How to beat the Brexit blues with some brilliant European dramas
Dylan Wyn Williams
‘Brexit day’ has been and gone, and left a cawl potsh of emotions in its wake. To me, a feeling of sadness, anger, bewilderment, and yes, that very Welsh cliché of hiraeth. Hiraeth for something safe and sound that I took for granted throughout my whole life.
Thank heavens, therefore, for BBC Four, Netflix and Walter Presents (also on S4C Clic with Cymraeg subtitles) and the permanent passport they provide to some truly brilliant European dramas.
And I’ve just booked my TV ’tec themed spring holiday. With a cheap plane ticket (sorry, Greta) and a handful of kronor, I’ll be escaping the inevitable jingoism of 8th of May Bank Holiday in little Britain for my favourite region dubbed the happiest in the world – Scandinavia.
This time, southern Sweden is calling, and the seaside city of Malmö is conveniently placed for day trips 30 km north to Copenhagen and 60 km south to Ystad.
That’s Ystad in Skåne County, made famously by Henning Mankell’s series of eleven novels about the dour detective Wallander. I was utterly mesmerized by the Swedish TV adaptation between 2005 and 2013 (and the later English version with Sir Ken Branagh) long before ‘nordic noir’ was a mainstream thing.
The scenes of blinding yellow rapeseed fields, red-timbered farmsteads and lonely beaches where Kurt took Jussi for long walks under a wide grey-washed sky, has stayed with me ever since. Early May can’t come soon enough.
The Swedes have a few subtitled hits under their belt, not least the fantastisk Bron/Broen (2011-2018) co-produced with their Danish neighbour-sometimes-archrival. And yes, I’ll be following Saga Norén’s footsteps – or rather her olive green Porsche 911S – over the famous Øresund bridge spanning the two nations, with THAT haunting theme song on a loop.
The Danes won worldwide acclaim thanks to a stoic female detective in Faroese knitwear (Forbrydelsen 2007-2012) and a coalition government with sexy interiors (Borgen 2010-2013).
Another hit for me personally was a modern-day saga about warring siblings returning to their dilapidated ancestral home after the death of their mother, a nationally-famous artist. Arvingerne (The Legacy, 2014-2017), shown on Sky Arts hence the lack of buzz, was addictive and irritating in equal measures. That, plus the beautiful opening credit sung by Nina ‘The Cardigans’ Persson.
Here are some other Euro highlights:
Modern Barcelona never looked so good in Nit i Dia (Night and Day, 2016-present), following married forensic pathologist Dr Sara Grau called out to a new case, discovering she had previously slept with one of the deceased victims. With more twists and turns than the A470 at Dolwyddelan.
For Dutch-language series, try Overspel (The Adulterer, 2011-2015) about professional photographer Iris van Erkel-Hoegaarde (try saying that after a few witbiers) who falls head over heels and trouble for married lawyer Willem Steenhouwer, whose in-laws are involved in dodgy business deals and a body in the canal.
Hořící keř (Burning Bush, 2013) is an Agnieszka Holland (Mr Jones film) directed mini-series set in Soviet-occupied Prague, right after 20-year-old student Jan Palach sets himself on fire on Wenceslas Square in January 1969. A harrowing but essential modern history viewing to remind us how far we’ve come as Europeans.
A gripping noir thriller set in the 1920s, Babylon Berlin features a cop suffering from PTSD and a typist aspiring to become a police inspector, uncovering danger while investigating an underground porn ring. A riveting feast to the eyes, juxtaposing the abject poverty and decadent cabaret scene of the Weimar Republic.
Gaelige language five-part thriller An Bronntanas (The Gift, 2014) with a splash of dark humour caught my attention on TG4 website, about a struggling Conamara lifeboat crew faced with a moral dilemma after discovering €1m worth of drugs – and a dead woman – on board a stricken boat one stormy eve. Don’t mention the rygbi…
From the land of Tintin there’s La Trêve (The Break, 2016-2018) about Brussels detective Yoann Peeters (unwisely) returning to his roots in the deliciously dark Ardennes region – where an investigation into a young African football player fished out of a local river leads to S&M parties at a local farm, a ghostly character and some serious police cover-up.
Keystone cops, French style, as lawyers and police officers stumble from one bad decision to another – in their personal and professional lives – in a Paris rarely seen by Instaobsessed tourists. With another exhilarating, last, season of Engrenages (Spiral, 2005 – present) in the can, I can’t wait to see what’s next for ill-fated lovers Laure and Gilou, flaming Joséphine and everybody’s adopted grand-père, Judge Robin.
If you’re yearning for a proper cold winter, head to Wisting (2019) where a gentle giant of a detective and his highly irritating journo-daughter are battling through snowdrifts to catch a serial killer. Over on Netflix, there’s Okkupert (Occupied, 2015-2020) set in near future Norway invaded by the Russians amongst a worldwide energy crisis.
Andri Olafsson, surely Europe‘s hairiest chief of police, comes to the rescue in Ófærð (Trapped, 2015 – present), after a headless torso is found on a grounded ferry in a remote northern Iceland town threatened by avalanche. A perfect accompaniment to dark Welsh winter nights.
BBC Four is obsessed with Inspector Montalbano, but I’m not convinced. Walter Present’s Non uccidere (Thou Shalt Not Kill, 2015-) is more up my street, as detective Valeria Ferro uses her sixth sense to solve crimes in an arrestingly beautiful Turin whilst struggling with her own demons after her mother is released from prison.