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Scandinavian Crime Shows vs. Their Remakes

Saunas, pastries, flat-packed furniture. There are certain things that the folk over in Scandinavia produce better than anywhere else in the world. And if the last few years of literary and televisual output is anything to go by, we can add crime fiction to that list. Steig Larsson and Jo Nesbo lead the way in print, of course. But on the telly? Programmes like Wallander, The Bridge and The Killing are already stone cold box set classics, proving so popular that they’ve spawned a whole host of remakes.

But are the originals superior? Or have their English-speaking reboots managed to improve on them? Let’s take a look at some modern ‘Scandi-crime’ classics, pit them against their remakes and find out who comes out on top…

The Killing (aka Forbrydelsen) vs. The Killing

The Killing is the the daddy of Scandi-crime. Well, perhaps the mummy. Sofie Gråbøl’s dogged Sarah Lund is, of course, a woman after all. A woman with a natty collection of jumpers (it’s not possible to discuss The Killing without the obligatory knitwear reference, we’re afraid). Its dark themes, series-long storylines and shocking plot twists helped make ‘Forbrydelsen’ the crime drama from the chilly Northern European peninsula a worldwide phenomenon.

Its US counterpart, set in the home hometown of Nirvana, Starbucks and being sleepless – Seattle – has Sarah Linden as a detective with an unfortunately less impressive range of pullovers. In a programme with a less impressive range of interesting plot devices, set pieces and choice snippets of dialogue.

Winner? The original!

Wallander vs. Wallander
With the same name and the airing around the same time on BBC Four, it was often confusing when you’d switch over to BBC Four for Wallander – you never knew which one to expect. Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels were originally adapted in their home country of Sweden, with the dour eponymous detective play by Krister Henriksson over 3 series of 32 feature-length episodes (they were the ones without Kenneth Branagh but with subtitles…).

With heavyweight Hollywood thesps Branagh and Tom Hiddleston leading the other Wallander, there’s a definite element of class to the cast of the ‘UK remake’. We use inverted commas there because the rebooted version is still set in Ystad, Sweden. Which is very much to its credit. After all, the existential ponderings of Wallander as he investigates a grisly murder mightn’t be so atmospheric were they taking place in Bridlington or Peterborough.

Winner? The remake!

The Bridge (aka Broen/Bron) vs. The Tunnel
A bizarre murder blurs lines, borders and jurisdictions as two very different detectives – one a socially awkward Swede, the other an easy-going Dane – are paired up to investigate the crime. The drive here is the relationship between the two of them and their (eventual) chemistry. The same can be said for the UK/French version. As with the original, national stereotypes are reversed with the French investigator being cynical and curmudgeonly and her Brit partner a more jovial sort. The parallels are obvious, which isn’t always to the newer version’s credit. It’s eminently watchable, never seems to carve its own niche. There’s only one winner here…

Winner? The original!

Those Who Kill (aka Den som dræbe) vs. Those Who Kill
Based on the series of ‘femi-crime’ novels by best-selling Danish author Elsebeth Egholm, the action here takes place in Copenhagen and follows Inspector Katrina Ries Jensen (Laura Bach) as each week she tracks down a different murderer. The self-contained ‘serial’ format means that you can dip in and out, but limits how involving it can be over a full run. Mind you, when you consider that a single crime in The Killing takes twenty hours of viewing before it’s solved, that might not be a bad thing!

The trump card that the Pittsburgh-set US version has is its star, indie queen Chloë Sevigny. Her casting as Catherine Jensen is enough in itself to draw in a bit of a crowd. But however talented the Boys Don’t Cry and American Psycho actress is, she can’t carry the weight of the A&E channel’s version. Described by critics as ‘monotonous’, ‘deeply mediocre’ and ‘a needlessly grim slog’, you can see where American networks struggle with adapting the the dark and moody nature of Scandinavian crime dramas.

Winner? The original!

So there we have it. A clear 3-1 triumph for the authentic article. Scandinavian crime? Det är det bästa!

1 Comment

    I won’t often say that a US production is better, than anything really, but the US version of the Bridge was exceptional. 10 out of 10. Pretty much blasts the list above out of the water and I love Scandinavian productions especially Icelandic (although not really Scandinavian). I highly recommend Midnight Sun which doesn’t seem to get much of a mention anywhere. Figures these days.

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