BBC4 seems to have placed a stranglehold on Saturday evening viewing with its largely-Nordic menu of gripping thrillers. After lashings of Wallander, two seasons of The Killing, and the political thriller Borgen came The Bridge, the finale of which we have just caught up with on iPlayer. For me, this has been the best so far. Despite a pretty implausible plot line (which of these things is ever that plausible?), it has been outstanding for the superb photography, excellent script and convincing characters.
The story began with the discovery of a woman’s body exactly halfway across the Oresund bridge, which links Denmark and Sweden. Gruesomely, the body turns out to be formed from two corpses – one half Swedish, the other Danish. Investigating the crime are two detectives – one Swedish, the other Danish. They couldn’t be more dissimilar – and the series became more addictive largely as result of the way in which these two personalities were developed.
The female Swedish police officer Saga Norén, played by Sofia Helin, is precise, focussed and socially awkward bordering on autistic, while her partner, the laid-back Danish cop Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), is shambling and impulsive, and a little undisciplined. When the series was screened in Scandinavia, the contrasting characters of the two detectives were seen by some as shorthand for the way the Danes and Swedes see each other: Swedes regarded by Danes as not so interested in other people, and Swedes thinking Danes are too laid-back and easy-going.
There was certainly a lot of fun to be gained from comparisons like that in the opening episodes, but as the series progressed , and the two lead characters were deepened, the pleasure came from witnessing how each approached the task in hand differently, and there was a great deal of comedy in observing Saga attempting to learn everyday social graces such as when it it might be justified to tell a fib, and how to join in coffee break chatter (her try – ‘I got my period this morning’ strangely falls flat..).
The pair are on the trail of a killer who believes his actions are defensible for social reasons. The Truth Terrorist (or TTL as he becomes known) opens proceedings by killing 10 homeless people, thus setting the police the first in a series of lavishly annotated ‘problems’ related to social issues. These challenges take up the first half of the series, but then the producers shift gear and the perpetrator begins to evolve into something much more conventional – a revenge-seeking husband betrayed.
It was excellent entertainment: ten superbly paced episodes that largely avoided cliché, brought to a satisfying conclusion. Special mention must go to Sofia Helin for her acting skills in portraying so convincingly such an offbeat character as Saga. As she explained in an interview with The Guardian, when she first read the script she found the character confusing to say the least:
Helin insists she is nothing like her on-screen character, especially not in the character’s blindness to social niceties. Saga’s inability to gauge what is appropriate sees the detective whip off her top in the office, and answer a question about whether she has children with breathtaking detachment: “No. Why would I?” And there is certainly no similarity in their seduction techniques, Helin assures me – in an early episode, Saga walks into a bar and promptly asks a man who smiles at her if he would like to go to her flat to have sex. She said she found the sex scenes in the show excruciating and made embarrassed jokes to the other cast members about the fact her husband is now a church minister. In fact, Helin admits she found Saga’s lack of social conditioning so confusing that at first she did not know how to play her, or even whether she wanted to.
“I was very uncertain at the beginning because … Saga is so strange. And I am so completely her opposite. I’m almost completely ruled by my emotions,” she continues. “My brain moves in circles, but Saga thinks squarely – I could almost feel my brain changing as I played her.”
Kim Bodnia was good, too, as Martin Rohde – a bit of a huggy bear, stubbled, kind but flawed. He may have the empathy that Saga lacks, but we gradually learn of his shortcomings – his philanderings and failings as a husband and father. But, like Saga, he learns and changes, and ends up paying a terrible price for his shortcomings.
I’ve mentioned the photography already – from magnificent shots of the spectacular bridge curving across the strait between Sweden and Denmark to crystalline images of buildings and cityscapes in Malmo and Copenhagen.
And now I can’t picture the Oresund Bridge without hearing the The Bridge theme music in my ears. It’s a haunting tune, with something of Bon Iver in its vocal. Hollow Talk by Danish band Choir of Young Believers seems, with its gloomy mood and lyrics, to match the drama perfectly.
And then you cut,
You cut it out,
Goes back to the beginning…
There will, apparently, be a second series of The Bridge. So that’s Saturday nights next winter sorted then.