Tuesday, March 15, 1.15 – 2.00 pm, there will be a short talk about The Killing and Scandinavian crime fiction on BBC Radio Scotland’s show, The Culture Café. I will talk with host Clare English and TV critic Jane Graham about the recent success of the Danish TV crime series, and I may just give away how you knit the perfect Sarah Lund jumper (en islandsk sweater, as we call it in Danish). Here’s the blurb from the programme site:
The actors wear chunky-knit jumpers, it’s filmed largely in the dark and rain and it has a less than inviting title. But BBC4’s The Killing, a subtitled Danish thriller that slowly unfolds over 20 hours as police hunt for the murderer of a 19-year-old girl, has proved a perhaps unlikely hit. The show has been getting higher viewing figures than Mad Men did when it was shown on the channel and the BBC has confirmed that it has bought the second series. The show, which has been a hit across Europe, underscores the growing popularity of Scandinavian TV crime, following as it does the Swedish Wallander series. To explore the attraction of Nordic Noir Clare’s joined by Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, lecturer in Scandinavian literature at University College London and TV critic, Jane Graham.
We are most likely going to talk about how it can be that a subtitled Danish crime thriller has become such a hit in the UK and beyond, and not only with the hardened Nordic Noir crime fans. As some of you may have seen, I was quoted in The Guardian a few weeks ago for my surprise reaction to its popularity. My point is, it is not usual for British TV viewers to spend 20 hours in the company of a language that sounds like somebody speaking while “eating a hot potato” (as a student of mine said once), and having to be constantly distracted to read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Not that I have low opinions about the multi-tasking skills of British TV viewers, but it is something that you have to get used to. That British viewers don’t mind, I think, is unusual, especially compared to Scandinavian TV, where viewers more often than not view programmes that are subtitled from one language or another.
And then there is the question of the story. Again, isn’t it surprising that people get hooked on a series with multiple plot lines, where the crime elements are constantly over shadowed by the story of the grieving family, Lund’s inability to make a relationships work, or even her inability to be a good mother, a good daughter, etc. And we don’t really know why she is like that. I also can’t be the only one wondering about the portrayal of Lund. She is not the first female crime investigator in Scandinavian crime or even crime made for TV, but she is fundamentally different. She is gendered differently, and so is her partner investigator. She is no feminist, she is herself: maybe she has become a traditionally male gendered crime investigator to make it in that world: she shows no real empathy with anyone, she is all work at a great cost to her family life, etc.
This is what Danish media critic Karen Klitgaard Povlsen writes about The Killing in a chapter in Andrew Nestingen and Paula Arvas’ recent book, Scandinavian Crime Fiction (an excllent study of all things Nordic Noir – can’t recommend it enough! I will write a review as soon as I get to the end):
Sarah Lund is a clever police officer, but a bad mother and lover. She has no empathy, and is incapable of bonding or identifying with other women. Indeed, she might be described as a stereotypical and conventional male detective in a feminine disguise … This series depicts the investigator’s career in dystopian terms, at the same time as it depicts Danish politics as another dystopia. (Karen Klitgaard Povlsen)
Is this partly what makes her character so appealing – so enigmatic; does it matter? And what does this say about Women in the Danish welfare state?