I apologise for the late running of the plug for this week’s Telly Addict. I’ve been busy. At any rate, it’s been up all day, and within it, you will see my nice new haircut, a shirt I haven’t worn very often and some considered, erudite, witty reviews of – plus some controversially throwaway remarks about – the adorable 1973 John Betjeman documentary Metro-land, shown again last week on BBC4; the similarly locomotive Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo on BBC2; the perhaps unfairly maligned Mr Selfridge on ITV1; the quite horrible World Without End on C4; and the return of Silent Witness to BBC1 for its 16th series! I’ve already found myself in a titanic struggle with a persistent man over at the Guardian website, should you have more time on your hands than sense. You’re more than welcome to discuss these shows here, in a friendlier environment. I always reply.
We’re back, for Year 3 of Telly Addict, and, after an unprecedented two-week break, during which I allowed all the germs of the season to infect me while my immune system was off guard, my voice is on the way out. Thankfully, we managed to squeeze the last few drops out of my larynx before silence set in, and thus, here is an unplanned BBC-only review, with Borgen‘s welcome return to BBC4; the arrival of Ripper Street to BBC1; a very good documentary series, Queen Victoria’s Children, on BBC2; and finally, the latest Attenborough epic, Africa, on BBC1. I accuse Sir David of “husky hyperbole”, but wrote that, during the day, when I had no idea how husky my own voice would turn out to be. I hope you can hear the words I am saying, and that you feel my pain. Normal service will be resumed next week. And a haircut, I think.
(My full review of Seasons Three and Four of Breaking Bad will follow separately.)
In this week’s Telly Addict, I sign off on season three of Downton Abbey on ITV1; ask what kind of coup Secret State on C4 is; finally take my medicine with Getting On on BBC4; and sneak a look at a young person’s comedy that isn’t aimed at me, Some Girls, on BBC3. (We apologise for the late arrival this blog alert; I’ve been on a train from Manchester with what can only be described as intermittent wi-fi.)
Nice little grab of the Capitol building there, but nothing to do with today’s US Presidential Election. Rather, while negotiating the minefield of spoilers, this week’s Telly Addict tries to discuss the other burning question, “Has Homeland jumped the shark or not?”; also, a horror double-bill from Halloween week, the gothic return of American Horror Story to FX, and BBC4’s Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss; just enough time, too, to consider another rare US drama import – this time from the History Channel – that’s showing on terrestrial television over here: post-Civil War feud saga Hatfields & McCoys, on Channel Five. (I have finally caught up with hospital comedy-drama Getting On, by the way, and I’ll be reviewing that next week.)
No Euro 2012 on this week’s Telly Addict, even though, in actuality, that’s what I have mainly been addicted to on my telly. Between games, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing both Punk Britannia on BBC4 and All In The Best Possible Taste on C4 through to their respective three-part conclusions; also, a curiosity, True Love, which BBC1 ran across five nights, except it was really four as they chucked the last two out back-to-back, despite the top-drawer cast, as if perhaps trying to get rid of this original drama series, part-improvised, by Dominic Savage. You decide.
Hey, at last, the new Telly Addict, which took its time going up today, don’t know why. In it, we will be told what to think about Phil Spencer: Secret Agent on C4; nearly the end of The Bridge on BBC4; 56 Up on ITV1; Episodes on BBC2; and, less pressingly you might think, Dad’s Army on BBC2 (which is, to be fair, a repeat from 1970, but you have to see this clip, you really do). Have a look. Comment. Etc.
I won’t add to the chorus of approval for Channel 4’s wisely-chosen US import Homeland, which came to a satisfying conclusion at the weekend. Mark Lawson was the latest to have to argue against British TV drama from its long, persuasive shadow in the Guardian on Monday. But for my money, The Bridge, aka Bron in Swedish, aka Broen in Danish, is even better. The latest Scandinavian import to arrive on BBC4 – following Wallander, Forbrydelsen and Borgen – it is surely the perfect encapsulation of what makes the region so fertile in terms of drama and setting. In fact, if you’ve immersed yourself in the Denmark of Forbrydelsen and Borgen, both set in Copehagen and linked by an interest in the politics peculiar to that country, you’ll have a decent head start on The Bridge (which I’ll call The Bridge rather than have to juggle the subtly different Swedish and Danish translations).
I hardly need to go over the set-up, but I will: a body is discovered at the exact halfway point of the elegant, five-mile-long Øresund Bridge, which links Malmö to Copenhagen by road and rail and thus unites two police jurisdictions in solving the crime. (The body, which turns out to be two halves of two separate bodies, has been placed there to get the attention of both, and that’s as far as I’m going to go with the plot, so worry not, those who have yet to catch up, or plan to box-set it.)
It’s as if the dark police procedural of Forbrydelsen has been linked to the more brightly-lit corridors of power of Borgen, mixing social issues with a good old whodunit. In the leads, Kim Bodnia and Sofia Helin create a fabulously mismatched detective duo, one that surely has legs far beyond this one case. Martin Rohde, a rotund, homely, good-humoured, rumpled maverick from Copenhagen is everything that Saga Norén, of Malmö, is not. She’s borderline autistic, socially inept, emotionally stunted, professionally by-the-book, but her powers of deduction are keen and her no-nonsense attitude (and lack of meaningful home life) ensure she gets the job done.
Unlike Sarah Lund, Saga is more overtly sexual in her leather trousers and slash-neck tops (which in the first episode she kept whipping off in the office and changing); she is seen picking up a man in a bar for functional, no-questions-asked rumpo. And yet, she is cold and efficient, and in many ways asexual. Rohde has been emasculated by a vasectomy and feels the need to assert himself sexually but he’s more of a teddy bear. I won’t say how but if there is any sexual tension between them it is subsequently defused in a very surprising way.
There’s real humour in the writing, despite the Gothic nature of the crimes, and much of this emerges in the sparring between Rohde and Norén. There’s also a lot of subtle stuff about the differences between the Danish and Swedish way of doing things – and in the intricacies of language and pronunciation. (This is a Danish-Swedish co-production, a coalition that actually pays dividends, and slices straight down the middle. I mean: can you think of a cleverer pitch than The Bridge in terms of setting out its geographical stall? Usually footage of cars going over a bridge in drama is there to provide a bumper; here, it seems vital. And it’s a beautiful bridge, especially at night against that amazing Scandinavian sky.) We’re six episodes in, with four to go, and all six are available on iPlayer, so get in there if you haven’t already.
I know “Scandi drama” is a phrase that’s tiresomely overused at the moment, and I sympathise if you’re put off by yet more Guardian-reader hype, but The Bridge drew over a million to BBC4 in its first week (more than The Killing), which is hard to argue with. I find the bendy sound of the Danish and Swedish language to be easy on the ear, and I guess I’m used to it, having previously organised my own home-schooling crash course in the works of Ingmar Bergman. About ten years ago, when his back catalogue started to come out at a rate of knots via Tartan, I eagerly got up to speed, and titles like Winter Light, The Silence and Wild Strawberries became instant all-time favourites.
At the weekend, I went to the Curzon Chelsea to see Ordet on the big screen, my first taste of Carl Theodor Dreyer, the father of Danish cinema and often cited as one of the greatest directors of all time. I feel a little late to the party, but what a way to start! Ordet (The Word) is one of his later films, made in 1955, when Bergman was enjoying his first international hit with Smiles Of A Summer Night. Dreyer had made his name in the 1920s, helping to forge the medium. I must now delve into that early work – notably The Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr (which I’ve always been aware of, thanks to all the history of horror books I used to devour as a boy), and what I know to be his 1940s classic Day of Wrath. I loved Ordet. It is utterly captivating; hypnotic stuff.
Based on a 1932 play, although I assume the film is set in the 1950s, it has a theatrically staged feel, with characters standing in rows, coming in and out of doors, and enunciating very precisely and slowly against flat backdrops, but it opens melodramatically on location in the dunes around a rural farm, where the haunting character Johannes (Preben Lerdoff Rye) who has gone insane and thinks he is Jesus Christ, declaims to what he considers to be a Godless universe. The rest of the Borgen family – yes, you may spot links between Ordet and the previously mentioned modern Danish culture – find themselves caught between God and science, tradition and progress, birth and death, true faith and cold, hard reality. They also come into conflict with a neighbouring evagelical Christian sect, for whom faith is grim and joyless, while the Borgens’ is about warmth and celebration. (Having said this, it’s all relative, and the Borgens are not exactly dancing around the place, flinging flowers in the name of the Lord.)
It’s mesmerisingly slow and deliberate, and everybody seems to walk at the pace of Frankenstein’s monster, and if this is what Danish theatre was like in the 1930s, I want to go there. It’s been hailed as a masterpiece, and I can see why. Not only is the subject matter profound, and heart-stopping at one crucial juncture (which I won’t ruin), but, again, there’s humour here. Surely Dreyer was anticipating a laugh from the audience when Johannes’ condition is explained by his father (Henrik Malberg) to a visitor who assumes it was “love” that sent him mad, but in fact, he explains bluntly, “It was Kierkegaard.” (It’s a gag worthy of Woody Allen.)
Unlike Peter the Tailor in Ordet, I’m not here to convert anybody. This kind of cinema is not going to be for everybody. I would understand if you found it irritating and punishing, and that you found Johannes comical – which I feel sure he’s not meant to be, and anyway, it haunted me. I just find myself with a real urge to soak up Danish culture. Denmark is a foreign country. They do things differently there.
This week’s Telly Addict, which features a new jacket (rain-spattered on the walk up to the Guardian from the British Library, but hopefully you won’t notice), covers many things: The 70s on BBC2; The Bridge on – where else? – BBC4, or BBC-SvedeDansk as I think we should all call it; Four Rooms on C4; Two Greedy Italians on BBC2; and Smash on Sky Atlantic, which turned out to be the first bum note in the channel’s short history.
In the new Telly Addict, you will see and hear me reviewing the teatime debut of Keith Lemon’s Lemonaid on ITV1; the welcome second series of Twenty Twelve on BBC2; the last of Talk At The BBC on BBC4 (which I hope they repeat soon); and the final season of Eastbound & Down on FX.
I did watch Derek last night on C4, but it was too late to include it, as I have to deliver my script on a Thursday and record it first thing on Friday. And I was out last night. I may assess it next week, although I don’t mind telling you in advance that I don’t feel, as a one-off, that it earned enough of our sympathy to expect us to be sad about a character being sad after such a short time. And did he have to have that hairstyle?
Is it Friday already? Somehow, in amongst everything else, I have managed this week to a) watch some telly, and b) review it. Telly Addict is up, courtesy of the Guardian. In it, I’m saying words about Dirk Gently on BBC4; the NME Awards on C4; Kidnap & Ransom on ITV1; and Empire on BBC1.