FORBRYDELSEN Saturday 10 December, 2011

Danish murder, intrigue and chunky knits.

Some time ago I heard rumblings about a good show that auntie Beeb was screening. It was from a Scandinavian country and it was called The Killing. I didn’t watch it. Later a friend recommended that I watch a show called Forbrydelsen. I didn’t realise that the two were one in the same until I, rather smugly,  told him I’d bought The Killing on DVD and asked if he’d seen it. He looked at me like he was waiting for the punchline and then told me that this is the same Forbrydelsen he had told me to watch all those months ago. Forbrydelsen is the actual name of The Killing. I think, perhaps though, I shall only refer to it as Forbrydelsen to distinguish it from the, apparently pallid, U.S. re-make.

So what is Forbrydelsen? It is a show which follows the investigation of a brutal murder. The victim is a 19 year old girl. The case has far reaching implications for the officers investigating the case, the family of the victim and a prominent politician. The main focus of the series is Sarah Lund (played, compellingly, by Sophie Gråbøl) a DCI in the Cophenhagen police and lead detective on the case. Much has been made of her knitwear. She mainly appears in the show wearing chunky knit sweaters. I’m not sure why this is such a big deal but apparently it is.

So far so ordinary (except for the sweaters). So what is it that has caused such excitement about the show? According to the quote on the front of the DVD the Sunday Times hails Forbrydelsen as being “the new The Wire“. I can understand the comparison but I don’t agree with it. Either the person who wrote that is lazy or they did not really understand either show.

Forbrydelsen is primarily a thriller. It’s main purpose is entertainment. The producers of Forbrydelsen want you to enjoy the show. Whereas the producers of The Wire would no doubt be happy if you enjoyed their work but they were also very intent on dealing with real social issues. They were interested in documenting society but using their drama as a vehicle to do so. The producers of Forbrydelsen just want you to be thrilled enough to come back for the next episode.

A very obvious example of the differing objectives the two series is the ‘previously on…’ reel that opens each episode of Forbrydelsen. The existence of which shows us that the producers want you to be able to enjoy the show even if you’ve missed episodes. No such care from The Wire. If you missed an episode of The Wire you were very much on your own. In fact I have to be honest that I am not a fan of these re-cap montages and towards the end of the series they were taking up a sizeable chunk of each episode. I found that quite grating. If that wasn’t bad enough all of the episodes end with a music montage showing where the characters have been left by the events of the episode. What this means is that each episode starts with a re-cap of previous events and end with a re-cap (of sorts) of the episode you’ve just watched. They really want you to keep up with the plot. Even if you’re a bit dense.

These are just minor gripes though. The real problem I have with comparing this show to The Wire is that the plot of this programme is downright ridiculous. If I have learned anything from watching this series is that you should not trust Danish people. There are so many instance of people being interviewed and then three or five or ten episodes later they suddenly realise that they might have overlooked a key piece of evidence. If the show were a fisherman it would have caught it’s quota of red herring for the next ten years by around about episode five.

Sarah Lund also has a mythic ability to work out what to do next without any evidence really pointing her in that direction. If she were really smart she would knock the detective game on the head and wend her way to Vegas. She’d make a fortune performing amazing feats of psychic prescience. I guess you need to develop that level of psychic ability in order to solve any kind of crime in Denmark what with everybody forgetting crucial information all the time.

At times it’s aggravating to watch Lund and her partner Jan Meyer (brilliantly played by Søren Malling) jump to fantastical conclusions to disastrous effect. I’m not sure if we’re meant to be annoyed by this though. If we are it’s a job well done.

One thing that show does do brilliantly is follow the trauma of the parents who find themselves outliving their daughter. The horror of the brutality of her murder exacts a terrible cost upon them and their relationship with each other and their remaining children. The show casts an unflinching eye over these scenes and it is mostly heartbreaking and emotionally resonant.

I’m not sure that I would proffer the accolades that others have been all to happy to shower over this series but I will say it’s enjoyable. If you’re looking for something that’s a very watchable and thrilling pieces of escapism then you could do much worse. Just don’t think of it as a successor to The Wire.


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  • Hugo Ugli says:

    I like the red herring line, but do you mean rollmops?

    I am grateful that you cleared up the Forbrydelsen/Killing joke that has been on me these last months.

    cheers, G&S

    • geekspeller says:

      I think, given Sarah Lund’s choice of sweater, that roll-neck would be more the order of the day. hur hur hur.

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