New wave of Nordic noir set to grip TV viewers

Novelist Sylvain Runberg (above) says the success of Nordic drama is down to the contrast between the comfortable veneer of Scandinavian society and its dark undercurrents of crime, prejudice and pent-up aggression.
Novelist Sylvain Runberg (above) says the success of Nordic drama is down to the contrast between the comfortable veneer of Scandinavian society and its dark undercurrents of crime, prejudice and pent-up aggression.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TURKU (Finland) • For over a decade, Nordic crime series such as The Bridge (2011-2018) have captivated television audiences with stories of brooding detectives, elaborate murders and bleak Scandinavian landscapes.

But now, the success of so-called Nordic noir has spawned interest in a new wave of series from Europe's far north, this time in genres from period drama to teen horror.

One hotly anticipated release is Swedish supernatural series Cryptid about unexplained goings-on among a group of college kids in a small town. The series has generated "strong interest" abroad, says its international distributor Beta Film.

The 10-part show has made the official selection for the Cannes TV series festival, which opened last Friday, where six of the 20 shortlisted ones are Scandinavian productions.

"The rise of streaming platforms has generated a demand for content that stands out and is still fairly cheap, and this is true for Nordic content," said Aarhus University associate professor Pia Jensen. "Nordic series have for the most part quite high production values, which is key if you want to sell on the international market."

The half-hour episodes of Cryptid have a more dynamic feel than the slow-moving plot lines which often characterise Nordic shows. The format and colours also set the series apart from other Swedish horror hits, like the 2008 vampire film Let The Right One In.

When Agence France-Presse visited the Cryptid film set in October last year, a small, tree-lined lake close to the Finnish town of Turku had been turned into the setting of sinister happenings that begin to terrorise the town's kids.

"There's something lurking underneath the surface, but we never know what," director David Berron said. The series will have "a lot more colour and flavour" than the gritty, grey realism of Scandinavian crime successes like The Bridge, he added.

"In Nordic noir, everything is very calm, low and melancholy, and this one has that spirit still, but we've added more spices," he said.

Branded "Nordic comic noir" by the show's makers, the different feel partly stems from Cryptid's originator, French graphic novelist Sylvain Runberg, known for adapting Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (2005-2007) into the graphic novel format.

Runberg believes the success of Nordic drama is down to the contrast between the comfortable veneer of Scandinavian society and its dark undercurrents of crime, prejudice and pent-up aggression. "It's a society which everyone can recognise themselves in, not that different to what you experience in France, the United States or Britain," he said.

But the stories are "often very brutal and violent, which is not at all what you experience day-to-day in Scandinavia", he added. "It gives them a certain feel, a resonance."

Nordic series have stepped up in recent years. Norway's Skam (Shame), a 2015 Web series that took an unflinching look at the lives of a group of students, broke viewership records in Scandinavia, before sparking remakes across Europe and the US.

Ride Upon The Storm (2017), from the creator of Danish political drama Borgen (2010-2013), saw lead actor Lars Mikkelsen win an Emmy in 2018 for his portrayal of a priest at the centre of a family drama. Borgen, one of Nordic's first non-crime international successes, has been recommissioned for a fourth series to air in 2022.

Viewers in Norway will soon see the lavish World War II-era drama Atlantic Crossing. The eight-hour show has been sold throughout Europe and a US deal is in final negotiations, distributor Beta Film said.

The action is based on a true story and takes place largely in the US, where Norway's crown princess Martha (played by Sofia Helin of The Bridge) flees to after the Nazis invade her country. There, she strikes up an intimate friendship with former US president Franklin Roosevelt, played by Twin Peaks star Kyle MacLachlan.

While new Nordic genres are growing in popularity though, it is not at the expense of Scandinavian crime.

Netflix this year released Young Wallander, a new take on novelist Henning Mankell's troubled detective. And last year, the BBC acquired Denmark's The Investigation, based on the 2017 murder of journalist Kim Wall.

"There will be new things coming out of the Nordics," said Mr Justus Riesenkampff, executive vice-president of international sales and acquisitions from Beta Film.

"But there will always be a lot of crime."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2020, with the headline 'New wave of Nordic noir set to grip TV viewers'. Print Edition | Subscribe