It was Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, popular in his native Sweden but a posthumous phenomenon around the world as the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, lit the blue touch paper to what would become almost a national obsession in the United Kingdom.
BBC Four had been devised as almost an arts channel when it was launched in March 2002, not dissimilar to Sky’s very own…well, Sky Arts. A place for new ideas, for original creativity, for an exploration of the world around us, past, present and future. It had dipped its toe into the waters of European programming before, but it wasn’t until Britain woke up to the world of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker Lisbeth Salander that a love for European – and, indeed, worldwide - television began.
Borgen, The Bridge, Arne Dahl, the phenomenally successful The Killing and French legal drama Engrenages have all captivated viewers on a Saturday night, often with two instalments over the single standard found with Anglo-American affairs. Saturday night was the night to stay in, to visit Sweden, Denmark, the city of love itself. Nordic Noir, both a brand and a cultural identity, was in.
It was, then, inevitable that commissioning editors would seek to replicate the success without the necessity of the subtitles that for so long had been inaccessible, particularly to our American cousins. FX commissioned The Bridge, led by German actress Diane Kruger and Mexican acting royalty Demián Bichir, and supported by a moustache-less Ted Levine in his first major television role since Monk. The network was on a high, the Timothy Olyphant-fronted Justified a critical success, the upcoming Cold War drama The Americans the next big thing. It was a miscalculation.
Sky One, also seeking to draw viewers to its in-house productions, followed the same path with The Tunnel. It’s casting was bold; Clémence Poésy of Harry Potter fame coupled with the ever-reliable Stephen Dillane. Critical reception for the first season was largely positive. For the second, not so much.
There is a point to this: where do you draw the line? If an original production is successful, are you justified in attempting to replicate that success? AMC in the States tried with The Killing, but could, after a lacklustre second season, be argued as yet another miscalculation. The franchise suffered as a result. Should there be a period of waiting before attempting such a feat?
Wallander, adapted from Henning Mankell’s bestselling novels, had been done not once, but twice before, first with the rugged, bear-like figure of Rolf Lassgård in a series of films, later with the sleeker, more subdued Krister Henriksson as the eponymous detective.
A remake is always a risk. Even the most casual of cinema-goers know this. A miss is far more likely than a hit. When Kenneth Branagh laced the shoes of Kurt Wallander for the first time, The Killing hadn’t yet reached our shores, which itself raises a chicken-or-egg question regarding the genesis of Nordic noir in the UK.
It’s a question as old as the ‘moving pictures’ themselves, and, over one hundred and thirty years later, one for which we have no answer.
All personal features are based on an opinion only. Telly Binge does not agree or disagree with the piece written in this article.