It’s not too late to cross The Bridge
An autistic investigator, a grisly murder, sleek furniture: The Bridge has all you’d expect from Scandi thrillers.
Come on, admit it. You haven’t really read any of those Scandinavian crime thrillers that everyone is talking about and you haven’t watched any of the big- and small-screen adaptations, have you?
Sure, you’ve seen other people reading Stieg Larsson on the tube, but then you just couldn’t bring yourself to commit to reading 2,000 pages of a trilogy in which the first instalment was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. You couldn’t even be bothered with the Kenneth Branagh version of Wallander so you’re gonna be stuffed to sit down and watch the original Swedish one just because some pretentious arse claims it is superior? The Killing definitely sounded interesting, right? But you missed most of the first season so by the time the second one came there was too much catching up to do. You definitely intended to watch Borgen – right after you’d finished ‘catching up’ after the Christmas break.
Well, don’t fear, well-intentioned late adopter. Now that Danish-Swedish The Bridge is here there’s still time to hop on board the Scandinavian crime thriller express.
The Bridge vaguely resembles those early greatest hits albums that bands used to release if they suddenly made it big four or five albums into their career. It’s essentially the equivalent of smash-hit comic-book adventure Avengers Assemble for nice middle-class people who have just put the kids to bed. All your favourite things are here. Long, lingering shots of Danish cities by night? Check. Pornographic shots of sumptuous Swedish home furnishing? Here. Strong but sexy female characters with complex inner lives who are easily a match for their male colleagues? Present. A powerful sense of social justice allied with a philosophical attitude to the murderous darkness loitering in the heart of mankind? Yup.
The Bridge is a canny piece of programme-making inasmuch as it throws together almost all the tropes familiar to the Scandinavian crime genre that has by now become an international sensation. The plot concerns the discovery of two half-bodies exactly halfway on the Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark, requiring a joint investigation between the outgoing Danish detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) and the eccentric Swede Saga Noren (Sofia Helin). They’re chalk and cheese, those two. She’s more cerebral, he’s more of a people’s person. They’ll need both those skills to track down the ‘Truth Terrorist’: a ruthless and highly skilled serial killer whose murders are an attempt to draw attention to injustice and inequality.
Astoundingly original it most certainly isn’t. Whilst The Killing and Borgen aimed to transcend their genre conventions to enter the realm of serious, weighty drama, The Bridge happily gobbles up all the fashionable tropes with a broad brush, right down to Noren’s autism with a capital A.
Suspension of disbelief is essential: characters can cross a city to burn a factory down in the space of three minutes while, having watched the world’s media go crazy over Occupy’s happy campers, it seems improbable that a self-styled Truth Terrorist running amok across two countries might not attract a bit more attention. Strip away the moody visuals, sophistication-enhancing subtitles and the subtleties of the characters trying to speak the right language and we could be left with a particularly busy episode of a lower-rent cop show like Bones or CSI, which, unlike Scandinavian thrillers, don’t get extensive coverage in the Guardian.
Yet, while The Bridge may not revolutionise TV or change your life, it is nonetheless an absorbing piece of escapist drama and DR, Denmark’s answer to the BBC, is churning out much better original drama than can be found on British screens. As a co-producer of The Bridge, Borgen and The Killing, DR can happily compete with HBO.
The Bridge seems to feature a break-neck pace of the events, but it probably still packs fewer twists and turns into 10 hours than a British equivalent would get for a single storyline. And this can’t just be down to a cultural difference in taste. Yes, Scandinavian films are notoriously slow and frustrating to British and American viewers who are used to punchier editing and delivery, but even the US remake of The Killing didn’t particularly need to soup it up.
Similarly, while it can seem at first glance that the Scandinavians are unnaturally obsessed with paedophilia, corruption, grisly murders and mental illness (Noren comes across as a slightly toned down version of Lisbeth Salander) there is largely nothing more depraved on display in The Bridge than in an average episode of Taggart, Waking The Dead or Messiah. Compared to those shows, in fact, The Bridge is a veritable barrel of laughs. (It turns out that even in ultra-liberated Sweden, periods are not adequate topics of conversation for your morning coffee break.)
The strength of the current run of successful Scandinavian television, then, is not that it is serious or intellectual per se but that the programme makers take themselves, and their audience, seriously enough to produce high quality drama. They take a risk in developing plot lines and characters, in the hope and evident expectation that the viewer will stay with them. Clearly, there’s something in this. The Bridge will probably be forgotten in a couple of years’ time, but that should be all the more reason to watch it now.
David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.