[for those who have not seen Series 1 & 2 of The Killing, spoiler alert]
So far I have not met anyone who has watched all the episodes of the American version of ‘The Killing’. Most people abandon it after the first episode. The Danish actors underact brilliantly and the American actors altered their style to emulate the Danish performances but what had been a subtle approach in
Denmark became vacant in the American show. Even more offensive was the actor who played the American alternative to the detective Meyer. This character was pushy and unpleasant and, whilst alternative interpretations can be honourable, we are talking about Meyer who was shot just after we began to like him. Most of us are still in grief.
The BBC has had hard times lately, its funds have been cut and for a while the Murdoch Empire was able to take pot shots at the Corporation at will. Not that long ago James Murdoch would stand behind a podium and claim that only the financial greed of people like him could guarantee media impartiality. Nothing lasts forever and soon afterwards the hacking scandal had Murdoch looking for somewhere to hide, podiums he now sidesteps. Around the same time, the BBC found in their basement an unused Danish TV series called ‘Forbrydelsen’. Bought dirt cheap, the show had originally been deemed unfit for British audiences and had gathered dust but after the success of ‘Wallander’, a Swedish detective series, something Scandinavian was needed and ‘Forbrydelsen’ sounded just that. The show became a massive hit, so successful that it persuaded Channel 4 to buy the American remake.
The original series was not perfect because it was obliged to mix a serious study of the impact of a murder on the family of the victim with red herrings and suspense. Neither was the idea of using just one case as a basis for twenty episodes as original as the partisan but charming Radio Times claimed. This had been done earlier in the American series, ‘Murder One’. The programme, though, was irresistible. When Sarah Lund was betrayed or compromised she did not scream, shout or cry. She merely looked at the camera or looked away and I used to wait for these glorious moments with the belief I had an entitlement and it consisted of a quota. The actress Sofie Grabol had a thousand different ways of staring into space and I like everyone else in the audience would just sit there and watch her staring. She is now a superstar in Britain. The sweater she wore in the show is considered a fashion accessory and sales of this not inexpensive £250 item have increased to the extent that the factory in The Faroe Islands which makes these sweaters can no longer cope. The show insists on a certain authenticity and I assume that Danish policewomen can afford them because the sweaters are cheaper over there. The Danes need to be careful. The British have form when it comes to invading sparsely populated remote islands. Cheaper Sarah Lund sweaters could fall within British military parameters.
Because this is an Elvis blog I am obliged to note that her sweater has become an icon equivalent to his white suit. Both garments hinted at determination. Sarah wore the same sweater in every episode because she was too involved in her work to worry about a varied wardrobe. Elvis stayed with his white suit because he wanted to communicate an identity beyond music. They initially suggested remoteness although this has since been lost. The first series became a hit DVD box set and the second series used another sweater from the same factory. Not only did Elvis persist with his jump suit for too long he posthumously acquired 250,000 imitators.
Prior to the second series appearing on the BBC one of the producers talked about how they had wanted to do something different. To ensure that they avoided repeating themselves, they decided to try and create more dangerous situations for Sarah Lund. Again, I have yet to meet anyone who believes that the second series was the equal of the first. The extra suspense and violence meant more mechanical plotting. The visit by Sarah to Afghanistan may have been plausible but it felt like added exotica. Sarah had a new detective as a partner but he lacked the hidden charm of Meyer and nobody criticised Sarah when she emptied her gun into his body. He had killed six people merely to protect himself and Sarah felt quite correctly that this counted against him.
I am, though, still loyal and am awaiting the third series. I tell myself that perhaps they will have learnt from the last series and avoid the melodrama and realise that ‘Forbrydelsen’ does not need a panoramic sweep to be interesting. Again I have not met anyone who has watched both series and is not committed to watching the third. I understand my own loyalty. I do not believe that my entitlement to the stares of Sarah is exhausted and I remember those scenes in the kitchen of the Larsens when the family would both console and doubt one another. ‘Forbrydelsen’ was made in Denmark where the Dogme films where launched. These austere films both gripped and tested audiences. ‘Forbrydelsen’ is not Dogme film making but it is no coincidence that it came from the same country. The actress, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen, who played the mother of the victim, has appeared in a Dogme film and her honest performance as the mother was a key reason why we took the first series so seriously and will return to series three even though its impact will inevitably diminish. As ‘Forbrydelsen’ continues to increase in popularity the memory of Dogme will become increasingly irrelevant.
Not everybody who was thrilled by the arrival of Elvis stayed loyal but I did and so did many others. This was not because we did not recognise the decline. As with the stares of Sarah there are moments that once experienced give you a sense of entitlement and you want them repeated. This is usually accompanied by a belief that there is something or someone worthwhile at the core and that it or them are beyond others and that they or it led the way. In ‘Forbrydelsen’ the core consists of an honest look at human nature and a capability within its performers to represent that perfectly. Elvis may not have always been honest but he had an openness that was unusually revealing and his talent expressed an identity as complex as any that have existed in American popular music. For me, there is a parallel with his Sun hits and the Dogme movies. Both leave their memories. His Sun records affect how I listen to all his music and the echoes of Dogme in the Larsen kitchen mean I watch the subsequent melodrama of ‘Forbrydelsen’ differently to how I watch other thrillers. The great strength of Sarah is that she identifies with her victim. She does her best because anything else would be disloyal. Elvis has often been described as a sell out but I think he was far more loyal to his working class roots than people realise. I will not convince everyone but I know why I stayed loyal and why his best moments like the stares of Sarah still put a smile on my face.