The Culture Café Radio Show on The Killing

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?



Filed under Danish crime fiction, tv crime

5 responses to “The Culture Café Radio Show on The Killing

  1. Margot King

    Is this programme available as a podcast? I’d love to hear it but I live in Canada, much too far from the U.K.!

  2. Brigitte Bertout

    Sorry, this is about THE jumper again: there is an article in today’s Times about it!

  3. jakobstougaard

    Is The Killing full of cliches – and can you still it enjoy it?
    Read the following passage from Tom Sutcliffe’s colmn in The Independent and judge for yourself:

    The clichés do me in, but I still love The Killing
    We had a bad moment a couple of weeks ago, The Killing and I. After the rom-com opening to our relationship (we had a little spat over the employment of the frantic-girl-running-through-the-woods cliché) things had been going swimmingly. I was, frankly, infatuated – breathlessly impatient for the next rendezvous with Lund and her sweaters. And then they resorted to the Enhanced CCTV trope. Somebody had come up with video tape of the town hall parking lot, and when the tech boys had finished with it you could clearly see that Troels was behind the wheel. This is what always happens when the tech boys get hold of a smeary indistinct image in Hollywood thrillers. But it isn’t, needless to say, what happens in real life, where you’re most likely just to get a bigger smear. It was a bit of a blow to find The Killing resorting to such a hoary old narrative short-cut. What next, I thought, a hidden trapdoor? And then I remembered that we’d already had one, when the investigators discovered the concealed basement room which supplied Red Herring Number Three. Shortly after that, Lund entered a darkened room and – rather than looking for the nearest light switch – pulled out her torch so that she wouldn’t destroy the atmospheric chiaroscuro. It’s packed with clichés, I realised, and yet I still love it. Which just goes to show how far a little bit of innovation and a little bit of moral seriousness will go.

    • marylyn Martin

      When are you going to discuss the The Killing again, especially the last episode? Is no one else, like me, quite devastated that it has come to an end? I’m going to miss everyone, even those boring old politicians at the town hall, I’m really looking forward to seeing Sarah Lund in action again, when the next series airs.

  4. Davs, Jakob – have been enjoying your posts on ‘Forbrydelsen 1’, mange tak for dem.
    I think British viewers are stunned by this series largely because it is the first one in years – decades, possibly – that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience. Instead, it makes demands – attention, reflection, supposition – as a price for involvement in the unfolding story. There are many other qualities, of course (and I’ve already enumerated what I think these are in an earlier comment). But all of these serve to over-ride any problems related to sub-titles.
    Personally, I prefer sub-titles to dubbing (I live in France: almost everything in another language is dubbed – aargh!).
    I can’t comment on the relationships between Danish women & the State/Danish politics, but would take issue with Karen Klitgård Povlsen’s basic premise in her estimation of Sarah Lund’s character. Bad mother/lover/wife? Possibly (are there so many shining examples of good ones out there &, if so, would they make for good drama ;-)?). But incapable of empathy: no!
    Lund is capable of empathy – possibly too much, even. During one of Bengt’s early attempts to persuade her to drop the case and leave with him, Sarah turns on him, brandishing the NBL file & showing him the pictures. She tells him in cold fury what was done to Nanna. She doesn’t say as much (doesn’t need to given the quality of the acting), but this outrage + desire for justice to be done for Nanna is clearly her reason for staying to work on the case. Lund conveys a very real sense of someone who can imagine only too well the full horror of Nanna’s fate. If anything, she seems too emotionally involved – which might explain why there is no ‘room’ for anyone/thing else.
    And her halting confession to Bengt that she needs him, made later during a telephone message, is both terribly poignant and illustrative of the price she pays for her inability to concentrate on anything but the job-in-hand. What should she do … ‘multi-task’?! First & foremost, this is drama – and can only truly be interpreted as such, however realistic it may be. So the story is driven by conflict – and Sarah Lund’s single-mindedness provides plenty of opportunities for that.

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