I decided to conduct an experiment with the latest episode of Silent Witness – to watch it as if it was a subtitled Danish crime drama.
This wasn't because BBC1's long-running forensics serial sometimes has the urgency of a wet bank holiday and I needed something other than professional dedication to keep me engaged, but because there is an argument that says that fans of shows like The Killing, Borgen and now The Bridge have been hoodwinked by subtitles. Having to read the dialogue, this argument goes, imbues Nordic-crime shows with more sophistication than might be the case if they were being spouted in the Queen's English by, say, Emilia Fox.
I don't buy this for a moment, but I thought I would conduct the experiment anyway, it being a great help that this particular storyline focused on William Gaminara's Professor Leo Dalton, who had the washed-out pallor of a man just emerging from a long Nordic winter and could easily pass for a Soren or an Anders.
Not being (full disclosure) an avid Silent Witness watcher, I wasn't up to speed with Dalton's back story, but his colleagues seemed to think that he needed a long rest, so the veteran scientist travelled to a friend's psychiatric centre in Essex – a night-drive along what I guess was meant to be the A12 being the nearest we came to the atmospheric location shots of Dane-drama. Pulling up outside the centre, Dalton was greeted by a hooting owl, one of the great clichés of British TV drama rural night-shoots. In Midsomer Murders, it's inevitably a barking fox. Which reminds me: Midsomer Murders is hugely popular in France. Do the French believe they are watching cutting-edge crime drama, or is the show consoling the six million Marine Le Pen voters with its absence of racial minorities? I know, I know... a cheap shot, especially as the show is just as popular in the UK.
But back to the experiment, which eventually had to be abandoned because it was hindering comprehension of a plot involving a 15-year-old girl who had seemingly died of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome, a shrink battling terminal cancer with neat vodka, religious mania and a once wealthy family now reduced to living in a council block decorated with the obligatory hoodies. If you were reliant on subtitles you would have missed the fact that while the rest of his family spoke Estuary English, their blinded teenage son (like I said, it's a long story) talked as if he'd been to the same school as Cameron and Osborne.
Maybe that was a clue being laid down for tonight's second half, but I won't be there to watch it because even dressed up in terse subtitles, the dialogue would have seemed lethargic. And I don't suppose there would be any Danish fans discussing Emilia Fox's gauzy blouses in the same way British fans of The Killing appear to enjoy Sarah Lund's chunky sweaters. Or indeed Saga Noren's leather trousers in The Bridge. Certainly none of the dialogue in Silent Witness came anywhere near the wit of an exchange in Saturday's episode of this Swedish-Danish co-production, between Saga, the Malmo half of The Bridge's odd-couple bi-national police duo, and her long-suffering boss.
Saga (played by the excellent Sofia Helin, who has managed to make a complete lack of empathy seem endearing) and her superior had been discussing her indifference to job promotion, when she started rattling off character traits. "Extremely focused. Single. Successful. Clearly defined targets. Good at planning." He (and we) thought that Saga was talking about herself, when it transpired that she was quoting from a report that had just landed on her desk – a psychological profile of the killer. Brilliant, with or without subtitles.Reuse content