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All this Scandinavian drama, really good ? or is it the subtitles? January 21, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Film and Television.
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It was a while before the recent spate of Scandinavian television shows made their way to me. . . and then last Summer I was given a loan of the first season of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) and it was superb. The lead character Sarah Lund played by Sofie Gråbøl was just brilliant with her awkwardness, total dedication to her job at the cost of family and personal relationships. The characters, politics , twists and the especially the concentration on the victims family made the first series one of my favourite shows ever.
Season Two was excellent also and again Season 3 was brilliant too, although the ending divided people.

Then ‘The Bridge’ was watched over the Christmas. Again an excellent series with some wonderful characters and again it was the main female character Saga Norén that had me enthralled.
Have just finished watching the First series of Borgen and thought it was superb and cant wait to start catching up with season 2 (which I’ve recorded).

I’ve watched a few other foreign series such as the French one ‘Spiral’ too and again it was good. …..
….I cant help wondering though if the subtitles make the shows better. By that you have to give them 100% attention, you have to watch them, you cant be cooking or ironing or tweeting or the like at the same time in case you miss something. Which of course you can do with series in English. They take all your attention and you get totally engrossed.

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1. Eagle - January 21, 2013

I haven’t seen any of The Killing, but I watched The Bridge and I thought Saga Norén was little more than a cartoon character and the story more than just a touch implausible.

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Eagle - January 21, 2013

Having said that, I did watch the full series of The Bridge so I didn’t think it was all that bad.

I also think there’s something to what you say about the subtitles. Or maybe it’s just that hearing people speak languages I don’t usually hear appeals to me. I also just liked seeing Sweden & Denmark as filmed by Swedes & Danes and not for Eurovision or by Hollywood.

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irishelectionliterature - January 21, 2013

Must confess I did enjoy the Bridge, Funnily enough re Saga Norén, I watched ‘Bones’ last night and the two characters share similarities.

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Eagle - January 21, 2013

Yes! Totally agree on Bones.

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2. Dr.Nightdub - January 21, 2013

I think the main appeal is that British or US TV (HBO an honourable exception) simply wouldn’t push the boat out as far as the likes of The Killing – off the top of my head, the only comparable English-language character to Sarah Lund I can think of was the cop played by Frances McDormand in “Fargo” but even that was the Coen Brothers rather than mainstream Hollywood.

There is something to what you’re saying about the novelty of sub-titles, and that applies to movies as well as TV series, but then again, my other half speaks French and she still loved “Spiral”. Incidentally, IEL, if you liked “Sprial” you should really get hold of “Braquo”, another French cop series, it’s even edgier and grittier.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 21, 2013

What about D.I. Tennyson in ‘Prime Suspect’ (Helen Mirren)? Great character.

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3. LeftAtTheCross - January 21, 2013

The Killing 1 appeared in the house over Christmas, but the US version, and it was very good. Hooked as we were, we went into town to purchase the second series, but found this isn’t available yet in the US re-make, so we got the Danish original instead. So the question is, which is better, the original or the re-make, given we watched two different series of course? We had the added hurdle of having first encountered the US version, and therefore had the estrangement issue to deal with, which was the ‘real’ Linden/Lund etc.? They each have different strengths. Both are really well produced and directed quality products. I liked the portrayal of the characters better in the Danish version, but maybe that’s just a natural affinity to more European norms. The political background and processes in the Danish version were more interesting also. I’m looking forward to the third series now anyhow.

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irishelectionliterature - January 21, 2013

As a matter of interest was the plot the same in the US version? …. I’m wondering should I get it or not .

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LeftAtTheCross - January 21, 2013

This is where is gets confusing.

I’m told that the US series 1 is the same as the first half of the Danish series 1, and that the US series 2 is the second half of the Danish series 1, if you follow.

Apparently it’s sufficiently different to make it worth watching. I don’t know for sure as I’ve only seen the US series 1 and the Danish series 2.

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dmfod - January 21, 2013

I’ve seen all of both and the first few episodes of Season 1 of the US Killing closely follow the Danish original but it diverges quite significantly after that and **partial spoiler** the case is only finally solved at the end of Season 2.

Interestingly, Sara Lund is portrayed as a lot more human/feminine/sympathetic in the US version, which probably means the producers thought American audiences would react negatively to such a non-maternal central character.

The Danish version is much better IMO as the US series gets a bit ridiculous in Season 2, but not enough to stop me watching it!

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LeftAtTheCross - January 21, 2013

Your comment about Linden (US) being more human that Lund (Dan.) is one I was going to make earlier. One certainly gets more insight into her personality than one does with Lund, more facial expression, more talk. While both of them are quite solitary figures one gets the impression that Lund’s troubles go deeper. One warms to Linden, but less so to Lund. Your point about the preferences of US audiences could indeed lie at the bottom of this significant difference.

Another significant difference is in the portrayal of the political class. The US version shows them as the 1%, wealthy, fit and healthy, gleaming teeth, corporate professionals. The Danish version (series 2 in any case) primary focus is on a newly appointed idealist who could do with losing a few pounds and getting a haircut, is prone to excitable zigzags, tries to stay ahead of the game but occasionally screws up. And the political issue behind the whole thing is Denmark’s deployment in Afghanistan (I love how they pronounce it) and a human rights violation by Danish forces. Nothing like that in the US one (not in series 1 anyway), just another safe cop show murder with sex and political corruption thrown in.

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4. revolutionaryprogramme - January 21, 2013

Amazing coincidence! Just found The Killing (Danish) online for streaming – started today and really looking forward to it.

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5. Dr. X - January 21, 2013

I’m not going to read the thread in case of spoilers, but I’m of the opinion that most of this quality TV drama simply demonstrates the limits of television as a medium without actually transcending those limitations.

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6. dmfod - January 21, 2013

I loved the Killing and Borgen but thought the Bridge was trashy, CSI-style stuff. The way the series embody the more liberal social assumptions of Scandinavian societies is really refreshing. For instance one of the main female characters in one of the series has an unwanted pregnancy and actually goes ahead with an abortion, rather than the staple ‘I just can’t go through it!’ moment in the waiting room or on the operating table that we see so often in Anglophone dramas like Juno ( or Irish-speaking ones such as the dreadful pro-life propaganda instalment of Siol on TG4 the other week). What’s even more refreshing is that the character in question is no way condemned for her decision and is also not portrayed as irreparably scarred for life.

I think part of the reason the subtitles make the series better is that you can’t detect duff acting in the same way because you can’t always tell how convincingly the lines are being delivered and you also tend to put any crap lines down to translation difficulties rather than faults in the original script.

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7. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 21, 2013

Do you think there’s someone on a Danish blog going ‘has anyone seen Love/Hate’? It’s fantastic, like The Wire, but from Ireland.’
Probably not.
The first series of the KIlling was ground-breaking, especially the victim’s family and their reaction. The second and third were watchable but nothing special. The American version is watchable and the Lund character was still good. The Bridge is ok, but again I wouldn’t think it’s any better than one of the superior Brit or US shows. Quite enjoyed Borgen, though the fact that Stephen Collins is a fan (and appears to be writing it, the way the storylines are going) is putting me off it. That and the way the ‘tough’ decisions are always the right-wing ones.
Spiral is good craic. Then again so was The Sweeney.
And what did you all make of Love/Hate?

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dmfod - January 21, 2013

Agree to some extent about the difference in quality between Season 1 of the Killing and subsequent series, although I thought the familial relationships were handled really well in Season 2 too and the last few episodes of Season 3 really upped its game. I was less enthused about it until then.

Borgen’s politics are pretty much the West Wing’s, but are somewhat less obnoxious in terms of international relations, mainly because Denmark is not the US. On domestic or economic left/right issues it completely sucks, but so does every other programme on TV and if you only watched left wing material you’d pretty much be limited to Ken Loach and the Wire.

Love/Hate is enjoyable nonsense on a par with Sons of Anarchy, the US show about motorcycle gangs. I can’t understand why some people seem to take it seriously as some kind of social or cultural commentary as it is utterly shallow and unlike even Sons of Anarchy has no interesting female characters, for which there’s really no excuse at this stage.

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doctorfive - January 21, 2013

Had to laugh at Collins commending Borgen as “politics for grown-ups” given most of his stuff reads like it should be written in crayon.

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WorldbyStorm - January 21, 2013

I thought that the issue of Borgen as a female PM was well handled, particularly some of the dynamics… agree entirely the politics suck.

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doctorfive - January 21, 2013

There was a interesting discussion on the first Antiroom podcast on portrayal of fictional female politicians. Haven’t seen Borgan or the others mentioned but the gist was most get to the top by circumstances. Death of the incumbent or something similar rather then in their own right. Also interesting how the balance of family life is handled in a way that never features for their male counterparts.

[audio src="http://theantiroom.com/podcasts/PODCAST1.mp3" /]

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WorldbyStorm - January 21, 2013

Thanks for that, it rings true – Commander In Chief springs to mind as an example of that.

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8. Justin Moran - January 21, 2013

Just in answer to the question about The Killing US and The Killing Danish. I thought the latter was fantastic, one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent years, and haven’t seen the US version. A friend of mine who has however says that the end is completely different.

Rosie (Nana) was killed by completely different people (yes, plural) and for absolutely different reasons. Just quickly scanned the wikipedia entry on it and that seems to be the case.

As to the main question, although I loved season one of The Killing, and of Borgen, I wasn’t that impressed by season two of the former. Thought it was definitely inferior. I think it’s a fair point on the subtitling issue, but I do think you notice quality.

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9. crocodile - January 21, 2013

The point about the subtitling making you keep your eyes on the screen is a good one – I’d reckon to watch about 30% of a ‘Lewis’ and still get the gist. I’d probably guess the murderer too, because he/she’d be the most recognisable guest star. In the Scandidramas, conversely, I know almost nothing about the actors, so they come wonderfully close to that most desirable of situations, a complete lack of preconceptions based on the actors. The BBC spoiled this by casting Kenneth Branagh as Wallander.
Haven’t seen the US ‘Killing’, but is everyone in it gorgeous? The Danish version has people who look ordinary, like the tubby Prime Minister in the last series. There’s a great grotesque right wing extremist in ‘Borgen’.I am reminded of Victoria Wood’s enthusiasm for ‘Glenroe’ – “they look like real people….with arses!”

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10. Tomboktu - January 21, 2013

Not watching, but reading.

I’m slowly making my way through the ten Inspector Beck novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. There are only ten of them, published between 1965 and 1975 (the missing year is 1973).

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11. martin fennell - August 10, 2013

The Killing season 1 was brilliant.
Season two was worth watching but not up to the same standard. I haven’t seen season 3 yet.
Borgen season 1 was excellent. Season 2 didn’t hit the same heights, but I thought season 3 did.
The bridge was very good.
look for a series called “The eagle a crime odyssey. it’s excellent.

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