Invasion of the Swedes: A cultural incursion from the north

They revolutionised British design though Ikea; gave us fast fashion at H&M and, of course, we thanked them for the music of Abba. Now the Swedes are taking over in the world of British page and screen.

Fans of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy are eagerly anticipating the UK release of the film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Friday, and a host of other literary and cinematic imports are set to follow.

Printed after Larsson's sudden death in 2004, the tales of Lisbeth Salander have become a global publishing phenomenon. This week, anticipation for the first film adaptation and next month's paperback release of the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, propelled the Dragon Tattoo to the peak of Amazon's bestseller chart after 486 consecutive days in the top 100. All three books of the trilogy are now in the top 10.

Sales of European crime fiction – spearheaded by Larsson – leapt 150 per cent in a year at the booksellers Waterstone's. His popularity has boosted interest in other Swedish crime novelists, including Hakan Nesser and Mari Jungstedt.

"They take a really hard look at aspects of Sweden such as corruption, exploitation and fraud that are often missing from the usual political narrative of its society: taxes, education, equality, quality of life and the like," said Waterstone's crime buyer Simon Robertson.

Staffan Carlsson, Sweden's ambassador to London, is hosting a seminar on Larsson and the rise of Swedish mystery fiction on 18 March. Carl Otto Werkelid, the Swedish embassy's counsellor for cultural affairs, said officials were "quite astonished" by the "Larsson fever" which had raised awareness of the key role culture can play in international understanding.

The BBC has aired Swedish television's adaptations of Henning Mankell's bestselling Wallander detective novels and bought the rights to 13 new shows. Its own critically acclaimed adaptation, starring Kenneth Branagh, first aired in 2008, had a second series this January.

Its executive producer, Francis Hopkinson, said two more series were planned and claimed Sweden was "exotic enough to be of interest but not far enough away to be alien" to viewers. "In the first series, there's a Swedish minister who's killed," he added. "He says, 'I think the world now recognises that Sweden stands for a little more than just Bjorn Borg, Abba and a bit of skinny dipping in mountain lakes': that was a kind of statement of intent by us that it was going to be a little bit different."

Swedish films enjoyed a record year in 2009 and Pia Lundberg, the head of the Swedish Film Institute's international department, predicted a "similar" run this year, with Patrik Eklund's short film Instead of Abracadabra tipped by some for an Oscar tonight.

UK releases this summer include Videocracy, a documentary on Silvio Berlusconi, and Lukas Moodysson's Mammoth. There are also negotiations taking place for the UK rights for Easy Money, the first adaptation of Jens Lapidus's Stockholm Noir Trilogy.

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