Go on, admit it. You’re living in the UK and you couldn’t quite believe that the BBC could show something from Scandinavia as good as The Killing or Borgen *. But on all those frustrating in-between Saturday nights bereft of cool new Nordic episodic stuff, you were desperately hoping that such a programme would surface – and take super-clever and super-compelling, yet remarkably accessible, television drama to new heights. And, as if the BBC4 programmes controller were our fairy godmother, Santa Claus and Julenisse all rolled into one, it came along.
Long Live The Bridge.
There are bucketloads of reasons why we’re as captivated as so many other people by this latest offering – one not, like The Killing and Borgen, exclusively from the stable of Danish broadcaster DR, but rather more of a joint cross-border collaboration that as such mirrors the relationship between the two detectives at the heart of the drama.
However, on this occasion, we’ll restrict ourselves to a few choice words of fandom in praise of glacial ice queen Saga Noren and Danish diamond geezer Martin Rohde – and the masterfully-realised ensemble of characters around them. Thus here comes Why We Love The Bridge.
1. The triumph of dramatic authenticity over celebrity culture. Even if the actors are much better known on their respective home turfs, they’re still relatively low-key as far as the wider international public is concerned. They’re not recursive celebs famous for being on a reality TV show that they got onto because they were on a reality TV show because (repeat equation ad infinitum). They really do make the grade simply on acting merit. Watching each new top-grade Scandi drama forces us to continually re-assess the pool of actors available in these countries in the most positive way possible. Worldly Scandifriend thought that, on the basis of his performance in Borgen, Søren Malling had upped the stakes and even challenged the pre-eminence of The Killing co-star Sofie Gråbøl among Scandi thesps. They are surely both among the world’s very finest television actors – but one wonders if the parallel pairing from The Bridge (actors Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia) are really any whit inferior.
2. The significance of the bridge itself. There might be longer river crossings in the world, but the Øresund Bridge is, both in real life and in the programme, invested with a symbolism as poignant as that seen in the case of the Iron Curtain. In 1989, it was the dissolution of the latter that prompted human transit and migration across the European land mass that persists to this day. Since July 2000 and the opening of the bridge (by comparison, an act of construction, not destruction), Scandinavia has had to come to terms just that little bit more with the fact that its individual countries are not closed-off ivory towers and are as such equally susceptible to social fluctuation and fragmentation. If the bridge is going to bring people together, it’s up to the individuals on either side (as in the case of Noren and Rohde) to learn how to co-operate.
3. The problematic beauty of the bridge – and of Scandinavia itself. We have one more show in which downtown Copenhagen and its historical monuments look achingly beautiful in the prism of a lofty morning sunrise. Add to that the relentless shots of Øresund Bridge and the cars propelled over water by it. It’s not just a politically significant bridge/tunnel crossing, it’s also visually captivating to boot. But, just like the cities of Copenhagen and Malmö, it contains its own dark secrets within the course of the programme. In that sense, the programme takes the agenda of The Killing and Borgen into new territory, and reminds us, to quote one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, of the creation of a new kind of terrible beauty. There is plenty of grit and realism in The Bridge – but there’s some pretty canny visual poetry laced therein.
* Thanks to one of our oldest friends, Simon Messenger, for confirming that Scandinavian television of this calibre isn’t just imported into the UK. They also get to see The Killing in Australasia. We thought this might have been the case – but we didn’t want to assume so 🙂