There was a time when Sweden’s reputation centred around Abba’s spangliness and Volvo’s lumpen reliability. And then a darkness befell the nation from which we ultimately tripped over The Bridge.
To those who aren’t interested in trivia, when the Øresund Bridge was built, connecting Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmo in Sweden, it was the first time human beings had travelled ‘overland’ between the two countries since the Ice Age. If the photography in The Bridge is anything to go by the Ice Age never went away.
Crime noir was becoming a speciality in Scandinavia and Denmark, with grisly murder being found in film, television and literature. The Bridge elevated the genre to high art and in the process introduced the world to a protagonist as fascinating and disturbing as Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander: Saga Noren.
At the start of the first episode of the first series, police discover a body at the midway point of the bridge, meaning both Swedish and Danish police have joint jurisdiction over the investigation, but it isn’t long before we discover many of The Bridge’s idiosyncracies. The body is actually two bodies: top half and bottom half placed together. Danish investigator Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) works alongside Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) and immediately were in odd couple territory.
In less talented hands Saga Noren would have been a car crash character, an implausible caricature, but with a deft script and a talented actor we are never explicitly told that Saga is autistic. Unable to recognise humour, irony, engage in small talk or comprehend the contradictions in so much of everyday language, Saga fumbled along with Martin, vasectomied family man with a paunch and stubble rough enough to strike a match.
Their relationship is the only colour in a bleak desaturated landscape. Martin nonplussed by Saga, in turn nonplussed by Martin’s nonplussedness! But they get by. The relationship and the programme’s premise and style caught the public’s attention and American television producers who rushed out their own version of The Bridge.
Season two led to season three and unlike The Killing which lost its momentum as the episodes went by, The Bridge simply intensified and achieved the near-impossible by advancing the story arc of Saga’s evolving emotional characteristics without undermining the central core of the programme’s crime investigating foundations.
The question I often ask watching a programme like The Bridge is why British drama can’t match this quality; the writing, the acting, the overall maturity of storytelling. Every detail is treated as a work of art, as a critical component resulting in a production that disturbs as much as it enthralls. If you don’t believe me you only have to see the opening credits, which by themselves put to shame 99% of the world’s television output. Not since The Wire has a television series been this compelling.