Noir and improved: Danish TV enters another perfect storm
New series marks a new direction for Danish TV following smash hits such as 'The Killing' and 'Borgen'
With original boundary-breaking content, thrilling plots and charismatic actors, Danish television series have captivated audiences worldwide in recent years.
The latest show to hit the small screen is Ride Upon the Storm, which is being distributed in almost 80 countries.
The new drama was created by Adam Price, the Bafta winner behind the acclaimed drama Borgen, which followed the political and personal tribulations of a Danish woman prime minister.
Danish shows, with both exoticism and gritty realism, have quickly soared in popularity beyond their initial local Scandinavian viewership, Pia Jensen, an Aarhus University communications associate professor specialising in television series, said.
Long known for the Nordic noir crime genre, the big international breakthrough for Danish shows came with The Killing, a hard-hitting series following a female Copenhagen cop’s investigations.
Then came crime thriller The Bridge in 2011.
The Nordic noir genre has proven so popular that its aesthetic and themes are now being replicated beyond Scandinavia’s borders, with shows such as Shetland and Broadchurch made in Britain, Jensen said.
For foreign audiences, Denmark as it is shown on television is “an exotic society, something to aspire to because of the welfare state and the strong women characters”, she said, referring also to the 2010 hit Borgen.
She added, clearly amused, that it’s “as if Denmark is the fantasy land of gender equality”.
Paradoxically, in this almost utopian world, the characters are “normal” people with whom audiences can identify, according to Jensen.
Faith and family
But now Danish TV series have moved beyond Nordic noir.
Ride Upon the Storm is a character-led drama about faith and a family of Danish priests, dominated by Johannes Krogh, a tempestuous God-like father battling numerous demons.
Actor Lars Mikkelsen, known from The Killing and his role as the Russian president in Netflix’s House of Cards, plays Johannes, a role for which he won an International Emmy in November.
Mikkelsen “has set new standards for the portrayal of a main character in a TV series”, the show’s creator, Adam Price, said.
Johannes “is the 10th generation of priests, it’s a huge burden that haunts him and he lets it haunt his sons too”.
His eldest son, Christian, is lost and at odds with the family and society, while younger son August is married and following in his father’s priesthood footsteps before becoming a chaplain for troops stationed in Afghanistan.
“In the Bible you have lots of stories of fathers and sons and brothers. That was the perfect ground to tell (a story) about masculine relationships, the competitive gene between men in a family,” Price said.
Elements from Borgen can be seen in Price’s new venture: the efficient prime minister Birgitte Nyborg and Johannes Krogh, who is headed for the top as Bishop of Copenhagen, are both characters passionate about their work.
“But Johannes reacts differently than Birgitte (does) because his ambition is not within the world of politics, but with a more supernatural power,” Price said.
Thoughts on faith, religion and spirituality are mixed with a complex study of family.
“Religion is sometimes something imposed, as authority can be imposed on our children in a family. And both are dealt with in Ride Upon the Storm,” he said.
Price is currently working on Ragnarok for Netflix, a six-part Norwegian coming-of-age drama based on Norse mythology but set in a modern-day high school.
The second season of Ride Upon the Storm just wrapped up on Danish public television DR, which produced the series, and had about 500,000 viewers.
A small country of just 5.8 million people, Denmark is proud of its reputation as an innovator on the small and big screens.
“Danish producers are mainly thinking of a Danish audience. It has to stay relevant to the Danish public and that’s why DR keeps experimenting,” Jensen said.
“Some of the shows will travel and some won’t.”