Tyve timer, for helvede!

I had considered writing a review of Søren Sveistrup’s crime thriller serial Forbrydelsen (BBC version: The Killing), which on Saturday completed its 20 episode broadcast in the UK. I watched every hour-long programme, and was impressed, but there is not much I can add to what other Britlanders have written about the Danish television sensation.

Take the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries, for example, together with his mostly favourable commenters. As part of what comes across as a pleasant Copenhagen jolly, Jeffries got to interview Sofie Gråbøl, the actor who played Sarah Lund, Forbrydelsen’s bewellied, bejumpered and mildly dysfunctional leading character. Not than any Dane is entirely functional, mind you. What emerges from Jeffries’ very readable piece is a detailed exercise in character development made possible by what is for British and American viewers an unusual format, so used as they are to at most two-part crime thriller serialisations. With Forbrydelsen we had a single über-plot stretching out over a grand total of 20 hours, and contained within that a whole number of interweaved sub-narratives, all mercifully light on the usual clichés.

Going by viewing figures and online comment, The Killing appears to have gone down very well in Britain, and I’m pleasantly surprised by this success. Never for once did I imagine that so many Brits would tolerate, never mind be gripped by 20 hours of subtitled Danish language dialogue covering just one story. Contrast this with the Swedish-language version of Wallander, starring the outstanding Krister Henriksson. This was also successful in the UK, but author Henning Mankell’s texts are more easily translated into a standard screenplay format. Danish screenwriter Sveistrup, on the hand hand, went to town with Forbrydelsen, and the result speaks for itself.

My main issue with The Killing is the flat, rather literal subtitling* which made little attempt to do justice to the richness of the original ‘Københavnsk’ dialogue. Being an English speaker who also understands Danish, when watching The Killing I occasionally found myself distracted from the storyline, trying to come up with English idioms that could have been used to better convey the meaning of particular Danish phrases. The lack of attention to subtitling in The Killing is unfortunate, as in so doing the producers missed a chance to highlight the many cultural similarities between the English and their Danish North Sea neighbours.

A second series of The Killing is scheduled for the autumn.

* The title of this post could be subtitled loosely but meaningfully as “Twenty hours, for feck’s sake!”