The Bridge is back so celebrate with these 11 nuggets about Nordic Noir
To celebrate the return of The Bridge (aka Broen/Bron) on BBC2 on Friday, here are 11 pearls of information about Nordic Noir, a land of muted colour palettes, dysfunctional detectives, dirty realism, brutal murders and languorous plotlines.
Car aficionados have debated over the identy of Saga Norgen’s mustard-brown/green Porsche in The Bridge. Some claim it is a German-built 1977 Porsche 911S, others that it is a 912E imported from America. A similar Porsche of this vintage (built between 1969 and 1978) in as good a condition as Saga’s would set you back somewhere between £35,000 and £120,000.
The Bridge, a Swedish/Danish coproduction, was reworked in 2013 by Sky Atlantic and Canal+ as the Anglo-French series The Tunnel, in which a bisected corpse in the Chunnel is investigated by a British male detective and a French female detective. The same year came the US drama series The Bridge, in which a murdered body on the Bridge Of The Americas between El Paso and Juárez is investigated by a female American detective and a male Mexican detective. In 2017 came the Russian series of the same name, which starts on a railway bridge between Narva in Estonia and Ivangorod in Russia and features an Estonian female detective and a male detective from St Petersburg.
The Bridge also inspired other multinational collaborations. Crossing Lines, a German/French/Italian/American franchise about a multinational police team based in the Hague, was launched in 2013 and lasted three series. Sweden and France collaborated on the 2016 series Midnight Sun, in which a Frenchman is killed by being strapped to the rotor blades of a flying helicopter and flown out to a remote town in the far north of Sweden.
The same year saw the Swedish/Norwegian/Danish co-production Black Lake. In 2015 came The Team, a European Broadcasting Union production in which investigators from Denmark, Germany and Belgium are brought in to solve the murders of three young women in Copenhagen, Berlin and Antwerp. “Europe already has a crime drama that crosses borders,” said UKIP’s mildly frenzied culture spokesman at the time. “It is a seven-year series called ‘The £725 billion EU budget’ and the victims are the powerless taxpayers across the EU.”
Anglo-American adaptations of Scandi-noir fictions are nothing new. The character Martin Beck, created by Swedish novelists Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in the 1960s and regarded as the godfather of Nordic Noir, provided the basis for a 1973 Hollywood film called The Laughing Policeman, starring Walter Matthau.
Visit Denmark organise tours of Copenhagen, taking in film locations from the Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, costing around £100 a tour. Visit Sweden organises similar tours, including a Bridge-themed tour of Malmo, a tour of Wallander’s Ystad, and a walking tour of Stockholm based around the homes, bars and cafes of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy of novels (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and the Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest).
The sweaters worn by Sarah Lund in The Killing were chosen by the actress Sofie Grabol in a costume meeting. They are handknitted in the Faroe Islands using undyed wool – the black wool comes from black sheep and the pale wool from white sheep. Numerous websites sell versions of these jumpers which retail at upwards of £300.
According to Dr Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, lecturer in Scandinavian literature at University College London: “Her iconic knitwear signals a nostalgic longing for a much simpler times, and the golden age of the welfare state in the 60s and 70s, where this sort of jumper was a countercultural uniform. Lund wears it as an ironic piece of armour against the corruption of politics, the brutalisation of society through war, and the subservience of justice and democracy to major business interests in the 20th century.”
The creator of The Bridge, Hans Rosenfeldt, is abnormally tall – he reached his full height of 6’8” at the age of 14, and was treated with growth hormones to limit his growth. He once worked as a sealion trainer and a chauffeur.
The Bridge makes many gags about the subtle differences between Danish and Swedish. The two languages are mutually understandable, when spoken slowly, but have markedly different vowel sounds. The Swedish Saga Noren constantly mispronounced her Danish colleague’s name, Martin Rohde, as “rød” (red) or “rod” (mess), while Danes call her “Say-ga”, rather than “Sah-ga”.
The clinically depressed characters and ludicrously high murder rates you find in Nordic Noir stories are quite at odds with the reality. Denmark and Sweden have some of the lowest murder rates in the world (178th and 174th respectively) and have hardly any recent incidents of serial killers (Sweden has John Ingvar Lovgren, who killed four between 1958-63, and the hospital murderer Anders Hansson, who killed 15 in 1978; Denmark has just Peter Lundin, who killed his mistress and two children in 1991). The Nordic countries are routinely top of the World Happiness Index (Finland 1st, Norway 2nd, Denmark 3rd, Iceland 4th and Sweden 9th).
Although many Nordic Noir writers been extremely left wing (particularly Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Martin Beck creators Sjöwall and Wahlöö), some critics have argued that the unremitting bleakness of these stories have helped to undermine Scandinavian social democracy.
In his lecture “Scandinavian crime fiction and the end of the welfare state”, Dr Stougaard-Nielsen ponders “How is it that these peace-loving, low crime, egalitarian, almost annoyingly happy universal welfare states of northern Europe show such ingenuity in fictional accounts of horrific criminal acts, serial murders, police corruption, misogyny, xenophobia, broken families, lonely alcoholics, and a general incapacity of the welfare state to deal with social inequality and deviant behaviour, and to provide for the personal wellbeing of their citizens? In short, why is it that Nordic Noir so obviously holds a grudge against the Nordic welfare societies?” He concludes that they actually show a healthy welfare state in action, where citizens are materially safe and secure but existentially free to explore what it is that makes them human.
While Nordic Noir has heavily influenced many British TV series, including Broadchurch, Shetland, The Missing, River, Y Gwyll/Hinterland and Marcella (the latter written and directed by The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt), the affection is mutual. According to Barry Forshaw’s book Nordic Noir, numerous Scandinavian writers rhapsodise about Ruth Rendell (who is half Swedish), along with Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves and Val McDermid (whose book The Mermaid Singing is namechecked in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), while the inspiration for the troubled but ultra-professional female heroines of The Bridge, The Killing, Borgen and Steig Larssen’s Millennium trilogy comes partly from Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect and Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope novels.