GOTEBORG — At TV Drama Vision, the Göteborg International Film Festival’s 10th seminar on TV drama, Swedish directors Björn Stein and Måns Mårlind presented the $10.9 million, eight hour series, “Midnight Sun,” which is based on an original idea by Swedish writer-producer Henrik Jansson-Schweizer and Swedish-French producer Patrick Nebout.
Starring French actress Leïla Bekhti (”The Prophet”) and Swedish actor Gustaf Hammersten, the Nice Drama-Atlantique Productions serial follows a French police officer (Bekti), who is dispatched to Sweden to investigate the brital murder of a French citizen in Kiruna, in Sweden’s Arctic region, in collaboration with a Swedish prosecutor of Sami origin. More killing starts to happen – the victims seemingly have nothing in common, except they are eliminated in a well-planned and vicious manner.
“It is interesting, but most Scandinavian broadcasters made Nordic Noir for several years, before we were aware it was a wave,” said TV drama chief Ivar Køhn, of Norwegian pubcaster NRK. “But I think the combination of exciting characters, clear and distinct plots, local and original premises, and good story-tellers are the main reasons why it reaches out internationally.”
“We primarily make series for our own audience, so in this respect Nordic Noir is not a term we use, but several of our series have done well abroad.”
Cecilie Mosli’s “Mammon,” following a newspaper journalist researching financial malpractice, was remade by HBO Europe for the Czech Republic and Poland, and Jarl Emsell Larsen’s ”Eyewitness” – about a teenage couple observing a shoot-out – is being remade by a U.S. network Last year it won lead actress Anneke von der Lippe an Emmy.
”We are currently airing ‘Mammon II,’ and later this year we have scheduled Per Olav Sørensen’s ‘Nobel,” a contemporary thriller-drama about a Norwegian soldier who returns from service in Afghanistan still carrying the war with him; Erik Richter Strand’s ”Valkyrie,” about a doctor running an illegal clinic, and Pål Jackman-Anne Sewitsky’s ”Monster” will both follow in 2017,” Køhn added.
Scandinavian broadcasters may have been unaware at first of their trend in Nordic Noir. But the label’s popularity and international co-productions, such as the SVT-Canal Plus “Midnight Sun,” is, in market terms at least, highly comprehensible. As premium pay TV operators in Europe looking to invest in original series to protect their core pay TV business from SVOD operators who are offering content more cheaply, there is a near feeding frenzy for the production and acquisition of ambitious, bigger-budgeted TV fiction in English and other languages as, playing off European sensibilities.
Public broadcasters such as SVT also use signature high-end drama to ramp up huge ratings, and secure audience fidelity. The challenge of Europe’s pay TV giants, such as France’s Canal Plus, is to access world-class talent, and then positioning their series with audiences.
As it seeks to grow a local premium-pay TV talent creation pool, Canal Plus will look abroad – to North America and Scandinavia – to access key creative talent. And if that talent can play off one of the only creative brands in European TV, Nordic Noir, all the better.
Of TV shows unveiled as works in progress at TV Drama Vision, Finnish director Ulrika Bengts’ ”Lola Upside-Down,”a feature based on author Monika Fagerholm’s novel and produced for Finnish pubcaster YLE, portrays the small town of Flatnäs, a patriarchal community. The citizens have to obey the unspoken rules of a few mighty men, who control the wealth and power. The four young girls in the story become women in a man’s world, using men as father figures, lovers, authorities and mirrors – as they are also being used themselves.
A second TV Drama Vision series, ”NSU German History X,” presented by German producers Jan Mojto and Justus Riesenkampff, of Germany’s Beta Film, depicts the history of a far-right German terrorist group, the National Socialist Underground (or NSU), which began operating in the aftermath of the Iron Curtain’s fall, killing immigrants in cold blood: Gabriela Sperl’s production for Wiebemann & Berg tracks the NDSU founders from the first steps of radicalization and violence, though their entangled love lives to the uncovering of their murders a decade later.
Presented as a case study by Berlin-based writer Anna Winger and producer husband Jörg Winger, “Deutschland 83 – Over the Wall, Under the Gun” is an eight-part German television series set in the last throes of the Cold War, which was aired by SundanceTV in the U.S. before bowing on Germany’s RTL.
A coming-of-age story set against the real culture wars and political events of Germany in the 1980s, it follows a 24-year-old East German, Martin Bauch (Jonas Nay), who is sent to West Germany as an undercover spy for the Stasi foreign service, gathering NATO military secrets. To Bauch everything is new, nothing is quite what it seems, and everybody is harboring secrets, both political and personal.
For the first time, the Goteborg Festival launched a special program section for TV drama, with world premieres of three shows from Sweden, and Swedish premieres of titles from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway. Among a good deal of Nordic Noir, Finnish writer-director Heidi Köngäs presented “The Red Couple”, a three-hour historical miniseries produced for Finnish pubcaster YLE.
“It is also up-and-coming from Finland, Nordic Noir – all producers are keen to find out how to create the Finnish version, walking the same paths everybody else has trodden. I believe in finding new ways,” explained Heidi Köngäs, who has also written six novels.
“I think it is important to explore historical issues, because you need to know history to understand what goes on in the world today – and not only the history of your own country.”
”The Red Couple,” with Eero Aho and Vappu Nalbantoglu in the leads, follows the marriage of Finnish communists Hertta Kuusinen and Yrjö Leino – from prior to WWII, when they were imprisoned for communist activism, till after the war when they climbed Finland’s political structure and became top politicians. ”Many people were against Finland fighting with Nazi-Germany, they try to forget it, but it was how Finland avoided coming under a communist regime.”
“It is a story of love and passion, but also about politics, betrayal and violence, although not with a lot of special effects – the historical events in the country is reflected in their relationship,” concluded Köngäs, whose series was screened with, among others, Danish director Per Fly’s “Follow the Money,” from pubcaster DR, about the Danish police investigation of financial skullduggery, and Norwegian directors Erik Skjoldbjærg and Pål Sletaune’s “Occupied,” from an original idea by bestselling author Jo Nesbø, aired on TV2 Norway, about a near-future Russian silk-glove – at first – invasion of Norway, which has stopped its oil production to attempt to ward off climate change.
John Hopewell contributed to this article