The Killing, BBC4, Saturday
Nuns Aloud, BBC1, Tuesday

The latest Scandinavian detective drama is dark and intense, and thoroughly deserves its rapidly growing audience

There are plenty of digs at Sweden in the Danish crime thriller The Killing.

"I had some friends who moved there once," remarks one character, only half-joking. "They went mad. It was too remote." Standard sibling rivalry between neighbouring countries? Or maybe a metatextual jibe at the bleak introspection considered characteristic of the contemporary Swedish crime fiction (think Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson) that has so captivated viewers and readers around the globe.

Naturally, BBC4's latest European import has not avoided the Wallander comparisons, but the resemblance is not pronounced. There are no interminable brooding shots of reed-packed lakes, for a start. Now at the mid-point in its 20-episode run – its audience increasing weekly in both number and enthusiasm – the series traces the events following the brutal murder of a teenage girl.

By turns pacy and contemplative, though never overwrought, the narrative sets up an intensifying web of connections between her death and those caught up in its fallout. Taking in the police investigation, the family's private grief and a political intrigue whose contours are yet fully to emerge, the murder threatens to tug sharply at the loose threads of Copenhagen's mixed social fabric.

I won't reveal too much, since an iPlayer binge awaits those who have yet to tune in, but at the halfway mark the labyrinthine plot has already taken us down several dead ends while tantalisingly sketching the limits of the blind spots on which the stories ultimately converge.

That might be frustrating were it not for the fact that even the red herrings illuminate a theme. I'm told the Danish title also translates as "The Crime", a more accurate indicator of what is on offer. The killing itself is one among many crimes – legal, ethical, moral – committed by various characters. From the chequered past of the victim's father to the protocol-bending police efforts and the political manoeuvres of an election campaign, the question seems to be: what constitutes a crime? And does one crime always beget another?

Dark stuff, then, but more in the nature of the genre than evidence of national character, I think. If anything, The Killing recalls the French series Spiral, another top pick from BBC4, not least because it too benefits from a strong female lead, here in the form of detective Sarah Lund, played with incredible restraint and intensity by Sofie Grabol.

Lund is a singular creation. Against the usual quandaries of balancing work and family life, her responses are a break from the guilt-wracked norm. Refreshingly, there are no stock scenes of her peeping in on her sleeping son as she returns home late from work yet again. But nor is she painted as a power-hungry ball-breaker, apparently driven by an unsentimental empathy with the victim. A nice touch, underscoring this lack of narcissism, is that she seems set to wear the same jumper for the entire series – although she has a long way to go to match Wallander levels of dishevelment.

Nevertheless, The Killing can't bust every stereotype. That jumper, a natty Fair Isle, belongs to a generalised superior knitwear sensibility, and the most modest home settings are worthy of Elle Decor. The natural beauty quotient among the cast is high, and even the less physically blessed make up for it with interesting hair or quirky spectacles. As clichés go, however, I can live with those and I'm sure the Danes can too.

Though thrillers thrive on the mystery of what is not shown, I'm not sure it works as a modus operandi for a documentary. Nuns Aloud recorded a music label's search for a group of singing nuns to top the classical charts. The main stumbling block – both for record execs Tom and Olly and for the programme-makers – seemed to be the fact that many of the nuns they visited lived in cloistered communities where visitors were not permitted, let alone TV cameras.

The brief glimpses we did get were tantalising. The nuns who finally made the record – and succeeded in topping the charts – lived in an isolated, virtually self-sufficient community near Avignon, doing everything from farming to fixing their own electrical items, but there was little possibility of exploring their lives further.

The rhetoric was X-Factor-meets-MasterChef – "These aren't world-class nuns," said Tom of one community, clearly calibrating things on his own peculiar scale. The main criteria appeared to be a photogenic location and youth. Apparently, Gregorian chant sounds better with younger voices. It's rather depressing to learn that the world of plainsong is no less age-obsessed than pop.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory