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Saturday 2 April 2011

The Killing

The Seattle-set US version of Danish superdrama The Killing begins its run on Sunday. I'm tempted to go overboard and say that the original is one of the best things I've seen on TV, ever. But then I'd start to sound like one of those people who go on and on about The Wire. And I wouldn't want that.

(But it is.)

To steal my own comment from Good Dog's blog I think that The Killing (Forbrydelsen) is near-perfect TV, balancing an adult sensibility with a pulpish must-see narrative drive, nicely under-written and finely nuanced. The personal/professional gavotte of Lund and Meyer is like a masterclass in character work.

So where does that quality come from? What do the Danes know that we seem to have forgotten? The Guardian newspaper sent reporter Stuart Jeffries over to Copenhagen to interview cast and creators for this illuminating piece.

Most illuminating for me was the fact that both Sophie (Sarah Lund) Grabol and Lars (Troels Hartmann) Mikkelson made time for their interviews between rehearsals for, respectively, a staging of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, and Moliere's The Misanthrope. Danish television's talent gets its drive, class and craft from classical theatre, where ours is now rooted in soaps.

A New York Times interview with showrunner Veena Sud indicated that the US version would add to the backstories of some of the main characters. She also referred to the investigation being 'stretched' over 13 episodes, which I hope was just an unfortunate choice of words. Forbrydelsen's twenty hours were another masterclass, this time in long-distance story management.

(Speaking of unfortunate choices; I just mistyped 'showruinner', which is no reflection on Ms Sud but which I intend to copyright for some future use.)

In answer to the question, "Why remake The Killing at all?" I'd say this; if the remake captures any of the quality of the original, then there's an exceptional treat awaiting viewers for whom a subtitled Danish thriller is an insurmountable climb. Which, on the evidence of numbers, is most of the English-speaking world.

I won't be watching. Not out of protest or a sense of superiority, but because there's no point. I don't want to be the annoying guy who can't shut up about what they've missed or what they've changed. But I don't want to hear about those added backstories, either. So much that was effective for me in the original lay in what went unsaid.

I'll probably sample it out of professional curiosity. But as a viewer I don't want my memories overwritten, much as I don't want to hear lyrics added to Khachaturian's adagio from Spartacus (someone has).

And besides, I'll be busy. Spiral series 3 starts tonight.


Good Dog said...

I was reading a number of articles/interviews on Alan Sepinwall’s blog regarding the remake and just shook my head, especially discovering that they’ve changed major plot points including – from the look of it – the identity of the killer. Still, they have kept the same composer as the original...

There’s no point admonishing the American audience for having to have European dramas remade because they can’t deal with the whole subtitle thing, because it was just as difficult trying to get friends here to watch no matter how much I pestered them. Apparently screaming, “It’s phenomenal! It’s the best bloody thing on the box!” isn’t enough anymore. Anyway, their loss.

The only other person really into it was Dick Fiddy and when we met up for a drink recently with Hattie, Dennis Spooner’s daughter and our usual crowd, while everyone else was blathering on about whatever, our conversation was... well, I just remember us just being like a couple of seriously overexcited kiddies, bouncing up and down on our chairs, saying: “Brilliant! It’s brilliant! It’s so brilliant!” And this was before the final four episodes. That reveal at the end of the penultimate episode was such an astonishing, spine tingling scene. I wonder if I’ll ever see anything that will better it?!

The Guardian has been running some superb coverage the past couple of months. There’s an interview with writer Soren Sveistrup in this weekend’s The Times’ arts/listings supplement, The Knowledge, where he talks about his interest in the theme of forgiveness versus revenge and whether the parents of the victim and whether they would want the killer to be found and punished or just move on with their lives. It will be a shame if the US version seriously cuts down the family scenes to squeeze a 20–hour drama into just thirteen. The scenes between Theis and Pernille, especially those silences were some of the most heartbreaking. Oh, and Sveistrup mentions that the third series – which he’s currently writing – is going to be the last.

As for Spiral... Jesus!

Janice Okoh said...

I thought it was amazing. Just so low key!!!

Stephen Gallagher said...

Wasn't it just? Bjarn Henriksen as Theis... you always sensed an equal potential for kindness and violence while on the surface he gave nothing away. Yet I've seen no more eloquent performance this year. That scene where he made an apology to the teacher he'd beaten to a pulp, and the teacher took some of the blame for lying to him... kind of astonishing, in its understated way. Startling in its sense of truth. The way we always think we know how we'll react in an imagined situation, and surprise ourselves when it happens for real.

Placing the reveal in the penultimate episode, and having it trigger the endgame, was another great move. I had sight of the last attempt to Americanise Prime Suspect and they'd gone against the show's entire concept with a conventional last-act reveal where you find that the killer is the day player who had a couple of lines at the end of Act 2.

If they try the same with The Killing, or swap out the killer for someone else, they'll be shooting themselves in the foot. While the reveal was just the kind of surprise you wanted it to be, it came with the sense that some secret part of you had known it all along.

Stephen Gallagher said...

Btw I just learned that Lars Mikkelson, who played candidate Troels Hartmann, is the brother of Casino Royale bad-guy Mads Mikkelson.

Well, it was interesting to me, anyway.

Good Dog said...

The acting was superb, right across the board but Bjarn Henriksen really came out on top. His performance was just stunning because you simply didn’t know which way he was going to go in any given scene. I’d say the drama was an absolute masterclass in every discipline of programme making. Enough hints were dropped about pretty much each character’s past without making it too obvious, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks, so it’s a shame the producer of the American remake feels the need to shoehorn in more backstory.

That penultimate episode reveal made the final episode so nerve-shredding that it was almost unbearable to watch, especially how procedure from on high, and the ensuing complications, led to such a heart-breaking conclusion. So I can’t understand the comments from folk on The Guardian blog, for instance, who said it was a real letdown.

How on earth can you make Prime Suspect and have a hardly seen bit–player as the killer? That does defeat the object of the exercise. I suppose this would have gone out as one investigation per hour-episode. I’ve been wracking my brain cell here... so America has the one story per hour dramas (with the odd two-parter here and there and ignoring any character arcs) or the dramas – like Murder One or 24 – that ran through a whole season, but has there ever been a show, involving the same characters, where a 24–episode season is made up of eight three–part or six four–part self–contained stories? That way a crime drama wouldn’t have to rush toward a third act denouement or spread things out over a whole season with the inevitable flabby, wayward middle. Just a thought...

Hats, who once spent a night out on the town playing poker with Mads Mikkelson, was trying to convince Dick that Lars was his older brother. In the end I sent him the IMDb link.

Stephen Gallagher said...

I thought I'd be defeated by the Times paywall but I found a mirror of the Sveistrup interview here: