Film 2020: No Surrender

This is the first of two Channel 4 films being used to extend this series as far as it will go. Written by Alan Bleasedale when he was at the height of his powers, the film saw theatrical release in other countries but was confined to broadcast over here by the relatively new Channel. I am convinced that I watched it on the evening of New Year’s Day, probably 1986, but I can find no evidence for this. I could give you its release date in Canada, mind.

I remember loving the film. I remember being deeply affected by its ending. I answered a letter condemning it in the Manchester Evening News that demanded the writer not be told to switch it off as he had a right to watch TV, defending the film but, more importantly, reminding him he was not obliged to like it or even watch it but that there were three other Channels broadcasting at the same time and he had no right to demand that television only show what he wanted to watch, which brought forth a third letter from someone else basically slandering anyione who liked No Surrender, and you can’t answer those.

And I never saw it again, or if I did maybe once, a repeat one night, maybe in the Nineties. I have not seen it again until today. I remembered so many vivid moments and lines. I was moved again by the ending, whose quiet power will only ever lose its effect if we finally learn not to hate each other so irrationally. But I forgot something. I forgot how absolutely brilliant Alan Bleasedale was as a writer, to make a film about pain, and despair, and pathological religious hatred, about inadequacy and ineptness and violence, and make it so abso-fucking-lutely funny.

You’re going to have to excuse the language because this film is set in Liverpool in the mid-Eighties, when the City was simultaneously dying, being killed and refusing to recognise that it was dead, and they just talk that way and Bleasedale, a Liverpudlian whose best works came from his home ground, isn’t going to strike a false note by sugarcoating anything.

The film takes place on New Year’s Eve. Michael (Michael Angelis) is starting his job as Manager of the Charleston Club, a prefab nightclub in the middle of a post-industrial wasteland where you can see the Police coming from miles away but can’t see the crooks, the thugs, the crazed and the kids with no future at age 12 until they’re under your nose. The club is owned by Mr Ross (Tom Georgeson), who turns out to be a leading figure in organised crime, who insists on Michael being the perfect, seemingly-ignorant front for the money flowing through the club, which acts as a wash-tub to make it clean. It has a bouncer, Bernard pronounce Ber-nard, who claims to be ex-Foreign Legion and whose IQ is somewhere down in the Liverpool 7s (Bernard Hill, reuiniting three of Bleasedale’s Boys from the Blackstuff).

In the backroom, Michael’s predecessor as Manager is undergoing a fairly ruthless beating. He’s tried to steal from Mr Ross. Michael wants nothing to do with this: he’s a nobody, he knows that, he accepts it, but he won’t be anybody else’s nobody. Unfortunately, Mr Ross doesn’t care and his on the ground henchman Frank (Vince Earl, the future Ron Dixon of Brookside) is gently persuasive about how misguided it would be to let Mr Ross down. Frank also views himself as a comedian, and Earl is perfect as that guy who can’t help but come out with what he thinks is wit, without accepting any deflection.

So far, so thriller in its construction, set upon a very definite picture of Liverpool of the time, the football club still riding mighty but everything else about the City sliding down the pan. But what embodies this film is the other thing the unfortunate McArthur has done, and what he’s landed Michael with.

He’s gone and booked the Charleston out with three Pensioner’s Parties. Nowt wrong with that, you might think, it’s New Year’s Eve in Liverpool. But one party comes from the 12th of July Memorial Club, meaning that they are hardline Protestant Loyalists, who look up to former hard man Billy ‘The Beast’ McCracken (Ray McInally, who has never been better) and one party comes from St Joseph’s Social Club, meaning that they are hardline Catholics, who look up to former hard man Paddy Burke (James Ellis, unrecognisable from his long-standing role as Sgt Bert Lynch in Z-Cars), ex-boxer, blind but still full of aggression, determined to get Bily the Beast.

And the third party is a small group of seriously elderly men and women, suffering from senile dementia.

You think that’s bad? That that’s playing with cigarette lighters in close proximity to a serious petrol spill? McArthur wasn’t finished. For entertainment he booked a seriously unfunny comedian who’s overtly gay and hasn’t got anything remotely resembling a funny line (even Frank has more going for him), a useless magician who suffers from stage-fright and whose white rabbit, stuffed pathetically visibly under his top hat, has chosen this moment to die on him, literally, and a punk band of stunning ineptness including a McGann brother and Andrew Schofield, another regular Bleasedale player as a compulsively ‘witty’ little scrote you’d pay to watch being stuffed through his own guitar strings.

As recipes for chaos go, this is already Cordon Bleu and that’s before you complete the mixture with a Loyalist gunman on the run, Norman Donoghue (Mike Mulholland), a ‘pal’ of Billy the Beast from forty years ago, blackmailing Billy for shelter by bringing up his daughter in Ireland, the one who married a Catholic, to whom Billy never has nor never will speak, and Cheryl (Joanne Whalley at the height of her loveliness), kitchen assistant, would-be singer andOrange Lodge hater, delaying the Protestant’s food because it’s not cold eough yet.

No need to stir this mix because it’ll stir itself.

In the middle of all this is Michael, so far out of his depth he could be halfway to Wallassey without a Ferry, but determined to survive all this, intact and detached.

Bleasedale was a fantastic writer in that decade, one of the few people capable of depicting pain whilst reducing you to tears of laughter. I always had a problem with any kind of ‘don’t know whether to laugh or cry’ set-up because I would always cry, the jokes never being funny enough to cross over to the other emotion, but Bleasedale had the knack. It’s funny, very funny, but it’s also deadly serious, and increasingly so. The hatred flattens itself against your screen and leers at you. As an atheist, I watched both then and now in bemusement that the details of how to ‘properly’ worship the same God, a God of Love, generates such hatred, such venom.

The film gets more intense. The disturbing expectation of danger from the outset becomes real threat. Remind yourself that these are all old men and women. Everybody is over 60, every man over 65. You want to tell yourself that they’re old enough to know better, but they are not.

Is one side better than the other? Does Bleasedale favour Protestant or Catholic? Much as he tries to portray both sides as impossible to favour, there is a slant. The drama requires one to produce an ending and the Protestants have it. There are three reasons. Cheryl, one of the three stars, hates them and acts maliciously over their food, plus when the Loyalist Marching Band bring in their instruments, she starts the Catholic counter-singing. And there are Billy the Beast and Paddy Burke.

Ray McInally was a bloody good actor. Thiough he protests to Norman Donoghue that his father left him three things, his faith, his loyalty and his football, and they’re all true blue, it’s equally clear without words that Billy is reconsidering all the things his life, his past has been. Paddy Burke, his opposite, has gone blind, physically as well as mentally. Deprived of his sight, deprived of the chance to grow as Billy may, at long last be doing, he sees only the past, the rivalry with Billy McCracken. Paddy intends to start one more fight, to batter Billy the Beast.

Billy doesn’t want it. Everyone around him, with the exception of a sceptical old woman who won’t go on the Marches any more because she never liked shouting ‘Fuck the Pope!’ in public, are on his side, ready to back him, ready for war again at any moment. Billy wants no trouble. No trouble any more.

But Billy finds that trouble is unaoidable. First Norman, seeing the Police arrive for Michael’s scheme to drive Mr Ross clear, accuses Billy of betraying him, threatens his daughter. Billy does what he has to do, his old comrade, his old pal, a man after his own heart, once, and strangles Norman in the toilet cubicle where he’s hiding. It’s brutish, but unavoidable.

Then, tricked into a trap by Tony (Michael Ripper), made ready for paddy’s assault, with both parties trying to cram into the toilets and a hell of a lot of them achieving it, Billy has to face Paddy. He’s had a beer bottle smashed over his head, he’s been kicked in the stomach, but the Beast rises and he beats Paddy Burke, hard. One man smashing punches into the face of a blind man yet we suspend the automatic moral judgement, not overturn it just suspend it, until Paddy goes down, crashing through a cubicle door onto the lap of a dead Loyalist gunman.

It’s over, it’s all over. Billy walks away alone. The pensioners celebrate New Year’s Dave. Michael and Cheryl share a New Year’s kiss that is not going to be extended to Ber-nard. Afterwards, after one final drink in peace in a cleared but not cleaned club, Ber-nard goes home to his mother. Cheryl makes it plain she wants Michael  to go home with her for the fuck she’d proposed in the middle of the film. Michael points out he’s a happily married man. Cheryl tells him it won’t last. He puts his arm round her waist (lucky Michael Angelis) and they go off together.

But that’s not the ending, not the ending I remember, the ending that was so moving. Billy McCracken returns to the 12th of July Memorial Club alone, lets himself into the deserted office, dials the telephone. He calls his daughter Elizabeth, the one in Ireland, the one who married… They wish each other Happy New Year. Then, to her surprise, he asks to speak to Brendan. Yes, Brendan. His son-in-law, identified as such for those who are hard of thinking. He asks Brendan if he may be thought to be sentimental to wish him Happy New Year?

And the music takes over and credits run and the camera stays at a distance as Billy settles into his chair for an unheard conversation, and from the smile on his face a opleasant one, with the son-li-law, the Catholic to whom he mever will speak, and we fade away, marveling at how it is ever too late to go against your lifelong beliefs and to learn what your religion truly means.

This may seem like a fairly detailed synopsis of the film and certainly I’ve spoiled all spoilers, but there are layers and depths and individual stories I haven’t even begun to hint at. Alan Bleasedale writes like a dream and the best thing you can say for the cast is that they rise to the level of his script. There are distinguished actors and familiar actors in here and from beginning to end they cease to be actors and become the people you watch.

The film’s only failing is the gimmick of having Elvis Costello play his first acting part as the magician, Rosco de Ville. Aside from a silent entrance, crossing the background, Costello only appears in two screens and it was very noticable that whilst he said his lines adequately, both scenes were monologues, played to Angelis and Hill, who remained silent, to protect Costello. But that’s a nitpicking.

So, a TV film, but an extraordinary film whichever way. I wonder what they made of it in America? Did it have to be subtitled? There’s now very little time left for Film 2020, but I’ll try to post a little earlier next Sunday.

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 4

Dan and Sofie

We’re halfway there, and as yet our ultimate destination is no more guessable than it was in those opening moments of episode 1, but I am growing steadily more afraid of where and what it may be. After all, this episode included a moment so black and evil that I have not seen its like for thirty five years.

In 1983, in chapter eight of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, the title character kills the head of a Fascist Governmet State calculated religion, by feeding him a communion wafer. The rite of Transubstantiation: whatever the host is made of becomes the body of Christ. I have hanging on my wall the original art for the page in which Eric Finch relates that this wafer was full of cyanide. “And do you know what? When it reached his abdomen, it was still cyanide.”

I am not religious and even less Catholic, but that was an evil conception, a black design. You may say I have led a sheltered life but not until this episode have i seen anything so calculatedly poisonous since.

William Ramberg, the gun-runner, has nothing but his ten-year old daughter, Leonora, in hospital recovering from a kidney transplant. She was improving yesterday, going to be released home, but the clown injected her with something and she’s now unresponsive. A text with a video advises William she’s been poisoned, has four hours. Frantically, he complies with the demands, large bricks of money in return for a drone-delivered antidote, near the deadline. He races back to the hospital. Where the Doctor is explaining to Aunt Sarah it’s only sedatives, she’s fine.

I caught the idea then, flinched at the horror of it. William crashed in, injected his daughter to save her, but the ‘antidote’ was the real poison, and it killed her in seconds. A father kills his own daughter. A secure gangland boss is broken.

The Bridge has never shied away from darkness, long before that ending to series 1, and the death of Martin’s son. Leonora’s death is not the only one this week: Taariq has summoned the mysterious Morgan Sonning, whose car picked up Margethe Thormod and took her to her stoning. Sonning denies everything: he and his much older wife were in Hamburg, on a cash-only, card-free, mobile-free break (not suspicious at all) whilst his car was at his brother’s garage in Sweden and couldn’t have been used but had been.

Taariq didn’t get anywhere with Sonning. He stole the car, wallet, phone, shaved, slicked back his hair and tried to get into Sweden but was stopped by a diligent border guard who e had to take hostage. Henrik lied, said he could claim asylum in Sweden. Saga told the truth: five years imprisonment, deportation. Taariq ate his gun.

Ah, Henrik. Trustingly, he leaves the two young girls in his house when he goes to work. Ida likes him, wants to stay. Julia reminds her that they can only ever trust each other. Henrik gets back with Saga to find the house trashed, everything portable – including his daughter’s necklaces – ripped off. They’ve gone. He can’t find them on the streets. He can see his daughters in the rear-view mirror, complaining that he searches for them, until he tears off the mirror.

He also finds his drugs-dealer of yore, buys a bag of pills but, in one of the very few lapses into cliche that this show has ever given us, finds the strength to refuse. So far.

Meanwhile, out at Hannah’s gated village, Theo is still trying to stir up trouble for Sofie and Cristoffer. Frank promises to help. He takes Cristoffer down to the warehouse, teaches him shooting, offers a fatherly ear for things he can’t discuss with Sofie. Creepy Astrid plays Truth or Consequences with him, gets him to dress up as a circus character, a magician (not a clown), kisses him. Dastardly Dan, the taxi driver, follows Frank to the village and, when Frank takes Cristoffer into the woods for a walk’n’shoot, he sneaks into Sofie’s cottage. With a gun in his waistband.

It’s all getting more and more dark. Niels Thormod is burning all his wife’s papers, including a leatherbound journal. Morgan Sonning’s brother’s little baby isn’t his brother’s: his wife has been playing away. Mrs Sonning was in the same organisation as Margrethe but didn’t know her, even though Margrethe tried to get her deposed as Chair.

Lilian’s going on a date, her first since Hans died, but Saga’s blunt questions put her off: she goes home to drink wine and watch her wedding video.

Saga’s in therapy, seeing no logic in what her therapist doesn’t choose to follow up on. ‘Henrik’s girls remind her of her sister Jennifer, though Saga openly states Julia is a better sister to Ida than Saga was to Jennifer.

It’s a swirling miasma. There are three murder victims, with no connections. Three different murder methods. Isn’t this three separate cases? Until Saga anatomises it: stoning, electrocution, lethal injection. Three examples of legitimate state methods of execution. Three out of seven. Firing Squad, Gas, Decapitation, Hanging.

Four more long weeks.

Saturday SkandiHorrar: Black Lake Parts 5 & 6

Now just imagine her looking creepy…

It’s traditionally in the third week of a four week drama that the phrase ‘The plot begins to thicken’ is pulled out of the Cliche Drawer, but we all know that Black Lake/Swastjon is too thin gruel for that ever to be possible. Nevertheless, in admidst the increasingly shambolic events of parts 5 and 6, one substantial thread came out that threatens to add a certain distinction to the overall tale.

However, let’s get back to the mechanics of things, shall we? When we last saw the lovely, but starting to get ever so slightly irritating Hanne she was just going in to the mystery cellar room, flashlight in hand. It’s a useful flashlight, preventing us from seeing more than bits at a time, but what we saw was interesting. An office, with a desk, a really old typewriter, shelves of learned books, storage racks for boxes and files, a host of developed prints, hung on strings. And old fashioned file cards marked Ratsbiologika. I would work out the biology bit myself, but it took the invaluable Mette to explain to us monolinguals that it meat Race Biology: Eugenics.

That immediately changed the game. The resort used to be a clinic: when Hanne gets Mette to go down there with her, in part 6, the stuff they gather, and the prison-like child room the former finds, round the back, adds up to a disgusting picture of Nazi-approved experiments, ‘proving’ Aryan children to be inherently superior to ‘sub-human’ races. Hanne remains convinced that she is channeling a victim of whatever has been going on down there: Mikkhel.

But that’s for the future. In the short term, a door slams and, in the dark, she’s attacked from behind by a clearly larger assailant trying to strangle her (though for that detail we have to rely on Hanne after she escapes, because the Director is clearly going for a representation of Hanne’s panic so we never actually see what the fuck is going on).

Nevertheless, despite being about seven stone wet through, escape Hanne does, into the below-stairs labyrinth, eventually getting out into the -45 degree night via a ventilation shaft, which she secures behind her by using a thin gold bracelet as a padlock.

Once she is let inside, Hanne says the first intelligent thing anyone’s said thus far, I want to go home. Loving and sympathetic fiance, Johan, immediately agrees and rushes her back to civilization, safety and reliable central heating. Ha, ha, of course he doesn’t. Instead, he gives the same old, let’s all get together, talk this through and decide what to do, the unspoken part of which speech being that that decision will be what Johan wants all along, namely to stay so he can buy this resort.

There is also a serious reason for postponing the decision: fatty Osvald is missing. Hanne’s attacker, who’s probably creepy Erkki, is trapped in the cellar, whose only two exits are barred from outside (nobody seems to wonder whether a) he might have got out through the door before Hanne reached the resort from outside or b) whether there might be a third exit). So everyone, Hanne included, goes searching outside.

Which is when the exasperated Johan, lord and master of all he sees, gives her the Talk. You know, the incredibly stupid one, the I know better than you what to do about your traumas despite never have undergone them, or any other trauma come to that Talk. Just pull yourself together and get over seeing your little brother die in front of your eyes, it’s all in the past and you’ll make life a lot easier for me when you do.

Crass doesn’t begin to describe it. Poor bereaved Frank, meanwhile, has also had enough of hanging round a place of trauma, and is packing his car. Hanne and Mette decide to go with him, right now, in the dark, so what, Mette driving. They go grab their things. Such things do not include: ring, engagement: one.

It’s all go. Our sensible three drive carefully along the snow-packed road, getting out of it, that is, until Hanne sees an imaginary little boy in the middle of the road, grabs the wheel and runs them into a ditch, from where they can’t get the car free, condemning them to wait until dawn in the hope they don’t freeze to death first.

In another place, not a million miles away from Crewe Junction, Dag of the snowmobile brothers decides it’s time to show the Stockholm lot that he’s serious about whatever nefarious plan their presence is going to interrupt, about which we still know the square root of fuck all, except that this mystery is getting very tiresome. He brandishes his gun. Wimpy brother and Hanne-snogger Jostein gets him to agree to give him two hours to sort it all out without the kind of things that happen when guns get brandished: yeah, two hours at 6.00am when it’s still dark: that ought to be ample time.

And at Black Lake, it’s all go. Osvald’s still missing, but only lover Lippi is still concerned about it. Lippi, by the way, is Johan’s brother, as part 6 will have Johan confirm, by telling Lippi that he is his, that is, Johan’s brother, a fact of which Lippi is already aware but the audience, or at least this branch of it wasn’t. Absolutely nobody has even begun to draw a line between point A: a mysterious person tries to kill Hanne in the cellar and point B: nobody’s seen Osvald since before Hanne went down the cellar.

Anyway, Lippi at least decides that if Osvald isn’t anywhere they’ve searched and they haven’t searched the cellar, his lover might well be down there. He climbs in from outside, removing Hanne’s bracelet/padlock. And at the foot of the cellar stairs, after retracing all Hanne’s steps as if he had been provided with a map of her course, he finds Osvald. Or rather, Osvald’s body, cause of death undefined. Which causes him to back away, fall over and impale his arm on a metal rod.

Upstairs, Johan, feeling a touch upset at his fiancee chucking the ring back at him, is talking to the only one left, the doll-faced Elin, his ex-girlfriend to whom he once gave one of those half-a-hearts that lovers symbolically trade, only to find that she wears it to this day, as a charm bracelet that neither he nor anyone else has noticed in the best part of five episodes so far despite the fact she never takes it off. And they’re about to snog when someone closes the Cliche drawer on the writer’s hands, chucking in a power cut.

Then they hear Lippi’s screams about being in the cellar, and bleeding, and being in pain, ow, owwww, ooch that smarts. So Johan decides it’s at long last time to whip out his chopper. No, he’s not gone back to Doll-face, he’s been carrying an axe around with him all this time, in his overnight bag, and he’s going to wield it.

Episode 6 at least has the merits of taking place in daylight, so we can at least get in some stunning shots of the scenery. Hanne starts walking back to Black Lake but is picked up by Jostein on his snowmobile. He can take only one extra passenger, so he runs Hanne and Mette back to the resort, and goes back for Frank. Frank, who is going all mysterious: as soon as he’s alone he’s mumbling, “What have I done?”,  he’s scraped the Swedish for Forgive Me into the ice on the car window and he’s stumbling off into the deep-laden snow, stripping off the odd garment here or there along the way, with the intention of freezing himself to death, before Jostein saves him. And not even a fingertip’s worth of frostbite to show for it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… sorry, the resort, Dollface Elin, who’s supposed to have gone for the First Aid kit but who’s done some quasi-drunken reeling to indicate that she might not be in full possession of her body, sees Hanne and Mette arriving and promptly locks the door against them, a dirty trick she will deny knowing anything about when challenged.

Mette, without whom things would have ground to a halt long ago, takes charge of getting Lippi unimpaled, into bed and cleaned up, before identifying the race-card and visiting the cellar. Apart from the nonsense about possession and dead Mikkhel she seems to be taking this discovery even more seriously than Hanne.

Our girl is having a couple of serious conversations. First, she rips Johan a new one about how he’s never listened to her, and that he even didn’t propose to her but rather to the woman he wanted her to be. Then she basically reverses her entire characterisation by denying to Elin that there’s any such thing as a curse applying here.

Elin’s concerned, you see, about this ‘Kill or be Killed’ stuff. Jessan got the red-eye, tried to kill Frank and then, when she didn’t, she died. Osvald got the red-eye, and when he didn’t kill anyone, he died. Stuff and nonsense, cries Hanne, and walks away. The problem is that you and I and the rest of the viewers know that back in episode 5, Dollface Elin came down with the red-eye, although hers wasn’t so much the bloodshot look, but rather that all the white of her eye had turned an even, pale red, like a filter. Boy, she just happens to be carrying some bloody good eyedrops though. That was lucky.

But Elin is not convinced. Kill or be Killed. Two red-eye victims didn’t kill, and died. Elin doesn’t want to die. So she steals a chopping knife from the kitchen and starts creeping up on the sleeping Frank, until Johan turns up. Amazingly, he doesn’t seem to think there’s anything odd about approaching a helpless sleeper with a knife like that, nor does he even ask her why she happens to be carrying it.

Three things left: despite Jostein having save three people’s lives, the jealous Johan tells him to get out, incurring a threat from Dag about touching his brother. Then, Jostein having been given two hours to get the Stockholm lot out and instead having spent twice that amount of time saving half of them, Dag beats his little brother to a pulp.

And Elin, having failed to get Frank, puts a pillow over Lippi’s face and sits on it until he stops kicking.

And Hanne and Mette go back to the cellar office to gather more evidence, only someone’s set it on fire…

It’s Explanation Time next weekend, dear people. How many of them will actually be worth it? And can we have even more snowscapes instead of story, please?

Saturday SkandiHorrar: Black Lake Parts 3 & 4

It may not be much cop, but we can at least adjust the banner to correctly define Black Lake, now reaching its halfway mark, to the kind of programme it is.

Not being, by instinct or inclination, a horror buff, I don’t know quite to what extent this programme is observing all the tropes, but from my position of ignorance I can’t see anything of significance being left out, except the frequent violent and bloody deaths. We do have one in part 4, but it takes place off stage and the method remains undisclosed, although it at least observes one given: it is the seemingly promiscuous blonde what gets it first.

We left Jessan collapsing in a heap after screaming something about killing the child, which causes more than one member of the party to be concerned. Whilst she sleeps it off, massively, Frank goes through her bag, discovering a pillbox that the medical expert Mette identifies as being for schizophrenia and psychotics. After she wakes, Jessan confesses to killing a child: an abortion in Berlin five years ago, the root of the psychosis.

It appears this two are about more than the wild sex, they have genuinely fallen in love. That doesn’t stop more uninhibited sex, during which Jessan binds Frank’s hands with his dressing gown belt, hooks them up to the bedpost, straddles him, undoes his belt… and proceeds to tighten it around his neck as our part 3 climax.

The other person much concerned with the wild-haired Jessan is, of course, the already-disturbed Hanne. Sarah-Sophie Bouusnina may well be dead lovely to look at, no matter what arrangement she has her hair in, but she’s already starting to get on my wick with her obsession with the killings 20 years ago, her belief that the strangled children are trying to communicate with the house party, and the insistence on getting translated the mystery words ‘gaadet jaamet’ (sorry, no Scandinavian fonts on this laptop).

This involves using the effeminate Jostein, who interprets her constant appearances as evidence of overwhelming lust for him and who steals a kiss Hanne makes no attempt to refuse in part 3 and then, after being pushed away because she tells him she has a boyfriend and is engaged to be married, comes back for more in part 4 that Hanne offers quite enthusiastically (though she’s already enthusiastically shagged the pallid and superior Johan without taking her zipped-to-the-neck jacket off).

But Jessan comes to with no memory of anything, though that doesn’t stop her and Hanne suggesting a seance, which is eagerly greeted by everyone except the disbelieving Johan and Mette. Maybe they should have listened to this pair because, after the glass lights on the letter M, the candles blow out, Jessan screams, scratches Lippi’s neck and disappears into the secret basement.

Where she is found with a cut on her forehead whose provenance we don’t get to see until late in part 4.

For the moment, we get the strangulation scene, from which poor Frank is rescued when his feeble gasps for help are overheard by Johan and Hanne. Jessan, struggling in a frenzy, is overpowered and the belt used to tie her to the bedpost whilst she’s locked in (the Police are 30km away, on an emergency).

And Jostein’s turned up seriously late, with a translation of the mystery words: ‘Kill or Die’. Or, as a conscious Jessan explains to Hanne in the morning, whilst wriggling out of her bonds, ‘Kill or be Killed’. An external compulsion was driving her, put in her head by Mikkhel. When Johan and co arrives, she locks herself in her bathroom, and is then barricaded in. Her death, leaving aa look of horror on her face, is called suicide.

Now the most sensible things to do under all the circumstances is to hightail it back to Stockholm at a rate of knots. Mette’s had enough and wants out, and funnily enough so does increasingly barmy Hanne. But Johan refuses to believe in Hanne’s ghosts, and is determined to close his deal to buy Black Lake and talks everyone into staying.

We all know this isn’t going to be wise because caretaker Erkki, big bad snowmobile seller Dag and even Jostein want the gang to leave. And in a neat echo of the end of part 2, Mette, having seen Johan snog the pretty but under-used Elin now sees Hanne snog Jostein. And when she tries to talk her sister out of smashing her own future, Hanne starts getting all petty/sulky (until Mette confesses to a miscarriage, which in the circumstances comes over as a pointless detail).

So: a mysterious force keeps chucking a set of architectural plans at Hanne until she spots the discrepancy between the 1950 and 1995 cellar plans that reveals a secret room, Johan completes his deal and sacks Erkki (did he seriously think he’d be kept on after the way he’s behaved?), the cellar door’s conveniently open all of a sudden, Hanne finds the boarded off secret room: quick flashback to Jessan banging her head against the wood which the fragile Hanne strips off like it was paper, revealing… a door. The cellar door shuts above her, the door proves to be unlocked and not even in need of oiling, and Hanne goes inside…

Leaving me hoping, no doubt in vain, that it’s a gateway to a better programme than Black Lake has proved to be so far. The lovely Sarah-Sofie can only stave off snarkiness for so long, you know.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Black Lake Parts 1 & 2


It’s been such a long time since there’s been any BBC SkandiKrime on which to comment, though on the strength of this week’s opening two parts (of eight), I am not at all sure whether Crime is the right category into which to put Black Lake (a pretty much literal translation of Swartsjon).

The last couple of efforts, Modus and Follow the Money 2, have not really been up to the standard I’d like, and on the evidence of the first week’s pairing, I’m not sure how Black Lake will pan out. Then again, now that the BBC i-Player demands registration to use, I have to get my episodes from other sources, which led to me watching a Part 2 whose English sub-titles were a mess to say the least, so that I’m not certain I’ve grasped all the subtleties.

But the series has three primary assets going for it on first acquaintance: more of the gloriously white Scandinavian forest, lake and mountain snowscapes, a leading character player by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, a young lady of fair and delicately fine features and form, and a complete absence of total and utter idiots in any leading roles.

The show begins with a flashback to twenty years ago, a handcuffed man walking through a silent ski-centre, taken into a basement, where, his handcuffs unlocked, he goes off the rails, demanding “Where are they?” Jump twenty years to Stockholm, and we have a party of eight Scandinavians in their mid to late twenties, meeting up to climb into two Volvos and head out to this same, unused centre. My instant assumption was a Freddy Kroeger type set-up, and I may not yet be totally wrong.

Anyway, this octet are equally divided between attractive girl and attractive boy, though they’re not all necessarily couples. There’s Hanne and Mette, her sister, who is some kind of doctor, her boyfriend Johan, who is considering buying this disused ski-centre. There’s Elin, a girl neither sister likes nor trusts, for good reason it would appear, and there’s Frank, Johan’s friend, who has brought his new girlfriend, Jessan, who nobody’s met before, plus Lippi and Osvald. One’s got conjunctivitis in his right eye, which is relevant, and the other’s beefy and some sort of chef.

All of these things we glean from the first part, plus the fact that Henne is on medication for something, in respect of which Mette is constantly watching over her. Of course, we know for a fact that Hanne will cease taking her pills long before half way, and indeed that’s one of the last things in part 1, though I’m not going to start doing a cliche count on that.

By then, Johan has asked her to marry him, and Hanne has accepted, though their’s is the kind of relationship where they sleep together without the slightest suggestion of sex (unlike Frank and Jessan, who are at it like bunnies almost immediately). And whilst Johan appears to sleep naked, Hanne’s the kind of girl who goes to bed in long pants, white spaghetti strap top and her bra still on underneath it.

Incidentally, the announcement of their engagement is received with great joy and warmth on the part of everybody, except Elin, who looks like someone’s just shot her pet bunny.

And almost as soon as she’s agreed to make Johan the happiest man on earth, Hanne learns that he’s lied to her, albeit by omission. He knew that the reason the ski-resort never opened was because someone dies there. Not died: was murdered.

And strange things are happening. There are rhythmic metallic thumpings from the basement half the night, and no, it isn’t Frank, Jessan and their position of the next thirty minutes. Erkki, the aged, grizzled caretaker, looks like he would refuse to even admit there was a basement if the door wasn’t there right under his nose: too dangerous, he says, besides, I haven’t got a key.

And finally, for part 1, with the orthodox subtitles, there’s Dag and Jostein, snowmobile merchants renting a shed on-site, with a sinister plan of their own, and in Dag’s case a bad case of inferiority complex towards Stockholmers that he wants to take out with a knife fight with Johan.

Things start to get a little clearer in part 2, especially as Johan quickly makes us aware that delicate Hanne lost her younger brother Jacob, 10 to her 12, through drowning and has never gotten over it. Is that why she’s obsessing about this part murder? Insistent on finding out every detail? In this, she’s assisted by the willing Jostein (can’t possibly think why he’s prepared to run around for such an attractive woman, can you? Johan certainly isn’t starting to get suspicious, no).

We learn from the retired Policeman, Broman, that the victims were a family, mother, father, two children, each one strangled. Even the two children. It’s horrible but it’s not enough for Hanne. When Broman refuses to let her watch the interrogation video, she has the helpgul Jostein steal it for her so she can obsessively watch it. Helgerson, the killer who was never tried because he drowned himself, is clearly off his head. But he strangled two children, sitting them down side by side, letting them hold hands. One member of the audience isn’t prepared to let him off for that.

Hanne’s obsession is starting to get a bit nerve-racking, and there’s weird stuff starting to go on. First Jessan gets conjunctivitis – in her right eye – after a dream of having something sit on her chest. Then she starts sleep-walking, playing with the crayons in the playroom. Then Osvald goes down into the secret basement, but claims not to remember anything, because he was sleeping, and he’s got conjunctivitis – in his right eye. And Hanne’s convinced that the ski-resort is haunted by a mythical child intent on lives being sacrificed to it, and that the voices of the two strangled children are trying to speak to them.

Because Jessan, after popping an E, starts raving, shouting ‘I killed the children’.

That sort of disturbs everyone, with the possible exception of Elin, who takes the first possible opportunity of Johan’s distraction to kiss him. Thankfully, Hanne’s too busy watching that video again, but Mette has her eyes wide open…

Let’s see how next week develops. And after seeing young Ms Boussnina in both 1864 and The Bridge, I’m more than pleased to have three more week’s opportunity to look at her.