series around – the Swedish Wallander, for instance – but The Killing, tucked away on BBC4, took everyone by surprise, including the Beeb. It notched up more viewers than Mad Men, set blog comment boxes buzzing (CrimeTimePreview was inundated with feedback from adoring viewers), and showed that mainstream US and UK formats – murder, neat resolution by detective – often lacked any emotional impact at all. This 20-parter did not use the disappearance and murder of teenager Nanna Birk Larsen as a plot device to kick off a voyeuristic mystery, but explored the horrendous emotional shock of the crime on her family and on detective Sarah Lund. The show wasn’t perfect, being over-stretched with red-herrings, but its dark intrigue and whole-hearted performances from the unknown cast (in Britain, at least) – Sofie Gråbøl, Søren Malling, Lars Mikkelsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen – made viewers fascinated with all things Danish and guaranteed a bunch of awards, including a Bafta and several CWA Crime Thiller Daggers.
Highlight: the way Sarah Lund’s initially frosty relationship with her blunt instrument of a colleague, Jan Meyer, evolves silently and without histrionics, so that when Meyer is murdered the moment is  shocking and sad.

Near misses
Single-Handed, Braquo, Spiral, Romanzo Criminale, Garrow’s Law, Exile, Mad Dogs, Martina Cole’s The Runaway, Sons of Anarchy
Way off-target
Ringers – dafter than a very daft thing. Silent Witness – gratuitous and voyeuristic.
Damp-squib send-off
Spooks – wiped out by ill-judged decision to schedule it against Downton Abbey. Deserved better.
Letdown of the year
Hidden – started really well, but final episode was such a disappointment.

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The Killing was a killer show

Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl). Pic: BBC

Since posting about Why The Killing Is the Best Thing on TV, crimetimepreview has been inundated with comments and thousands of hits from the growing army of fans for this superb Danish thriller.

Around 80 people so far have commented on that post, from a Doctor Who scriptwriter to viewers who cancelled their eagle-spotting holiday in Scotland to avoid missing BBC4’s Saturday night double-bill. Posts compared the 20-parter to The Wire, Prime Suspect, and, further back, to largely forgotten classics such as Out, starring Tom Bell, and The Sandbaggers, with Roy Marsden. Some said it was without equal.

What comes through strongly in the comments is that many viewers are bored with the unambitious dramas churned out by the Beeb and ITV so often these days.

‘To think I used to watch Casualty on Saturday night…’ was one comment, while another said, ‘I wish we could see this kind of quality produced in the UK.’

Vagn was the man and Troels sold out
Rather than costume cops (Inspector George Gently and Marple etc) and extending Midsomer and Morse into eternity, perhaps now is the time for the big guns of ITV, BBC, C4 and BSkyB to raise their game (though BSkyB’s soon-to-be seen Martina Cole drama, The Take, is spunkier than most terrestrial shows around right now). After all, the brilliance of The Killing is nothing to do with big budgets or armies of American scriptwriters – it’s about cliche-free storytelling and sharply drawn characters.

As for the finale – my personal theory that Rie and Brix were involved in some cover-up was revealed to be total poppycock. Vagn (Nicolaj Kopernikus) was the man, and Troels (Lars Mikkelsen), who melted many female hearts, was shown to be a typical politician in the end – two-faced and unburdened by integrity, selling out Rie and his principles just as his arch-rival Bremer predicted.

While there was no explanation for Vagn’s sexual abuse of Nanna, this aspect of his revolting crime still made sense. He had creepily immersed himself into the Birk Larsen family (Jan Meyer was right about him!) and he was clearly bent on destroying what he seemed to love but couldn’t have.

Sarah Lund pays the price
And such a bittersweet end for Sarah Lund. A brilliant moment when she realised what ‘Sara 84’ – Meyer’s deathbed utterance – meant. But what a price to pay to being proved correct – family and lovelife wrecked, work partner murdered… And what a total tragedy for the innocent Birk Larsens.

Quibbles? Well, what was that business with the sabotaged lighting outside Sarah’s apartment? Had there been someone watching her? And it was a bit of a stretch, surely, for Vagn to get out to the ship, murder Frevert and not be spotted by anyone onboard. Had Frevert known all along about Vagn’s crime? More importantly, can someone explain to me how Vagn ended up at the party’s apartment with Nanna, before taking her to Theis’s new house to kill her? I might have to watch it all again.

Livvagterne, anyone?

One viewer posted a comment saying that The Killing was not the only excellent Danish thriller around. He hoped LivvagterneThe Bodyguards would also get a showing here.

So, perhaps while the BBC or ITV starts to commission its own original and gripping new crime series, it could check out purchasing Livvagterne.

In the meantime, Spiral will be back on BBC4 before The Killing II returns in the autumn. The trailer for that looked pretty good, too.

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.

The Killing – US version PREVIEW

It’s had word-of-mouth buzz for a few weeks now, and I’m addicted to the Danish crime series The Killing, showing in the UK on BBC4 (the whole series is available on BBC iPlayer). It’s a believable portrayal of a murder investigation in 20 parts, emotional and sombre, with the charismatic Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah Lund, the down-to-earth, watchful detective in charge.

A US version has been made by AMC, the people behind Mad Men. This goes out in the States in March/April. Will it be a poor shadow of the original, or a decent reinterpretation? Here are some tasters…

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