The Viking Invasion

Hollywood is on the hunt for compelling Nordic noir

by Margy Rochlin
borgen image
Sidse Babett Knudsen in the Danish series Borgen
Photograph: MIKE KOLLOFFEL

We thought the Scandinavians were all about free love, and now it turns out what they’re good at is killing each other. Since the megasuccess of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, American publishers have been hot to sign up the next cold thing: Swede Liza Marklund’s series about crime reporter Annika Bengtzon; Icelander Arnaldur Indriðason’s Detective Erlender books; Swede Camilla Läckberg’s titles, including The Ice Princess; and Norwegian Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman and other tales of investigator Harry Hole.

The craze hit England first, when the BBC cast Kenneth Branagh in 2008 as Henning Mankell’s gloomy detective Harry Wallander. Three years later, U.S. cable channel AMC turned the Danish crime drama Forbrydelsen into The Killing. Now Hollywood is reportedly remaking Borgen, a hit Danish political series about a female prime minister. And among this summer’s film diversions will be the Swedish thriller Easy Money, opening July 11.

That Scandinavian procedurals are twisty and character driven helps explain their U.S. appeal. “The stories are beautifully crafted,” says Stephen Garrett, chairman of Kudos Film & TV, which snapped up rights to The Bridge, a Swedish series that pairs a Malmö-based female detective who has Asperger’s with a lumbering, rule-breaking Danish policeman.

Of course, a case can be made that it’s worth the cost of foreign DVDs and an all-region DVD player (see below) to watch these series in their original form. “The people feel real,” says Garrett of the Swedish version of The Bridge. “They’re not conventionally beautiful, and they dress in ordinary clothes. The story grips you because it feels true.”

And if it’s truth you’re after—historical truth—gear up for the History Channel’s 2013 series Vikings, which may bring us back to free love: It’s being written by Michael Hirst, who penned Showtime’s lusty The Tudors.

TIP: It’s easy to buy imported DVDs (try Amazon’s U.K. website for a start: ­amazon.co.uk). The tricky part is playing them. Your DVD hardware is compatible only with discs coded as Region 1. Discs from Europe are coded as Region 2. Some computers have a DVD drive that allows users to switch between regions for a limited time. But the easiest solution is to buy an inexpensive all-region DVD player (about $50, available online and at stores that sell movies from other countries). The initial setup requires a Google search like “How to work [brand name here] DVD player?” But the online instructions are usually straightforward.

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First published in the July/August 2012 issue

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