Last Night's TV: The Killing/Channel 4
Candy Bar Girls/Channel 5
Friday 08 July 2011
I've long been of the opinion that subtitles paper over the cracks in a foreign film or television series, making it seem marginally more sophisticated than it really is. That the dialogue was incomprehensible to English-speakers in Forbrydelsen (the original Danish version of The Killing), or in the excellent French crime thriller Spiral, disguised any potential bum notes. I'm convinced this is why critical consensus favours the Swedish series of Wallander over Kenneth Branagh's, rather than any genuine gulf in class. In fact, I can assure you with some conviction that there were shonky lines in Forbrydelsen, because I happen to live with a Danish screenwriter, and she told me so. (This is not a joke.) Still, the first episode of the American remake served only to remind me of the original's considerable qualities.
Forbrydelsen, in case you missed it, depicted the investigation of a 17-year-old schoolgirl's murder. What set it apart was not simply that so much screen-time was devoted to a single case, but that the police were not its sole protagonists. An idealistic mayoral candidate with a devious entourage was dragged into the inquiry, while the study of the bereft family's raw grief gave the series an authenticity, even as the mystery plot became increasingly preposterous.
In The Killing, Copenhagen has been exchanged for Seattle, and Detective Sarah Lund – the jumper-wearing, nicotine gum-chewing antiheroine determined to track down the killer – is now Sarah Linden. The ambitious, apparently blemish-free councilman is played by Billy Campbell, formerly The Rocketeer, while the supporting cast had me spending most of the hour trying to recall which other US dramas they had appeared in: a distraction that was, of course, absent from the Danish original.
The distraction was welcome, I'm afraid, because the plot was so cringemakingly familiar. It's almost impossible to suspend disbelief when you're watching new actors play a set of characters that you've already come to know intimately, with different faces and different voices. And that effect is only amplified when it's a remake of a 20-hour television show from which you've only recently shrugged off your withdrawal symptoms, rather than a remake of some movie that you haven't seen in a decade or more. Even the musical score has been borrowed from Forbrydelsen, and deployed in identical fashion.
I did try to be objective for the benefit of Independent readers; to watch The Killing with fresh eyes. Naturally, I failed. It is made by AMC – the production house behind Mad Men and Breaking Bad – so it is well scripted, well acted and well shot. It's a smart move to have turned the 20-part original into a 13-part remake; the most glaring flaw in Forbrydelsen was its persistent need to cast suspicion onto new characters, and then concoct implausible narrative strategies to pluck suspicion from them and cast it elsewhere again. There ought to be fewer such instances in an abridged adaptation. I'm also led to believe – by American websites that I find difficult to avoid – that the story will diverge from the original, and that even the killer's identity may have changed. I shan't be watching to find out, though.
I'll confess that I came to Candy Bar Girls with a few preconceptions, too – mostly derived from the advertising campaign that preceded it. If you live in the capital and have failed to spot the profusion of billboards adorned with the word "LESBIANS" in seven-foot high pink letters, then you must be either blind or unusually impervious to titillation. The fact that this documentary about the lives of London lesbians – centering on a Soho establishment called Candy Bar – was to be broadcast on Channel Five also gave me some warning of what to expect.
Still, it struck me that there seem to be a lot more gay men on UK television that there are gay women (Coronation Street aside), and that this might, therefore, be a healthy addition to a balanced televisual diet. Unfortunately, it turns out that self-selecting lesbians, of the sort who might apply to take part in a reality TV programme, are just as insufferable as self-selecting people of any other persuasion. Sure enough, one of the participants, "Shabby", was once a Big Brother contestant, and is no less obnoxious now than I imagine she was then.
Danni, 22, was the "pole-dancing lesbian", whom men (such as, for example, the Polish builders refurbishing the bar) might well fancy, for all the good it'll do them. But she turned out to be pretty unpleasant as well, ruthlessly dumping her long-term girlfriend for the cameras, and forcing her to move out, there and then. Danni and Shabby, mercenary in their monopoly of the screen, tended to drown out the more personable members of the cast.
With my minimal knowledge of the so-called lesbian "scene", I'm unable to confirm whether Candy Bar Girls constitutes a worthy portrayal, though I suspect not. The supposed narrative driving the series forward was the relaunch of the bar under new ownership – which, claimed its promotions manager and DJ, Sandra Davenport, was "the most exciting thing to happen on the lesbian scene in the last few years, bar none." Gary, the incoming owner, was very keen to remove all traces of pink – pink wallpaper, pink lights – from the old, seedy incarnation before its grand re-opening. I presume he profoundly disapproves of Channel Five's billboards.
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