How the Danes stole TV

Prospect Magazine

How the Danes stole TV

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Fashion, food, and now TV. Scandi-mania has extended its reach with a string of programmes good enough to humble British telly. Photo: BBC

Back before your grandfather was born, Britain made the world’s greatest ships. Engineers from all around the world came to Bristol or Glasgow to learn the state of the art. No more. Back before I was born, America made the greatest cars. Made in Japan was a joke, a byword for shoddy quality. No more. Today, a Cadillac is no status symbol and much of Detroit is derelict and returning to nature. For as long as any of us can remember, however, there was one thing our two countries did better than anyone else, something we could be proud of, something that stimulated our export sector, created fun and high paying jobs, and burnished US and British reputations around the globe. I’m talking about television programmes. Everybody around the world watched our shows, we never watched theirs. Why should we? Ours were so much better. No more. The Danes are eating our bacon. I liked The Killing, I loved Borgen but after just four episodes of The Bridge, I am blown away. This is brilliantly made television. Television, of course, is a collaborative medium. Just one genius can’t make a TV show. Every department needs to be at the top of its game to make something great and that is what makes this Danish/Swedish co-production so impressive. The cinematography looks like fine art photography, the casting is subtle and daring, even the dowdy wardrobe shines, not to mention the brilliant writing, directing, and acting. The Bridge is a police procedural executed with subversive intelligence. It begins with a dead woman, her body half in Denmark, half in Sweden. When the police try to move her, they realise she has been carefully sawed in half, precisely on the border. Wait, an autopsy reveals, this isn’t just one dead woman but two, carefully put together. Soon it is revealed that our politically correct killer is trying to make a point about growing inequality. It is murder as an art installation. It is as if Seven has been reimagined as a ten part miniseries set between Copenhagen and Malmo. The two detectives, both great actors, are an odd couple: the hot Swedish woman with Aspergers, skilled at finding patterns but unable to remember the name of the man she slept with last night and the cuddly, empathetic middle aged Danish man who radiates charm and street sense. In many ways the sensitive potbellied man is sexier than the svelte autistic blonde. The Bridge is great television. As a viewer I can’t wait for the next episode. As someone who as worked in television his whole life, I feel like a General Motors executive looking at a Lexus. The Bridge continues its run on BBC4 at 9PM on Saturday

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Tom Streithorst

Tom Streithorst
Tom Streithorst is a cameraman and journalist 

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