Saturday SkandiKrime: Wisting parts 7 & 8


I wouldn’t expect too much from me on this pair of episodes because, though the second half of the series is turning out to be more interesting and less conventional than the first with its serial killer, I happen to be watching it with a head full of cold that is not doing anything for my mental acuity. It’s an effort to go beyond Good Procedural, Keep It Up.

For instance, I remember a scene in which a young blonde reported a feeling of being followed to Bejaminm, the youngest member of Wisting’s team. Since she had no evidence whatsoever beyond ‘feeling’, he couldn’t do anything about it. Now the girl, Linnea Kaupang, has gone missing, didn’t come home last night, reported it to the Police, now headed by the efficient-but-distracted-trying-fior-a-baby Torunn. I remember the scene but I can’t remember if that was last week or in a previous one.

Linnea’s case is meant to parallel the Cecilia case over which Wisting has been suspended. Not directly: one involves the faking of evidence to convict a probably innocent man, the other the police not taking a matter sufficiently seriously (with no reason to do so until hindsight intervenes. Benjamin, who conducted the intial interview is getting steadily further involved, especially after Linnea commits suicide.

Or leaves a suicide blog note. The Police have to investigate all options, they can’t just take on trust the word of a mother who wasn’t that close to her daughter but who treats the merest suggestion of conflicts as a direct accusation of being a bad mother.

Meanwhile, Wisting is investigating the Cecilia case from his own records. Someone did plant faked evidence. Nils was all over the case like a cheap suit, and he was relocated from Oslo for taking shortcuts. nd Frank, still obsessed with his niece’s death, convinced Haglund did it and not respecting any niceties about the caswe, is so blatant a suspect that it can’t be him unless the show is pulling an unusually subtle double-bluff.

He end up with Torunn on sick leave, no-one in charge, Linnea’s parents bad-mouthing the Police across all the press, Line getting involved again (as in fucking naked on her Dad’s couch) with ex-boyfriend bad-boy Tommy (why is this relevant?) and a resigned Haglund giving Wisting the clue to identify who fitted him up.

It all made a lot more sense watching this but as i say, my head’s away with the fairies right now. I am going to make myself a coffee and give it the rest of the day off. I’d better be better for the finale, next weekend.

Friday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 4 – episode 8


Thank you all so much

At long last, after a week of fears both named and nameless and in full consideration of the darkness in which The Bridge has been swathed since that first week of series 1, the time came for it all to be over, and when it was over it was that one thing that not one in a million of us ever dreamed it might be: a happy ending.

And a happy, and deserved, and so comprehensive and completely pitch-perfect an ending, one that you cannot imagine coming back from. There are many, so many over at the Guardian BTL plotting and guessing and hoping for a Bridge 5, but in their heart or hearts they should know that this has come to an end in the only way truly possible. It’s like The Last Temptation of Christ: the final enemy is happiness, against which nothing can prevail.

Yet there was a flirtation with the fear I saw coming at the end of last week. Saga saw it herself: she was no longer in danger, she was no longer the most important person in Henrik’s life.

It was an abyss, belatedly opened, for us to fall into after we had started to comprehend that this was going to be a happy ending. For the case was finished incredibly quickly. Suzanne, who was indeed Tommy Petersen’s girlfriend, though Stephanie was only ever a codename, went hunting for our two red herring street girls, Julia and Ida, and correctly worked out they’d go to Henrik’s house. She tasered them, stuffed them in the boot of her car and, when Saga arrived, shot her twice in the chest. Twice in the bulletproof vest. And Saga struggled through one almighty winding and managed to get off a bunch of shots, blowing out a tyre.

Suzanne was captured and she couldn’t roll over fast enough. After that, everything started falling into place, with almost absurd rapidity, details like dominoes clicking one after another, one by one.

Henrik missed all this, missed the case being wrapped up, and didn’t really care. He still has a relationship to build with Astrid, who is still speaking Swedish. She wants to go ‘home’, but it’s to collect her things, and to take Henrik to Anna’s grave. It hits Henrik like a fist between the eyes, but he tries to hold it in, but back at the car, it breaks through and he cries for his other daughter. In a way, that’s the turning point for Astrid: from then on, she truly sees him as her father, and her old life completely washed away. Though my ignorance of the languages blurred it, I knew that at some point, and it was the last possible moment before the bottom fell through the world, she spoke to him in Danish: you’re my father.

Everything is turning inwards towards a contentment. Jonas wants to take credit for the win since it was achieved under his command, but his leaking has been caught and it is Lillian alone who takes the Press Conference. And she’s happy now to go to dinner with her Prosecutor admirer.

John and Barbara are blissfully loved up, and having the time of their lives. They even look pleased when Saga – Saga! – tells them they’ve been weird since they started having sex.

And Saga. The case has been carried off, Jonas is making a move towards trying to tempt her to transfer to Copenhagen before he’s so crestfallenly interrupted. But things are beginning to fall into place for her. Her gentle and so wonderful psychologist reminds her of her previous life, studying microbiology for two years before abruptly wanting to become Police: two months after her sister’s suicide. The key is guilt. Guilt that if she had been more like other people, she would have seen her sister’s deterioration before she killed herself. But Saga is not guilty. She never was, she never was. She was not responsible.

I cannot say this often enough, Sofia Helin’s face, the subtlety of her acting. In it, despite Saga’s disconnection from her  emotions, Sofia Helin has so many time been utterly naked to us in her eyes, but never before have we seen hope. And retrieving her mother’s diaries, taking them to her wonderful gravel-voiced pathologist friend and having him confirm that yes, the doses tallied with the drugs that put her sister in hospital, that yes, Mama Noren did have Muchausen’s by Proxy. The release from guilt is almost shattering, for when Saga got her sister away from their parents by having them imprisoned for harming the girl, she did it by forging evidence and the evidence was true, it was real all along, it was real all along.

Everything upon which Saga’s life has been built is turning into smoke in her hands, every cage she has built around herself is becoming unbarred. But she is still, for one more time, Sago Noren, Landskrim Malmo. Something’s wrong. There’s a discrepancy in the evidence. Suzanne didn’t put forward an alibi for Margrethe Thormod. But she had one. An unbreakable alibi. And Saga’s prison chum, who stabbed her with the broken bat in episode 1, that weird, unexplained melodrama, she calls Saga back to prison. She recognised Suzanne, she came to the prison, she threatened to hurt the woman’s daughter. She was supposed to not just stab Saga, but decapitate her…

Suzanne had an accomplice. And it’s pretty obvious who it is. Wheelchair bound Kevin, Tommy’s son Brian, turning up at Henrik’s house with non-alcoholic champagne, then rising to his feet from the wheelchair, like a sleeper coming out of hiding. Knocking out Henrik. Binding him. Tying Astrid to a chair. Producing a gun. Henrik fights with the only weapon he has, time and a pair of shut eyes. Brian insists he watch Astrid be executed. Refusing to see prolongs things. Even after Brian shoots Astrid through the thigh. We know Saga’s outside, that she’s heard the shot, but this is The Bridge and we have come too close to a happy ending and the abyss is gaping wide open and Henrik changes his tack, promising Astrid that he will always be there, he will never leave her again, and the gunshot as his eyes shut…

But not even The Bridge can do that to us. The fear in Henrik’s eyes as he opens them. And Brian sliding down the french windows, his right eye a bloody ruined mess. Saga with her gun held in that fixed position.

And if I wasn’t already pouring with tears, then I was from here to the end and well beyond, moved beyond measure. Astrid will be ok, Henrik will be ok, and yes, he and Saga will be ok. She’s going away for a while, to find out what she’s going to do. She’s taken the boxes of her old life the diaries, the photos out of which she was long ago cut, and burned them, burned up the past. She’s admitted to Henrik that she does need him. They’ve even kissed, Saga who never kisses. He’ll be there when she gets back. He wants her to meet Astrid. Things have worked out. There’s an immense air of peace settling.

Last of all, there is the bridge. Daylight, air, a drive towards Malmo. Saga pulls up, midway. For a moment, there’s the tremor of fear. She gets out, walks to the rail. They couldn’t? Surely they couldn’t? Trash everything that’s been done for the sake of a cheap twist? That would mock every part of what Saga has gone through. And no, they can’t. For there is a moment still of formal perfection, the last delicate notes that are the only notes that can now be played because none other complete the melody. Saga throws her Police ID into the Oresund Sound and walks back to her car. The phone rings. “Saga Noren,” she answers.

Though if you had asked me, at any time throughout these past seven weeks, would I jump at a The Bridge 5 if they offered it, I would have snatched your hands off, now I would spit in your eye. What was offered to us was a happy ending, out of all the unexpected possibilities. Who could possibly suggest drawing back from that? Let Saga and Henrik’s life be what it will be, free from us overlooking them, trying to make their freedom into their past, putting back on them the chains they’ve borne so long. It is over. My tears have been sorrow and joy and beauty all in one. This isn’t going to happen again. We can’t count of another The Bridge in our lifetimes. We can only hope that it rubs off, that our own TV industry stops making so much formulaic and insipid shit.

Yeah, right. Thank you, everyone, thank you.

Friday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 4 – episode 7


With only one episode left, everything is converging, and everything is leading up to that one inevitable moment that all of us have feared since it was stated that there would not – not merely would not but could not – be any more series of The Bridge after this one. Yes, admit it, the instinctive jump to the conclusion that Saga will be killed.

And now that there is only one method of execution outstanding, and Henrik is the only one left to be punished, and only one episode left, all things are pointing to the one place.

But we should bear in mind that since it began in 2014, the one thing The Bridge has never done is the inevitable. And as this enormous emotional bubble of an episode neared its end, something happened that gave me another, more horrific fear.

Episode 7 started with Cristoffer having been imprisoned by no-longer-Friendly Frank and making an ingenious escape to head for the Police and turn himself in. Saga immediately had her computer genius colleague John (interrupting his cozy little love-nest with his Danish equivalent Barbara) age Henrik’s photo of his missing elder daughter by eight years, which made her a dead ringer for Astrid.

The pieces fell into place with incredible rapidity. Frank goes off the deep end, his sense of entitlement going OTT, tries to kill Astrid, tries to kill himself but the Swedish SWAT team beat him to it.

And there was the moment, the moment that broke all of us down. After last week’s cliffhanger, Henrik is not dead, only shot in the thigh. It’s a bit of a cop-out, but it’s a cop-out that’s completely in line with the case: the killer doesn’t want to kill those responsible for Tommy’s death, but to make them live with the sorrow and grief of losing someone dear to them, which puts things squarely in the family for me.

So Saga goes to Henrik, in the face of the totality of his rejection of her last week, because she has found his daughter for him, has solved the mystery. But most of all so that Astrid and he can look at each other, can recognise each other, can be reunited against all odds and probabilities. Case closed, and an audience reduced to tears.

But that wasn’t all of the emotional bombs for this week. Henrik may have Astrid back, and something of a story about the missing years, but his daughter is still, in more ways, Frank’s rather than his, and there is an uphill road to climb. But the look of relief in Henrik’s eyes, the look in Saga’s eyes when she sees the two together, the tentative manner in which she asked if everything was alright between them now, and Henrik’s warmth when he agreed – even more so when he told Astrid that Saga was his best friend – played on us like a virtuoso.

There was yet more. Henrik wanted to interview Frank, not as a Police officer but as the father. Linn the Troll is reluctant. Henrik asks her if she has any children. Emotionlessly of voice, Linn just says, “I did.” but Maria Kulle puts something into her eyes. She’s mainly been an arsehole, a figure of contempt, but in that moment Linn became a human being, with an unimaginable pain, and her eyes were a warning not to go there, because there be horrors, and it was like falling into a deep, black place with no bottom.

And Lillian is yet a target. She’s gone out for a meal with her prosecutor friend but won’t go on with him because she’s not taking the risk of giving the idea that anyone matters to her. But someone does matter to her. There’s a delivery of a flower basket that I first feared was a bomb, and it was, but not a physical one: it’s the decapitated head of dear old Hans, stolen from his grave.

The horror reverbrates. Lillian takes time off. Jonas, who has been steadily drawing respect to himself as a detective and as someone fully aware of the caricature he cuts with his offensive remarks, is appointed temporary head of the team. He’s getting protective of Saga, and the two of them are making something of a team now, albeit with awkward angles. But there’s strong circumstantial evidence that he’s been the one leaking things to the press, thanks to Barbara.

Back at the station, there’s no evidence to justify holding Nicole or Solveig any longer. The former is picked up by Tobias, who wants things to go on. The latter bats back to her flat, where grandson Brian/Kevin is waiting, and jumps straight onto his laptop, swearing revenge on the Police, and calling them idiots for thinking it’s anything to do with the family.

So what is it? Hans’ grave was desecrated by Silas Tuxen, owner of the gay bar from episode 1 and brother of one of the KC gang killed in William’s raid, but when the Police catch up with him, using Denmark’s SWAT team (equal opportunities…), Silas is dead, together with an as-yet-unidentified male passenger.

So too is Douglas, who you will remember being shot in the head last week. Douglas was  a private investigator, hired by Niels Thormod because he thought the Police were being too slow. Douglas’s computer shows he too was checking up on Silas…

But we’re at Niels now, and he’s still trying to get through to our two waifs, Julia and Ida.  They con him into taking them to the cinema. He brings along his assistant, Suzanne. Or is her real name Stephanie? Because there’s a distinctive skeleton key lock dangling from her bag, one that Julia instantly recognises as being the bag from which she nicked the mobile phone… The girls pull a stunt and run off into the night. Leaving Suzanne to realise the exact reason why.

The the moment for the Choir of Young Believers to start singing, but I’ve left something out deliberately. Henrik’s brought Astrid home, though when she talks of home it is Frank’s house she means. He’s made her her once-favourite meal, at which she picks dubiously. There’s a ring on the bell: Brian/Kevin some to take him to the meeting. And Kevin’s aware Henrik’s started pilling again, though the latter says he’s stopped again. But he has his daughter back. Kevin’s delighted for him. Kevin, who might be involved, now knows there is someone in Henrik’s life even more important to him than Saga.

They teased it in Frank’s house, the momentary fear that he’d shot her. That would have been cruel. But this would be even more cruel. I hope they’re not going to go there. But The Bridge has a history of going there. It’s why we think it’s so bloody amazing. And the next one is the very last one.

Friday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 4 – episode 6


Might we yet see him again?

Where do I begin?

There is a direct conflict between the importance of the beginning and the importance of the end. The one was a flashback, an extended one at that, lasting almost 18 minutes, something The Bridge has never done before, the other was a cliffhanger of the kind that we would usually assume won’t prove fatal, simply cannot be taken lightly because, after this, there are only two episodes left. Two final, never coming back episodes.

The flashback, to four years earlier (placing it sometime around The Bridge 2?), was about Tommy. Who was Tommy? Well, for one thing, he was exactly who I thought he was: Nicole’s ex, Solveig’s son, Kevin’s Dad, except that Kevin is really Brian. He was also a member of William Ramberg’s gang, and a Police informant, getting information to enable the Police to bring William down. Only they failed him. Everybody let him down. Prosecutor Vibeke, who wouldn’t sanction the raid. Psychologist Neils Thormod, who wouldn’t diagnose him as mentally unstable. Journalist Richard Dahlqvist, who accidentally revealed Tommy’s identity as an informant. His mate Moyo, who didn’t turn up with the getaway truck, and whose beloved wife was found hanging (that’s five) just before the end.

Which leaves Tommy’s Police contact, Henrik Sabroe, and his superior, Lillian.

So Tommy’s story, a tragedy in a minor key, spiraling outwards from Vibeke, who evidently didn’t give humans enough of a damn, unlike her beloved horse, started to draw all the disparate little elements together, locking them into a recognisable pattern in preparation for the increasingly narrowing approach to the outcome.

Which left forty or so minutes for the episode, in painstaking and almost loving detail, to completely reverse the effect by tearing practically everything apart to create utter and hellish chaos for absolutely everyone involved.

Take Saga and Henrik. That’s gone, completely. Henrik is in a state of suppressed anger throughout, except for when he’s screwing the lovely Tanya, his pick-up from the Find Me scene where we found him at the start of The Bridge 3. He has to work with Saga but he’d rather never see her again in his life, and despite Lillian demanding the pair behave professionally, he can’t not let it show.

Poor Saga is hurt but enable to either show it or understand it. She wants Henrik not to be disappointed in her again, and believes she can get this by finding his daughters. She throws herself into the case and discovers that Anna Sabroe was seeing a Counsellor through work, who advises that she had met another man and was thinking of leaving Henrik. Herik doesn’t want to know unless Saga has absolute 100% certainty, backed up by proof (irrefutable evidence, eh? Very 100 Bullets).

Incidentally, Anna’s Counsellor? It’s Friendly Frank. Yes, him. Sofie’s helper. There’s a backstory out there in among the mists and icebergs and its shape may be visible. Cristoffer wants to go back to his old school so Sofie talks of going back to Malmo. Frank, just like last week, instantly and icily guilt trips her into staying, because she’s not being very grateful, after all he’s done for her, made himself an accessory to murder for her, etc., etc., etc.

And Frank’s got a daughter, Astrid. And Astrid had a younger sister, Anna, only she’s dead. Cristoffer finds her at night, speaking in Danish, at Anna’s gravestone. Astrid claims the Danish is only one of her roleplaying characters. Then Frank finds Cristoffer peering at the grave and absolutely smashes him one in the head.

Counselled Anna Sabroe. Has a daughter who looks nothing like him. Had another ‘daughter’ who’s now dead. Can you tell what it is, yet?

Both our detective heroes are causing chaos. There’s a disturbing scene where Henrik directs his anger at Kevin/Brian, who is now a suspect, even to the point of doubting he is disabled, dragging him out of his chair, making him stand, only for Kevin to collapse. And before that, Henrik just grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and pulled Kevin away from what he was doing, his job, without a word, without respect, which was an incredibly offensive thing to do.

Yet Kevin (as Henrik insists on calling him despite it only being a name Brian uses at Narcotics Anonymous, for anonymity) remains fixated on Henrik, as if he has transferred his addiction from the drug to his ‘friend’.

As for Saga, she is left holding the baby, literally, at Nicole and Tobias’s. She spots the brown eyes. She asks Tobias who the father is? Next thing, Tobias is round at Morgan’s busting him one in the mouth and telling Malene to ask her husband. He also shops Nicole to the Police over the key safe thing. Next time we see Malene, she’s telling Saga and Henrik that if they want Morgan, they have to speak to her Divorce lawyers.

By this time, they’re after a new character, Stephanie, Malene’s daughter, who it appears was seeing Tommy. Malene says her daughter’s in Colombia, but she’s been back in whichever of the two countries we happen to be in at the moment, not being Danish or Swedish I can never tell, and she’s not let on to Mummy. Despite all this, and as a pointed reverse to Henrik, Malene thanks Saga for bringing all this out into the open: she would rather now.

In it’s way, it’s a moment of private pain, and there are others in this episode. Henrik and Lillian are obviously among the remaining targets. Saga asks Lillian about her loved ones: she has none now (there is a short, but charming section in the flashback in which we see dear much-missed Hans). Saga tells her to go home and write out a list of everyone she’d miss if they were killed. We next see her at her table at home, with a bottle of wine and a pen in her hand: the paper is blank.

And when Saga and Henrik leave Malene’s, there is a silent shot of their walking to their two cars, parked one behind the other.

But thanks to Brian/Kevin, we have added mate Moyo to the scheme of things. Moyo, who works at Tobias’s garage, where Nicole got him a job. Who gets pulled in for questioning. Who talks about how good life is with Sandra, his missus, his sole alibi. Henrik goes to their house to talk to her. The door’s open. It’s silent and dark. She’s hanging from a doorframe. There’s someone else in the dark, a figure dressed in black, holding a gun. We cut outside, and hear a gunshot…

As I said above, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Henrik’s a principal, a hero, he’s bound to survive, you don’t kill off your stars in mid-series.

But this is the last season. We have a third detective working this case, even though he’s been kept to a minor role. For the plot’s sake, we have a ready-made back-up. And above all, this is The Bridge, which doesn’t piss around, like Follow the Money 2. So we don’t know. We can’t trust to amiable certainty. We have to wait until next Friday night. And ask ourselves, would they really? Really?

Yes, they bloody well would.

Friday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 4 – episode 5


I’ve been afraid of this…

Ohhhhh f***!

I don’t know about Bridges but a bottomless pit opened up in episode 5 and I don’t think there’s a bridge in the universe big enough to get over the sinking feeling that developed in my stomach at that moment.

This was a rough episode to watch. We’re past the halfway point now and, without accusing Skandi drama of having any formulas, recent series have very much been about the copious mysteries of the first half beginning to be knotted together in the second half. Football metaphors are appropriate, having regard to one connection being made herein.

Once again, there was so much happening that it was hard to comprehend how it all could have taken place in one hour and still have all the time it needed. Starting with Sofie and Dan the Bastard taxi-driver, we have the heavy signalling that he’d exercised what he’d no doubt regard as his conjugal rights (and what we the sane call rape) between episodes, and now he’s going to drag her off out of there.

One brilliant thing about The Bridge throughout has been its occasional propensity to set up pretty cliched cliffhangers and then explode them almost instantly the next week. Utopian Harriet turns up on the spot, doing the casual chat bit whilst Dan and Sofie try to edge away – and there’s a bunch of villagers on hand because Harriet isn’t in any way naive, she’s got Dan’s number, and he’s forced away into the woods, alone. Yay!

Where he meets Cristoffer and Friendly Helpful Frank. The Bastard starts on Frank, who’s trying to be peacekeeper here but when he movs towards his son, Cristoffer backs away, panicky, trips over a root and his gun goes off. Through Dan’s throat. Bye Dan, rolled into the river to be borne away, hurry back!

Frank’s extreme helpfulness extends not only to dumping the body and reassuring the traumatised Cristoffer that it was an accident, but swearing him to secrecy, even from Sofie, and concocting a cover story about threatening Dan into running away forever. Needless to say, Sofie knows Dan well enough to know that nothing will stop him from coming back and, in panic, wants to leave, until Cristoffer fesses up (don’t tell Frank I told you!).

When Dan’s abandoned taxi comes up near Harriet’s village, Saga and Henrik start to investigate. Friendly Frank reacts to the name Sabroe (hmm). Cristoffer has a moment with Astrid, Frank’s daughter, half-talking about his Dad. Astrid doesn’t talk about her mother either (hhmmm). And when Frank goes round to Sofie’s to help her fold bedclothes, he offers to have her and Cristoffer move in with him (hhhmmmm). It’s all above board, everybody will have their own room. Only, when Sofie doesn’t instantly drop to her knees in gratitude, ol’ Friendly Frank gets a bit huffy, heads for the door, if you don’t want my help, you know best, and she agrees to his proposal. Hhhhhmmmmmmm!

Meanwhile. There’s going to be a lot of meanwhiles about this. Temporarily, the investigation has stalled, and Lilian is getting pressure from above, especially over how all their leads get into the press. So she puts Danish IT specialist Barbara onto checking out all the calls, texts, Skypes etc of… Jonas. Is our unreconstructed detective the leak?

Neils Thormod goes back to work. He’s a psychologist. He works in prisons. His first case is Julia and Ida, the pseudo daughters. They won’t speak to anyone but Henrik. When they tell him they sold his daughters necklaces, he turns to go, so they claim to have seen the murderer. Ida produces an e-fit that looks a lot like Morgan Sonning but when it comes to a line-up, she confesses they lied because they wanted to go back to Henrik’s. He boots them back into Social Services, refusing to have anything more to do with them.

This is not a good week for Henrik. It is so not a good week for Henrik, but let’s leave that there.

Meanwhile, Morgan is looking an increasingly good fit for the role of Bad Guy. Since the snail venom used on little Leonora is pretty damned rare, our heroes investigate and and how and who has gotten hold of it. The nearest manufactury is in Hamburg… where the Sonnings were away for an untraceable break whilst Morgan’s car was being used to take Margrethe Thormod to her death. The car that was in brother Tobias’s garage under lock and key.

Except that Tobias’s full-bodied wife Nicole, mother of his one year old baby, is in the habit of borrowing the flashier cars in his garage to go out for joyrides. This is why you should never use the same PIN number for all your security devices, such as the key safe in your garage.

Park Nicole a moment. Henrik gets a late night call from Kevin, his acquaintance from the Rehab group. It’s the fourth anniversary of Kevin’s Dad’s death and he’s close to going back over the line. Kevin’s a Manchester United fan, introduced by his Dad. The same Dad who gave him his first joint at age 17, leading Kevin to harder drugs, an attempt to fly off a balcony and a lifetime of confinement to a wheelchair.

In which he turns up at Baby Sonny’s birthday party. Why shouldn’t he? After all, tightly-clothed Nicole is his mother.

And Nicole’s in demand. Morgan wants to speak to her. In private. And look who’s here, the spectre at the feast, Solveig. Solveig’s Kevin’s granny, Niccole’s ex-mother-in-law, here to confirm the rumour she’s heard, that Nicole is shitting all over her poor son. Hmm, again.

Along the way, there’s an accidental confirmation of the next murder, from the unlikely source of Lilian’s would-be prosecutor suitor, who mentions a bit of work-related gossip, that his colleague Vibeke has had her beloved horse gassed to death. There’s a video too, filmed on the same dead pixel camera. Barbara recovers some deleted frames showing a distinctive watch, identical to one owned by… Morgan Sonning. Who also owns the exact model of video camera these murder videos are being shot on.

Or rather owned. It was in his car, you see, the one the Police are holding in connection with the Thormod murder: I thought you had it… He’s such a smug bastard, you want him to be the Bad Guy, even as you know he won’t be.

Everyone gathers round the picture board, juggling theories, connections, until the silent Saga sees the link. The horse was gassed to cause pain to its owner, Vibeke. The real targets aren’t the victims, they are the ones who loved the victims. Margrethe’s husband, Patrik’s brother, Leonora’s dad. In the silence that follows, Jonas speaks up, with real praise, “That’s bloody brilliant.”

And then the bottom falls out of everything. This has not been a good week for Henrik. He’s lost the two necklaces that were the last physical link to his lost daughters. Saga has reached a dead end in her investigation of their disappearance and closed the case. She agrees to his proposal that she bears their child and gives up complete right to him. The two girls who have been a near-daughter substitute have let him down and he has driven them off. Then Saga has a stomach cramp. She’s been in Malmo this afternoon. She’s had an abortion. Oh, f***!

There is a reason for it, and she tries to explain. She has done it because she wants to live with Henrik. She can’t live there with a child. But if there is no child, she can live with him. Because even if she can only explain it in terms of oxytocin and seratonin, Saga thinks she has fallen in love with Henrik. And he throws her out, with hatred on his face. Oh mother.

Saga drives back over the Bridge. Henrik can’t sleep. He grabs his little plastic bag of pills and heads to Police Headquarters. We see him take one. He pulls an all-nighter, researching, old files, stacks, online. By morning, he tells Lilian he has found it., he has found the link. It’s Tommy.

But who’s Tommy?

If I could find a link to stream or download versions that have English sub-titles, I would give up everything I have to do today and watch the last three episodes straight through. Can’t do that though. It’s down to next week. But I do have a prediction about who Tommy is. I bet he’s Nicole’s ex, Solveig’s son, Kevin’s Dad. What the hell else he is, I haven’t the faintest idea. Which is one of the many reasons I think The Bridge is bloody brilliant.

Friday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 4 – episode 3


I’m parceling this out carefully, holding onto each episode because I know there aren’t going to be many more, although by the time of the last episode I don’t doubt I’ll be diving in anxiously, to know.

But for the moment, the pattern holds. Pieces in motion, building up, gradual connections being revealed, red herrings being exposed, and then returned to the table. With only eight episodes now as the apparent Danish norm, less time can be spared to leave us in the miasma. Though I still have no idea what is going on, some threads are already beginning to tighten.

We begin with Daniel Bjork, the taxi driver and wife-threatener, driving across the titular bridge into Sweden, only to be stopped and robbed of three mysterious boxes by three heavily-armed and black-balaclavaed guys. Whatever has been stolen is clearly illicit, and it’s upset the boss, who is the father of the little girl in hospital terrified of clowns.

Daniel succeeds in making it clear that he didn’t shop the delivery. Offscreen, the culprit is found and onscreen Daddy shoots him. Near the end, it’s implied he’s connected to the murder of Margrethe Thormod, to which I’ll come shortly. He also takes a call from his sister (?) Sarah, who’s with the girl at the hospital, with the good news that the kid can come home. But that’s before the episode ending on Sarah being tasered and the kid’s room being invaded by… a clown.

No, not Patrik Twin, who’s dead, remember. Early on, Richard Twin has broadcast about being kidnapped by Red October to deny involvement in Patrik’s murder, except that Saga and Henrik soon get out of him that Red October don’t actually exist, he made them up to get ahead in his career. So, whilst Patrik is still dead and murdered (and the possibility, which I overlooked last week, that it was actually Richard who got electrocuted and Patrik trying to impersonate him permanently would appear to be refuted), he has to be decoupled from the Thormod case and considered the target in his own right.

Meanwhile, the suspicious Niels Thormod moves nearer to the centre of things. No, he doesn’t know any hospital clowns, but he does know more than he’s letting on about. His secretary, Suzanne, gets drawn into things, is interviewed at Copenhagen Police HQ, where Saga inadvertently lets slip that Suzanne is being considered as a  suspect.

But before we go there, let’s just tick off the last still-seemingly-extraneous strand, that of Sofie and Cristoffer and Harriet’s community. There’s been a burglary, a stolen laptop and camera, and the guy who’s lost them wants a Neighbourhood Watch patrol that Harriet refuses. Sofie finds the missing goods in Cristoffer’s chest of drawers and doesn’t believe his denials. Via Friendly – and creepy – Frank the goods are returned to the aggrieved victim, who doesn’t believe for one moment they were dumped in the forest. Odds are that Cristoffer’s clean: his new girlfriend shows him her dressing up costumes and then, when Suspicious Neighbour is ‘taking a walk’ at night, creeps up and clonks him from behind. Hmm.

I’ve come thus far without mentioning Saga or Henrik because I wanted to concentrate upon them. The case progresses. Taariq won’t help them unless they lift his deportation, so a cunning plot sees him taken off to the Delivery Centre for actual deportation, until a clearly morally divided Henrik lets him run. It’s a con: the Police have planted a tracker on him, to see where, and to whom, he runs. It backfires; the tracker is in Taariq’s gold watch, which he trades for a gun, dropping off the grid. He has some information that someone wants: this is the contact that brings in the gangster father as an implied suspect.

To get to this point, a lot had has to happen that stirs the emotional side of things. There’s a brief, and blackly hilarious, scene where Saga, after last week’s panic attack, checks herself into therapy. Her therapist asks for the background, and Saga gives it at high speed, a wonderfully outlandish summary of series 3 and the end of series 2, not to mention the family stuff, to which the therapist offers a rather bemused suggestion that they’ve got a lot to work through.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, preparing for their pickpocket trick, Ida and Julia hit a disaster as Ida is run down by a bike, and the pair are arrested before they can get out of the hospital. Back in Copenhagen, they’re interrogated but have no information. Rather than have them sleep overnight in different cells – and Ida has definite separation anxiety about being able to see her sister – Henrik takes them to his home, feeds them, lets them stay overnight.

Saga clearly doesn’t approve, having jumped to exactly the same conclusion we all have, but Henrik firmly denies it: if they were miraculously his daughters, he would recognise them and they would recognise him. No need for DNA. Mind you, they did give false names to the hospital… He takes them to Social Services the next morning but when he gets home at night, they’re sat outside, and they can stay another night. Saga won’t, not with them there. She’s still on the case of Henrik’s daughters, whilst he’s struggling to see them as dead, causing another hallucination, of them pressing on his chest.

And he’s got something else to think of now: Saga’s pregnant.

Of course, she intends an abortion, though Henrik wants to talk about it. You can’t say she hasn’t got the right idea, given her own issues. She’s not the first person you’d think of as a perfect mother. But: Linn the Troll forces her to accept boxes of belongings from her late and unlamented mother. Saga takes them to a storage container and dumps them… but then she opens a box, finds memorabilia of her sister Jennifer and a bunch of old photos of the children, each of them with Saga’s head cut out.

I don’t know where this is going, none of this. I strongly suspect that I’m going to be bawling my eyes out at a lot of it. The story’s coming to an end and it’s not going to be in a good place. For either of Saga or Henrik, I suspect.

The Lake District: A Wild Year


It’s a good week when there’s a programme on about the Lake District, but it’s an extraordinarily rich one when there are two. To add to Tuesday’s BBC4 presentation of Terry Abraham’s excellent Life of a Mountain: Blencathra, last night BBC2 gave us The Lake District: A Wild Year, produced and directed by Simon Blakeney and narrated by Bernard Cribbins.

This latter programme sold itself on its time-lapse photography aspect, a year in the life of the Lake District compressed into a single hour, not to mention some fantastic micro-photography of things that nature doesn’t usually allow us to see, and in one viewer’s case would actually have preferred not to see. Tiny, predatory jumping spiders joined shots of lambs emerging from ewes, baby slugs exuding from collapsing eggs, exploding seed pods blowing unwary caterpillars about like First World War troopers exiting trenches courtesy of their own side’s shells.

Though the programme did go some way to redeem itself over the slugs and spiders with wonderfully sharp photography of red squirrels, making my hear melt as always.

This aspect of the programme was applied to the flora and fauna, of which there was too much of a concentration for my personal preferences, with the frantic, yet smooth, time-lapse stuff being reserved for fell and valley scenes, all clouds boiling across skies of all colours, and shadows scurrying between flashes of concentrated sunlight. Oh, that that other native fauna of the Lakes, the everyday tourist, also got the time-lapse stuff, roiling into the Windermere waters for an annual swim, whose duration but not direction was specified, or flooding onto and off the Lake steamers with a jerky rapidity that suggested that any moment the soundtrack would cut to the Benny Hill theme.

No, the noisy musical soundtrack was not the highlight of the documentary, but that was part of the price of populism demanded by being shown on the more exoteric landscape of BBC2. As was Cribbins’ commentary, which was trailed in advance as sensitive but tended more to the banal, treating everything with an underlying levity that suggested it might not be entirely interesting without being mildly sent up. Or am I simply not sufficiently unspecialised (i.e., ignorant) an audience.

Cribbins was the only voice heard in the programme, aside from occasional hubbub from tourists. The locals featured – farmers, shepherds, dry-stone wallers – remained silent. This actually added to the atmosphere in the sequence where the shepherds in Langdale gathered to bring the sheep down from the fells for the shearing: all these strong, steady, silent, lean men, using their crooks as walking poles, making their unhurried and reliable way up the paths as they have done for centuries became iconic in their steadiness, their timeliness. Men doing their job, without fuss or bother.

Naturally, I could have done with far more of the fells, but then that’s me. There were cloud-chasing scenes in most of the major valleys, though with a concentration upon Windermere, Grasmere and Great Langdale. But there were shots of Derwentwater, Mardale and Haweswater, the Buttermere Valley: brief but glorious.

The programme’s year ran from April to April, from lambing to lambing, the traditional farming year, but its year of filming was the year of that terrible December, of rain, storm, flood, devastation, disaster. Though it opted for a decent brevity for that section, the programme was nevertheless serious and open. It tore my heart again to see it, to think of my beloved country being so cruelly treated: the worst was a private sequence, in a car in the rain, tearing along the road east of Thirlmere, faster than the conditions might warrant as safe, ploughing through flooded stretches that came up almost to the vehicle’s bonnet: until it stopped, for floods draining irresistably off the slopes to the right, spilling earth and rock and wall across the road in an unnegotiable collapse.

But lambing was the beginning and lambing was the end, though the repeated footage  of black-woolled Herdwick lambs bouncing up and down with uncontrollable energy was the same at start and end, suggesting that only one generation was filmed. And fittingly, the last word came from a dozy lamb, lying on the ground, moving only its head around, until it looks directly into the camera and emits one falsetto bleat.

No, there’ll never be an ideal Lake District documentary until I do one myself, assuming time, opportunity, finance and talent, the last of which being probably the most tendentious aspect, but A Wild Year did more than just do until the next one, however far off that is. I miss the Lake District. I miss it all the time. Things like this refresh my memories and that connection of spirit on which I subsist.

More, please, and soon.

 

Spies, Sleuths and Sorcerors – An Inadequate Defence


That from whence it came… for me

The BBC are currently in the middle of a short series, written, presented and conceived by Andrew Marr, about genre fiction: espionage, crime and fantasy. It’s a potentially interesting subject, since genre fiction is usually derided critically by all who don’t share an interest in it, and serious attention to books that don’t constitute ‘literature’  is rare.

The series is pretty obviously Marr’s baby, and he’s looking at genres with which he’s clearly familiar, and which he enjoys, not to mention that he’s an intelligent man. But that didn’t stop the episode on Fantasy fiction this week from being a condescending and superficial review that undermined any attempts at serious treatment by its arch manner, and its format, supposedly condensing Fantasy into eleven Rules, or should we say formulas?

That was the episode’s single biggest failing. Some of the ‘Rules’ were key characteristics, such as Rule No. 1 – Build a World. The overall effect, however, since some of the later ‘Rules’ were far from universally applicable, was to construct a limited and rigid structure, whereas true fantasy, the best there can be, is inherently variable, springing from its own sources and creating its own shape.

Marr began by pointing out that this once more or less reviled genre has in recent years become overwhelmingly popular, citing the obvious leader, Game of Thrones/A Song of Fire and Ice and George R R Martin. He pointed out that series’ roots in British history, and its exploration of power and brutality.

Next, he turned to, equally obviously, Tolkien (who appeared in some archive footage), and shortly thereafter, C. S. Lewis. It was interesting to note that Marr focused on the deep and specific Christian underpinning of the latter’s Narnia books (what else is there to focus on?) but ignored the fact that Tolkien’s work was just as fundamentally religious in aspect, in fac,t in many ways, more so.

Instead, Marr emphasised the current critical thinking about The Lord of the Rings, centring upon it as a response to Tolkien’s experiences in the Great War, and upon it being written, to a large extent, during World War Two. The English at war, with the hobbits standing in for the English, was his overriding analysis, after which he could then humourously boggle over the take-up of Tolkien by the American counter-culture in the Sixties, in which the Ring becomes the Bomb.

This allowed him to turn next to Ursula Le Guin, who he openly stated he loved, but only in terms of the Earthsea books. These were defined as the anti-Tolkien, the deliberate subversion of his world. On one level, they are, but reading Le Guin’s work on one level only is a fatal mistake, and to key her approach into Californian counter-culture, with its air of cheesecloth, was seriously limiting. And to talk of Ged’s going to Wizard school being Harry Potter-like when J.K. Rowling was over thirty years later set me growling.

Incidentally, Rowling, though clearly central to the current fantasy boom, got rather short shrift. We twice saw the same clip of people in Hogwarts costumes lugging racks of books around at a publication party, we got one line about the books and that was it. Clearly, Joanna Rowling had declined the chance to appear and her work got side-lined as a consequence when, despite its manifest flaws, its massive influence demanded similar attention to that given Game of Thrones (which was generous with the clips).

The episode did improve once it got to writers who’d agreed to be interviewed talking about their approach to Fantasy, its themes and importance. Alan Garner got short shrift, a few gnomic lines about folk-lore and myth being “high-octane fuel” and a cover shot of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen with Marr pronouncing the last word in a way I’ve never heard before.

Neil Gaiman didn’t fare much better, though he is a practiced speaker and got more substance into his few seconds (American Gods got slightly more time than Gaiman himself) whilst Frances Hardinge, of whom I’d never heard before, who writes for and about children (the area on which Marr quizzed her) got more time than both.

I mean no insult to Hardinge, who affected a black hat the way Terry Pratchett did for fedora’s, and who has a good reputation. I found it interesting that this review of Fantasy fiction almost exclusively focused upon writers with whom I was familiar: in my twenties and thirties I read little but Fantasy/SF, but have gotten completely out of touch with the field since, yet the episode included only Hardinge, and Joe Abercrombie, with whom I wasn’t familiar.

Of course, the Blessed Pratchett was the last heavyweight to be featured. He isn’t here to speak for himself now, but his long-term assistant Rob Wilkins featured, and he and Marr made one point that resonated directly with my thinking, that it was Mort where Discworld really started to become Discworld, to become the mirror to us and ourselves that Discworld was so successfully for so many (but still not enough) years.

Overall, and granted that an hour is hardly long enough to give anything remotely like a broad picture, the episode was welcome but still unforgivably superficial. Marr may well know and love Fantasy fiction, but he didn’t show much of that. Overall, he presented the show with an air of defensive humourness, secretly reassuring the audience that it’s all rather a bit silly, and I know it as much as you, and you can’t really take Dungeons, Wizards and Dragons seriously, the way these people do.

That was encapsulated in one of the later Rules, that Fantasy was always, always, about the Dying of the Light, that it always used to be better, that the good stuff – the magic, you know – is always going and it’ll never be as good as it was, sigh.

No, in the end, despite its purported attempt to define and, in some way, dignify Fantasy fiction as worth reading, the episode lacked the courage of its convictions and undercut itself at every turn. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Fantasy may be in, now, and its popularity sufficiently high to keep it from sinking back into mere specialist genre, but it is far from earning respect (and a bloody great chunk of it doesn’t and never will deserve it).

We can but hope that the next one will be a bit more confident in its aims and can reject the urge to treat its subject with disdain.

Bingeathon: The Barchester Chronicles -in memoriam Alan Rickman


Back in 1995, playwright, novelist and television dramatist Alan Plater gave a big interview to the Guardian on the Saturday that his new series, Oliver’s Travels, based on his fifth and final novel, began a five-part adaptation on BBC. He slated the production, detailing the many ways in which the producers and director had undermined, ignored or just mistreated the story. He made particular reference to the casting. The title part had been written for Tom Courtney but he hadn’t even been approached, the role instead being played by Alan Bate. The female lead was played by Sinead Cusack in her native Irish accent, although the point of the character was that she came from Northumberland, and her similarly Northumbrian son’s role was given to an actor with a pronounced Cockney accent.

Despite all that, I still watched the series, because it was Plater, because I enjoyed the novel. He was right, though. The series simply did nt work because – and I watched this pile up with fascinated horror as the weeks accumulated – not just the principal actors, but everybody, down to the shortest walk-on, line-saying role, was wrong.

It was stunning in its own way. How can you cast a prestigious Saturday night series and miscast absolutely everyone? Not a single actor fit their role.

And whilst I watched Oliver’s Travels drown in this fashion, I thought back to Plater’s own Beiderbecke Trilogy, and I realised for the first time that part of its beauty and charm was that it was one of the most perfectly cast series I’d ever seen. And it still is: there’s not a role on the series, down to the smallest, that isn’t played by someone who is the slightest bit out of step.

Which is by way of a lengthy prelude to today’s bingeathon, which I promised to myself last week, when the dreadful news of Alan Rickman’s death broke on us. Rickman’s first major role on screen was as the Reverend Obadiah Slope, in the BBC’s seven-part adaptation of the first two of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels, under the title, The Barchester Chronicles. Fittingly, the dramatisation was by Alan Plater, and it is the equal of The Beiderbecke Trilogy in being the most perfectly cast series I have ever seen.

The Barchester Chronicles was first broadcast in 1982. I remember hearing it being described as a story set amongst a feuding religious community, and deciding that was not for me. In 1989 or 1990, I can’t remember which, it was repeated on BBC2 on Tuesday nights at 9.00pm. I was newly in my first house and had taken a week off to decorate my lounge, starting with the back wall, which was the simplest – no wondows, doors or chimney breasts – but longest. After a day of videotapes, I had gotten surfeited with Last of the Summer Wine and was grimly pasting up the last sheet to something on BBC2. I was in mid-sheet when that finished and I overran into the next programme.

When I got to the screen, I immediately recognised the lovely Barbara Flynn and stopped to watch. Fifty minutes later I was hooked, and looking for the paper to check just what it was I’d been watching.

Plater’s dramatisation adapts The Warden and Barchester Towers. The first is a short novel, a ‘one-decker’ as it would have been termed on publication, taking as its theme a series of Church scandals exposed in the Press, of clergymen being paid excessive income for minimal duties administering charities, whilst the poor beneficiaries get almost nothing.

The Reverend Septimus Harding is the Warden of a Hospital caring for twelve old men. He has a lovely home for himself and his daughter Eleanor and a more than ample income. He was appointed by his lifelong friend, Bishop Grantley, whose son Theophilus, is both Archdeacon, and Harding’s son-in-law. Local Doctor John Bold, a reformist campaigner (and aspirant to Eleanor’s hand) uses the Law and the Press, in the shape of the Jupiter (i.e., the Times) to challenge the situation. Ultimately, by legal technicality, the Esatablished Church prevails, but Mr Harding, a simple and good man, resigns his Wardenship, having come to the moral belief that he is not entitled to riches from the Charity when the stipend for his old charges and friends has remained unchanged for 400 years.

The Warden takes up the first two episodes. The series stars Donald Pleasance as Mr Harding – playing against type as a gentle, somewhat unworldly, round-faced, cherubic old man, Pleasance being mainly known for playing villains – and Nigel Hawthorne as The Archdeacon. Pleasance is delightful throughout, the only true clergyman in the whole series, retreating, accepting, but still having enough of a will of his own to do what he sees as the right thing in the face of everybody else’s opinions, but Hawthorne (then still staring in Yes Minister) steals the shows, with his overdramatic gestures, his rages and furies, exasperations and desperations, and his oily, briliantly comic smoothness.

Hawthorne is in his element, overplaying his part to the finest degree. I find myself snorting with glee at nearly his every line and movement. It’s a theatrical performance – indeed, the whole series eschews naturalism – but it’s judged to be heightened theatricality, without ever once toppling over into self-parody, ridicule or camp.

There’s a fine array of second-line characters to support this pair over these first two episodes: David Gwillim as John Bold, realising the personal consequences of his principals, the lovely Janet Maw as Eleanor, overwrought at the attack on her beloved father from the man she loves, the aforementioned Barbara Flynn as John’s sister Mary, George Costigan as the Jupiter journalist, Tom Towers, and the blithely lisping Angela Pleasance (Donald’s daughter) as his other daughter Susan, Mrs Grantley.

Still and all, it’s when the adaptation moves on to Barchester Towers that the fun starts to soar. John Sutherland has argued that there is textual evidence that the book was originally planned as a direct sequel, of similar brevity, again focusing on Mr Hardin’s Wardenship, but instead the book expanded in length and cast, to great delight.

Bishop Grantley is dying, but unfortunately for his conflicted son, he outlasts the current Government, ending the Archdeacon’s chances of being appointed his successor. Instead, the new Prime Minister instals Bishop Proudie (Clive Swift). The Bishop is a weak-willed, temporising man, under the thumb of his very determined wife, Mrs Proudie (Geraldine McEwan) and preferring to delegate as much as he can to his private Chaplain, the Reverend Obadiah Slope (originally Slop), an ambitious young man under the patronage of Mrs Proudie. This is, of course, Alan Rickman.

Though this is not emphasised in book or series, the Proudies are Low Church, seeking to establish themselves and their doctrines in a City and Diocese that has thus far been very High Church. Indeed, Mrs Proudie and Mr Slope are very quickly seen as enemies, and it is the interweaving schemes, oppositions and manoeuvres of the opposing factions, and their sheer energy for each other’s destruction that plays out for the rest of the story.

And that’s not all. At his wife’s insistence, Bishop Proudie summons the Canon-in-Residence, Doctor Vesey Stanhope, and family, back from Lake Como, Italy, which has been his actual residence for the last twelve tears (he originally left for his health: a persistent sore throat). This brings back the Stanhope children: the forever laughing, amoral Charlotte, the irresponsible, impecunious, hopeless Bertie (played with great gusto by Peter Blythe, otherwise best known for his ‘Soapy’ Sam Ballard, the new – and preaching – Head of Chambers in Rumpole) and the beautiful but crippled Signora Madeleine Vesey Neroni (played as a manipulative schemer by the still decidedly beautiful Susan Hampshire).

At a stroke, the cast trebles, and the number of heavyweights doubles, or at least so you’d think. McEwan and Hampshire, added to Pleasance and Hawthorne? But that is to fail to reckon with Rickman, a young actor in comparison, an unknown to the television public, but he effortlessly holds his own, and frequently does so much more that his seniors, stealing scenes with no effort, even scenes when he has three or four other actors, playing to the hilt around him.

McEwan is monstrously good. She, like Hawthorne, adopts an entirely theatrical approach, but instead of his extravagant gestures and expostulations, McEwan adopts a gravelly monotone, rising in intensity but not pitch. She’s a monster, and it’s her own husband who is her victim, but she is at all times convinced in the absolute rectitude of her every thought, word and deed. Her scenes opposite Hawthorne are awesome.

As Mcewan’s foil, Clive Swift puts in a masterclass of subjugation. Compared with McEwan or Rickman, he gets the worst of it for lines, especially in scenes featuring these three alone, but he is epic in his expressions as the camera passes him, or catches him in the background. He may be the stooge, but you feel every moment of his despair at never getting any peace.

The plot is incredibly complex, and incorporates separate but simultaneous attempts to get the widowed and wealthy Mrs Bold (Eleanor is deprived of her husband in between episodes, and gets a bouncing big baby as an exchange, plus a heavy dose of unflattering widow’s weeds, which also do their best to make Barbara Flynn look unattractive). The dissolute Bertie cannot do anything to pretend that his intentions are other than purely mercenary, but it is the importunate Mr Slope who presses his suit so far as to prompt Eleanor to slap him round the ear.

Rickman is just so good at Slope that whenever he is onscreen, you expect to find pools of slime leaking out of the DVD Player. His casting was certainly against the character’s appearance in the novel, where he is red-headed and physically unprepossessing: Rickman is allowed to be his real self, tall, dark-haired, handsome, a very clever decision that justifies his being able to persuade the ladies he pursues – the Signora after he sees her, Mrs Bold after he learns she is wealthy – to tolerate him long enough for him to worm his way into their lives.

Rickman, like McEwan, restricts his range. He is slow and deliberate, with little bursts of urgent progress, a strutting walk. He reacts carefully to things, often moving only his eyes until he has absorbed the new information. He is an out-and-out slimeball, but Rickman makes him both obvious and plausible in this trait. He can’t take the audience in, and he isn’t trying to, but you can see him, in the more stratified and socially hidebound society of the mid-Nineteenth Century, taking other people in.

There’s just so much to enjoy throughout this series. We see another side of the Archdeacon once he becomes an ally of Mr Harding, as opposed to an adversary, and Pleasance is kept busy with responsive lines to Hawthorne’s outbursts which are sitcom funny but which he delivers without a trace of laughter (I am still unable to decide if he is making pointed jokes or innocent replies, which is another facet to Pleasance’s performance that  delights).

To someone attuned to the wit of this adaptation, without it ever once trying to be funny, The Barchester Chronicles is incredibly funny, and the performances throughout are magnificent. The casting is perfect, but it is Alan Rickman who steals the show, every bit as good and better than star actors, theatrical legends, who ought to blow him out of the water, but instead accept him as an equal. He already was their equal. And he became himself a legend.

And I’ve loved every minute of the seven hours today I’ve spent remembering and mourning Alan Rickman.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine revisited


Some people I’m going to meet up with again

Now that New Tricks has gone the way of all televisual flesh and I’ve nothing to do on Tuesday nights, I thought I’d pick up a new project.

Let me make it plain: I am not, nor have I ever been a Trekkie. I’m old enough to have seen the original series the first couple of times around, but a growing interest in actual SF in the early Seventies proved fatal to my interest in the series. Try as I might, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to accept that, in the 25th Century, the Universe would be ordered according to the moral values of mid-Fifties, Midwestern America.

The Next Generation entertained me more. I came to it fairly late – I’m sure I only ever saw Denise Crosby in repeats – and I definitely liked Q. But Deep Space Nine was always my favourite, from the swelling, austere theme music, to the mixture of characters, to the fact that it held a running, accumulating story.

This was the one that Gene Roddenbury had nothing to do with, the one that had a fixed base, not a spaceship tearing around the Universe, the one that could develop. With all due respect to Trekkies, I think the first of those points may have played a large part in my preference for this one.

I missed how Deep Space Nine started, and can’t honestly remember when I caught up with it, but for the time I watched it, it was a BBC2 staple in the 6.15pm slot on Tuesday nights, perfect timing for me to get home from work and, before worrying about food, curl up on the couch for another episode.

But I didn’t get to see how it ended either. The arrival of a very-soon-to-be-wife and three step-children, not to mention the initial superimposition of one household of furniture on top of another ended those easy, indulgent evenings of repeat TV for good. A season had not long since ended, the Federation had been forced to evacuate Deep Space Nine, but Sisko promised to come back. When he did, it was without me. I have wondered what happened ever since.

So, what the hell. This is going to be the biggest single project I’ve ever given myself on this blog, and I’m not saying that I’ll manage this every Tuesday night for the three years plus this will take, but I am going to watch/re-watch Deep Space Nine from pilot to finale, and blog it week by week.

Starting with the very next post.