Danish maestro Birger Larsen makes a killing in Britain
Birger Larsen will bring Nordic grit to his first BBC crime series
A bleak cityscape at night, set to a pulsating musical score. In the corner of the screen, the words "Day 1" appear before we cut to a murder scene. It could be an archetypal outtake from the hit Danish drama Forbrydelsen, or The Killing, except that the city is Nottingham and this is a BBC drama with a British cast.
The director of this BBC2 production, which is simply called Murder (another nod to The Killing), is, however, Danish – and he helmed several episodes of the Copenhagen crime drama that gave Sarah Lund to the world. Birger Larsen has also directed episodes of the Swedish Wallander – but Murder is his British debut, and he's the latest practitioner of the Nordic crime wave to land on these shores, following Sarah Lund star Sofie Grabol's cameo in Absolutely Fabulous last Christmas, and The Killing/Borgen actor Soren Malling's rather more substantial role as a chain-smoking Latvian police officer in a recent episode of BBC1's Wallander.
"I can say without exaggeration that it was the best script I have seen since The Killing," says the 51-year-old director, on a flying visit to London. "I was attracted to the fact that it's written in such a way that the actors talk directly to camera. It feels original and intimate. You see it through their eyes."
Indeed, the style of Murder is far more original than its rather blunt title. A young woman lies dead in a Nottingham flat. Her terrified sister, Coleen (Karla Crome from Hit & Miss), is barricaded in the bathroom. A young man, ex-squaddie Stefan (Joe Dempsie from Skins) in a blood-stained shirt, is pulled over for speeding. It's 2am and the three of them only met at noon. What happened in those fatal hours?
Our suspicions zigzag wildly as we follow the investigation and succeeding court case through the straight-to-camera testimony of Coleen, Stefan, the investigating officer (played by Robert Pugh) and Coleen's lawyer (an almost Bill Nighy-like turn from Stephen Dillane), the monologues interspaced with footage filmed on CCTV cameras and mobile phones. It's a novel way of storytelling that graduates from being slightly off-putting – like a bad night at the fringe theatre, and not at all what we expect from a crime drama – to being utterly compelling.
Writer Robert Jones came up with the device from attending murder trials at the Old Bailey. "When I saw people giving their testimony, it struck me how convincing people were when they were being questioned in their defence and how guilty they were when being questioned by the prosecution," he says. "It seemed an interesting way to tell a story, simply by having the protagonists give their version of events. The elusive quality of truth is what's fascinating in that situation."
Jones reveals that he chose Nottingham for its higher than average murder rate. "It felt like it needed to be in a real place," he says. "We wanted to hear the accent and feel the place." Language proved no barrier to Larsen, the pronunciation of the word "café" as "caff" being the only time he struggled with the language. In fact, he claims that there were hardly any cultural differences between making TV drama in England and in Denmark. "Except the wonderful thing in England is that you work for 11 hours, in Denmark you only work for eight hours." And the international cross-fertilisation of crime drama flows in both directions, he adds. "Prime Suspect kicked off a lot of wonderful things in Denmark. I know that The Killing was hugely inspired by it".
'Murder' is on BBC2 in August
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
news Opponents claim it would stop performers such as Beyonce and Madonna appearing on TV
It takes a platoon of chefs, litres of brandy and rum, and almost 100kg of dried fruit
newsThat most ancient of crimes is on the rise, threatening farmers' livelihoods, community trust – and human health
food + drink
sportIf you thought the London Olympics and Wiggins' Tour glory made last year best, don't forget Murray's Wimbledon win and Farah's double
Arts & Ents blogs
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
Justin Bieber isn't retiring from music after all: Pop star says he was 'messing around'
American Hustle, review: 'Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as the neurotic housewife'
Justin Bieber's mishaps and controversies
Is Bilbo Baggins a girl?
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 North Koreans are gasping for the truth: Let's give it to them
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 5 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- < Previous
- Next >