Saturday SkandiThriller: Below the Surface 2 – episodes 7 & 8

Unsung heroes

Woah! The blurb in The Observer last Sunday promised a stunning ending to Below the Surface 2, better even than the first series. I’ve been looking forward to this all week. As I’ve often done before, I’m splitting this blogpost up, and writing about episode 7 before I watch the finale.

And what an episode! At first, I thought it was going to be a tension-ratchetting episode, drawing things out until we’re ready to scream: the Russians invade Herdis’s home, bag her, threaten to shoot the little dog, Benji. June’s phone is in an envelope lying in plain site, but the Russian lady doesn’t find it. Neither do SP and Simon, arriving to interrupt proceedings. My fears that one or both of this pair would be killed off were unfounded. There was a mini-shoot-out, with the Russian heavy getting wounded and the ice-blonde abandoning him per protocol, but Herdis keeps her nerve, lies to everyone, and leaves in her son-in-law’s truck, with the phone.

And on the Ferry, things are getting tense. The Engineer’s dead, the tanks are still full, they’ve already passed Provensteen island where the ambush awaits. But Philip finds the valves and dumps the fuel whilst Captain Hvalso convinces Yusuf that it’s Provensteen or drift into the Baltic.

But there are bombs inside the trailer, threatening the hostages. Philip has to get in and disarm them or the ambush won’t work. He’s trying to break through the trailer roof. June wants to kill Rami and Mahdi. Time’s getting tight. Rami discovers that Mahdi used Hassan’s body, that Philip and June are alive and free.

And then it all comes to a head. Mahdi panics, runs for it. Philip orders the troops notto shoot, but Rami does. Mahdi is down, shot in the shoulder, possibly dead. June welts Rami over the back of the head with a wrench. Yusuf orders Hvalso to drive the truck and trailer, heading for the exit. Philip’s in the back, disarming bombs as fast as he can. He gets the last one just as the truck reaches the barricade: a sniper shoots Yusuf through the shoulder: he too looks dead.

Unexpectedly, the hostage crisis is resolved with an episode to go. And if Yusuf is dead, how can TTF track down who was pulling his strings? Mind you, the ferry is yet to be secured, Rami and June. June’s on our side, Philip says, blithely. Andwe cut to June, armed with Rami’s gun, running away, furtively.

Is there a big surprise coming? As I said, Woah!

In the end, though, the ending was not as advertised, and certainly lacked the personal tragedies that made the first series so brilliant. The episode began with June pursuing Rami and Philip pursuing June, assuming she intended to kill him. Not so. June wounds him in the leg and takes him hostage, a clever if short-lived reversal. She’ll let him go once she gets her phone back. This development doesn’t last long: the Strike Team are ready to attack but Philip goes in first, disarms June by shooting her in the arm. As for Rami, who has been defiled by being touched by June (there really are some sick aspects to the fanatic’s version of that religion), he tries to restore his honour by knifing her and Philip,and only loses his life by being shot, several times.

So at last it’s over, barring the mopping up. But the mopping up has heavy implications. Faithful Herdis, no less fanatical in her way than the religious nuts, givesJune back her phone in thee hospital. The blonde Russian, Anna Karashina, is identified from CCTV footage of June’sarrest at the airport. Bulow recognises her. Anna’s going to be deported, or she would be if she wasn’t going to be pulled out first. But she’s taking June with her, the first ever extradition from Denmark to Russia.

June doesn’t mind. She’s handed her phone to Philip who, after having seen that the two dead Danish soldiers were Rangers, his old mob, has promised to get the video out. Philip’s hacker buddies can upload it to the internet, untraceably, via the Dark Web. Unfortunately, Philip has to abort once he hears of June.

Philip rescues June one last time, swapping the phone for her extradition papers. It’s a yielding to the infamous realpolitik, doing the wrong thing to protect the country as a whole, not that anyone ever tests the opposite hypothesis, because they don’t want to, they’re fixated on being tough-minded, the mad arrogant bastards.

June, needless to say, is furious. She has her life back, and her family, at the expense of her cause, and we all know what matters most to her. Philip is left with a troubled conscience, the desire to expose wrong set against the knowledge that the entire State apparatus will be turned against him if he tries, andthis now he’s decided to go back to TTF.

I spent the last six or seven minutes expecting something explosive, literally explosive, to happen. But the series was too sophisticated for that kind of cliche. Its explosion was metaphorical, not literal: the Hacker Twins still had a copy of most of the video, 88% of it, to be specific. Should they wipe it, or….?

So the video comes out, and questions start to be asked. How much they might affect the now inevitable third series, I don’t know, but I’m happy to wait.

No, series 2 didn’t match up to series 1. It was still a sophisticated, gripping thriller, free from cliches, of a standard I wish this country could reach. But by opting for realpolitik concerns against private grief, honour and commitment, it condemned itself to stay merely a thriller. It avoided the personal on anything except a personal level, and left the hard questions to a credits-covering voiceover.

Even so, if series 3 is no better than this, I’ll still lap it up. But one can dream, can’t one?

Saturday SkandiThriller: Below the Surface 2 – episodes 5 & 6

Our Russian Friend


The first half of this week’s double bill kept us alert with a revelation, two connections and a twist at the end of episode 5 that, in a UK series, we’d see through in an Oresund heartbeat, and which even here was pretty hard to take completely seriously. With three episodes left, even the most hard-edged, risk-taking thriller series is not going to kill off both of its two leads at once, but just how the trick was going to be worked was something that set a high bar for episode 6.

Like a high-speed 24, we’re now into the daylight hours of the series, dawn creeping up and everyone still working overtime to be ready to resolve the hostage situation on the ferry. But the revelation, which explains just why the Russians are behind Yusuf and the kidnap plot, comes in one of two flashbacks for June. Remember that infamous footage she has of Danish solidiers being killed in Syria? They are being killed by the Russians: hence our cool peroxide blondewith the sleek Nineties hairdo being so eager to recover the mobile phone with the footage.

Which is currently held by dog-groomer Herdis, who sat next to June on the plane out of Syria, with her do Benji: that’s the connection. And by the halfway pointthis week, the Russians have Herdis’s name and her whereabouts.

But the trail is developing, and of course it’s the reliable SP and Simon who are on it. After his moment of indecision last week, Garnov is out, and the guy who stepped in (whose name and position I can’t at this moment recall or determine) has taken temporary charge. Meanwhile, our two most professional lieutennts have picked up Rafiq Hussain, owner of the apartment where the self-styled Brothers of Islam have their ‘mosque’ and hauled him in. And when the self-righteous Rami, out there on the boat – the biggest kind of religious idiot, sure he is right and everyone else will roll over because Allah is on his side – decides that Yusuf isn’t as smart as Rami thinks and calls Rafiq to get them to Syria (just like that: Allah will provide, remember), that gives SP and Simon what they need to link Rafiq to the Ferry, and turn him.

We learn that Yusuf is a nwcomer, more radical than though. Remember, that’s Ola Rapace under that face-fuzz, so just as Alpha in series one was only playing being a Muslim, I’m anticipating tht Yusuf too is playing a part we don’t yet know about.

Rami, however, is your original radical. Little brother Mahdi will be safe and will achieve paradise because Rami the blind fanatic says so. All he’s got to do is put a bag over June’s head and Philip’s head, shoot them both, film it. Philip, who’s been frozen half to death, sprayed with scalding water and hung several times and who consequently is not at the top of his game, tries to talk him out of it. He has a wife (Rami has already written her off for Mahdi) and he’s going to have a son. Philip’s offering a kind of Witness Protection.

And Mahdi puts a bag over June’s head and Philip’s head, shoots them both, films it. Both bodies go in the water under Raman’s proud-of-my-little-brother eye. How did they get around that?

Actually, it’s easy. There are two dead bodies hanging round, one male, one female, one dead terrorist convert, one dead canteen lady, and all that’s needed is a change of clothes. And now Philip’s got a certain freedom of movement on the boat, with the assistance of a blind eye from Mahdi, who wants back to his wife and son-to-be, but can’t bring himself to let the engineer (who’s been hiding out in the engine room all this time) gas Rami to death.

Rami and Mahdi’s little trick with ‘philip’ and ‘June’ has gone world-wide on the net, even as far as our dangerous Russian blonde (who hasn’t yet got to Herdis in Jutland in episode 6: the roads must be busy). Yusuf is now on his own with no reason to trust his amateur allies, so he starts negotiating with Garnov, who has to be brought back into the fold for this.

Philip’s also able to liaise ship-to-shore, guiding the authorities towards a plan to pretend to offer the terrorists a plane to Syruia whilsat guiding them to an island from which there are multiple attack angles. So the Ferry starts to move. As do SP and Simon, doggedly following June’s trail, discovering her home laptop is bugged by military hardware (Bulow denies it’s Danish), and now they’re off to Jutland. I have a bad feeling about this.

It’s all starting to turn inwards towards the end-game. According to the Observer, we’re heading towards a climax even bigger and better than last season. I don’t exactly see eye to eye with the Observer on a lot of things and their idea of better isn’t necessarily mine. But I’m watching very closely…

Saturday SkandiThriller: Below the Surface 2 – episodes 3 & 4

A Russian

It’s almost frightening how quickly we reach halfway, but we reach halfway with the first inklings of what might lie behind the story in Gidseltagningen‘s second series.

Up to this point, the third and fourth episodes were almost purely thriller, long on tension, short on development, but not in any way less engrossing. Episode 3 saw the ferry arrive in more-or-less mid-Oresund Sound, when it was allowed to stop, out of shoooting range of both countries. That with its engines off it would then become subject to the tide does not seem to be a factor anyone has considered and by this I mean kidnappers and writers: the ferry is just sitting there, not going anywhere.

Meanwhile, on shore, two lots of Police are preparing to deal with the situation, but as this still isn’t The Bridge, we only get to see the Danish side. Everyone’s in the dark, especially Darnov, the current Commander of TTF during Philip’s gardening leave. and it’s obvious from his immaculately cut beard and his elegant suit that he is not an action-oriented leader. Indeed, he can’t cut it when it really needs cutting.

We’re not up to that point yet. Nobody knows anything, not even that Philip is on board, though as the situation intensifies overnight, intelligence is gathered until TTF know almost as much as we do about the hostage takers.

Most of episode 3 is spent in hunting down June, who’s using all her paramilitary expertise to stay ahead of her hunters. One of the two truck drivers, the wimpier one, the driver, gives her away to the terrorists, but of course she’s no longer on the truck. He becomes the first hostage to be killed, as June ignores his plight in her efforts to escape.

Unfortunately, the second isto be a double-header: mother and six month old baby. Philip tries to talk June in, but her intransigence – which we see develop through a series of flashbacks of her advancing radicalisation – remains absolute. She constructs home-made bombs, chucks one at the wimpy terrorist Mahdi, brains him with a fire extinguisher that she brings down with skull-crushing force only for it not to even give him a headache, and is only stopped by pointblank machineguns as she leads a hostage fightback that forces her to drop her weapons.

Philip spends most of these two episodes out of action. He starts unconscious, spends most of episode 3 under armed guard, gets lockd in the freezer, frees himself once but goes straight back inside where, as his paraallel flashbacks with the sympathetic Beate illustrates, he gives up, helpless.

Onshore, the Minister authorises a raid, in force, covertly. Unfortunately, it’s not covert enough: the boats of armed anti-terrorist Police are seen by the moron terrorist and a trap is left. Unfortunately for him, he’s the bait, left to be gunned down to guide the attackers into the lounge where six hostages are wired to C4…

The attack’s a flop. Yusuf gives them thirty seconds to get clear or the rest of the hostages die. Garnov wastes ten of them being unable to decide what to do. TTF pull out. New impasse.

What is all behind this? The terrorists want a number from June, a mobile phone, and Yusuf is prepared to waterboard her for it. Rami, Mahdi’s fanatic brother and the one you’d most enjoy seeing be gut-shot and bleeding out over the whole of episode 7, gives her ten minutes to write it down or he’ll slit her throat (without recognising the self-defeating aspect of that threat). June writes it down.

Onshore, Military intelligence Chief Bulow once again has a cryptic meeting with his Russian diplomatic opposite to tell her that Denmark won’t hand June over. Meanwhile, the mobile phone number June’s written down leads us to the dog-grooming salon, where a mobile phone is stolen. And handed to Russia’s diplomatic representative. Well, well.

Despite the couple of slipshod moments in the writing, which I found somewhat depressing after the absence of them in 2017, I’m still on board (as is Philip) to find out where this is going, and how many more get killed along the way. The third week is when we usually start to see more of the shape of things…

Saturday SkandiThriller: Below the Surface 2: episodes 1 & 2

I said at the end of this brilliant Danish thriller’s first series that  I thought they’d left themselves no ground on which to build a second series but that I’d watch it like a shot if they did. And here we are with series 2, another eight episodes and, on the strength of the first two, as good as it was before.

Of the three stars in series 1, there’s no room for Sara Hjort Ditlevsen as Louise or Paprike Steen as Naja Toft but Johannes Lassen returns as Philip Norgaard, the ex-Army Captain, ex-hostage and halfway to being ex-Commander of the Danish Police’s Terror Task Force (TTF). Philip is on leave for a year, a kind of gardening leave to recover from the events of series 1. He’s been seeing a psychologist, Beate Seitso (Helle Fagralid), initially not of his own volition, and we don’t yet know how good she is at psychology but she’s been good for him on one level, because the pair are in love, make warm, loving (as opposed to gymnastic) sex, he’s moved in with her and her ten year old son Asger (Bertil Smith) and he’s not going back when his leave is over.

Yes, I know, it’s a cliche of sorts, the idyllic life about to be shattered by unforeseen events that will propel the hero back into action and demonstrate to him that the quiet life is not for him. After the dismal season 3 of Follow the Money I am prepared for this rather tedious structure to play out, but we have three more weekends to find out if that’s what the team have in mind and Below the Surface starts from a higher level so I am hopeful.

For all that, and my praise of the first series’ refusal to allow mavericks to compromise it, it is necessary to admit that the premise of the second series is based on something rather too close to that.

The first episode starts in typical Scandinavian fashion, introducing us to various, seemingly unrelated elements, in media res, that we will ponder over the relevance and interrelation of until they are knit together. The largest of these are Philip, and co-star Yasmin Mahmoud, playing June Al-Qabee, a 22 year old radicalised Danish student who went to Syria to fight ISIS, who has been tried and convicted for it and surrendered her password for twelve months. June, who is gloriously (or fanatically: we don’t know enough yet) unrepentant, is both dangerous and in danger. There is a fatwa issued on her, plus she has footage of Danish soldiers being killed in Syria, where, of course, no Danish soldiers are. Officially.

The connection between these two is tangential: Philip gave a guest lecture at June’s college where she challenged him in pretty straightforward terms about how fucked-up everyone has made Syria. But she’s trying to get the footage to Philip, not realising he’s on leave, and when she tries to speak to him directly, she’s kidnapped.

Philip swings into action, tracks the kidnap car to a nearby underground parking garage, but no further. So he brings in TTF, in the person of the reliable SP and Simon (Alexandre Willaume and Peder Thomas Pedersen, welcome returnees from series 1). They approach the case professionally, but with less conviction that Philip, the more so after Military Intelligence, in the person of its Chief, Lars F. Bulow (Soren Pilmark) arrive to claim jurisdiction. Bulow will go on to doctor TTF’s report on June, redacting like crazy for reasons yet to be disclosed.

But Philip, even though he’s been warned off the case, is still thinking about it. June has been kidnapped, by four Muslims, made up of one competent leader (Yusuf, played by Ola Rapace, who was Denmark’s answer to lonely, big-breasted, Fifties Danish women in Crimes of Passion, as dear old Christer) delivering June to a mystery figure we know of as Abdul, one moron (there is always one), one naive boy and one religious fanatic, the latter being Mahdi Hasan (Anis Alobaidi). And it’s Mahdi’s name, which has come up in TTF’s preliminary investigation overlooked by Philip, that Asger, the kidnapping’s only witness now mentions.

Philip goes in pursuit. At the moment, I’m avoiding the ‘M’ word in favour of ‘rogue’. Yes, he’s used illegal hacking to track Mahdi’s whereabouts using his mobile phone, but he’s representing himself as Police, and when the moment comes he engages procedure, because he knows procedure works.

To get to that point, Philip has called in favours from Kiki, daughter of Olai, the guy with whom he’s restoring a dilpidated boat, to track the kidnappers’ Audi to the Elsinore-Oresund Ferry, where they’re travelling to Sweden. (Apparently, we can’t use the Oresund Bridge, presumably because it’s under trademark to The Bridge, though the real reason for the Ferry – which is being captained by familiar and welcome Soren Malling – will shortly become apparent). Philip has to physically leap the widening gap to catch the Ferry.

Practically the whole of episode 2 takes place on the Ferry. June escapes, the gang search for her, Philip prowls. Oresund draws near. Once he’s scouted the place thoroughly, Philip alerts the Captain to press the red button, the alert to Swedish police. In typical Below the Surface fashion, no-one plays silly buggers aout the Captain not believing and he pushes the button. Process starts. SP and Simon are called in.

And someone’s monitoring the Police intelligence and warns Yusuf, Mahdi and co they’ve been rumbled. Breaking out machine guns, they storm the bridge and order the ferry to stop. The second-in-command refuses and is shot. The Captain puts the Ferry in reverse. We have a hostage situation again.

This is where English retitling comes a cropper. The original Danish title is Gidseltagningen, which translates as ‘Hostages’. The overly simplistic retitling for series 1 has hung a misleading yoke on the series. But this is where we’re at, and this is where we’ll progress from. And, looking forward in anticipation, this is a good point to assume there’ll be a Below the Surface 3 in due course.

Just one more thing to mention before we settle down to watch the stand-off play out. I did refer to disparate strands seeming to be unrelated, and one of thsse is a  skinny elderly woman, who runs a dog-grooming business with her daughter, and who seems to take an inordinate interest in June. For why? We don’t know yet. All we do know is that this lady’s perky black and white dog used to belong to June…

Saturday SkandiDrama: 1864 – Parts 5 & 6

Prime Minister and eminence grise

1864 just gets better and better by the episode, which makes blogging it harder and harder. There are an abundance of riches here, in all the three principal elements of the story, and the greatest difficulty is to find a way of describing what is being done without descending into endless gosh-wow.

Take episode 5, to begin with. It begins once more with Claudia reading Inge’s words, a reflective moment in her diary that once more refreshes us as to where things stand in what might be called the soap-opera strand. She loves both Laust and Peter, but is pregnant and disowned by her family. It’s Laust’s child and the concealment of their sexual relationship has caused Peter to become estranged from both, which has  separated the brothers in the stage of the War.

Claudia, who has violently lost her nose-ring in her attempt last week to con money out of the perverts in the pub, is by now fascinated by this tale, but the Baron distracts her from it momentarily by displaying to her two sabres, and showing how easy it is to determine if they have been used. One is shiny, pristine, razor sharp: it belonged to his grandfather, the traumatised, cowardly Didrich. The other is stained with uncleaned blood, chipped and blunted where it has cut into bone and metal buttons: this belong to Dinesen, who survived the war completely unscathed, the man soldiers should stand next to.

Whilst we digest the information that Didrich is the Baron’s grandfather, and recall that last Saturday he called Inge his grandmother, and muse on that will mean, Claudia’s voice draws us back into the War. It’s like an abstract of what happens, a non-cohesive account of this phase, Peter’s group have stayed behind to disable the abandoned Dannevirk, and must now run north toward Dybbol with the Prussian Army at their heels, Laust is far ahead, under Didrich’s command.

Both undergo traumas in the swirling snows that make so much of the episode look as if it is filmed in black and white. Laust loses a cannon which runs into a lake. Didrich insists he and his squad retrieve it and not leave it, frozen solid, for the Prussians. Laust has to jump into the lake, which is pitifully stupid, and which gets him nothing but a fever that seems bound to kill him. Peter’s squad is forced to confront Prussian officers. Dinesen saves them from certain death, but Peter is forced to shoot a hussar, who collapses onto his bayonet: the man hangs there, staring into Peter’s eyes.

And around them, bits of the war take place, the reality of war, of death, dismemberment and destruction, not the increasingly blind fantasy being pursued by the fanatical Mrs Heiberg and the increasingly absurd Monrad. The disowned Inge heads south with the gypsies, including the mute Sophie, whom she discovers is also pregnant, by Didrich’s rape. Inge has no idea, but Sophie’s brother Djarko knows the truth: it’s a horrifying shock that he rants at Sophie, calling her a whore, for being raped. Nineteenth century morals: so wonderful.

But in a series that’s been so resolutely down-to-earth, whose depiction of the horror of war has been admirably practical, unafraid of the truth without wallowing in gore, there’s an odd moment midway through this episode in which things start to take a strange turn, that continues to lightly brush the remainder of the hour. Inge and Laust communicate telepathically in their non-sleep, Laust sees visions, Monrad curls up on his desk like a fearful child, and Larssen sees his squad through to safety by overcoming a German squad by what is probably hypnosis (or animal magnetism, as it would have been then).

This episode ended with the beginning of bombardment, the warfare of the trenches unleashed on Dybbol. For the Danes there will be no hope.

Moving on to the back half of the series, the ‘action’ stays in Dybbol: we do not even approach Copenhagen save by morse, when the Government refuses to allow the Army to retreat further, despite the inevitability of massacre – the bombardment has extended to the town of Sonderburg as well. The Army’s new General-in-Chief has been appointed because he is a weakling who will follow orders: knowing that everyone under his command will die, he refuses to countermand the stupidity.

Inge and Sofia arrive in Sonderburg and the former finds Didrich. But the coward lies to her, telling her that both Peter and Laust are dead. In the latter case, he’s all but correct. Didrich piously explains to the coma-overtaken Laust that he’d lied to spare Inge the sight of seeing her lover like this, but then gloats about ‘looking after’ a dishonoured whore.

There’s a timely interlude where, the German’s having introduced a military band to their trenches to improve their soldiers’ morale, and wind up the Dane’s, Peter’s squad is sent out under cover of darkness to slice sentries’ throats and gun the band down. Unfortunately, success goes to Alfred’s drunken head the next day, when the band is silent: climbing out of the trench, he celebrates, but gets both hands shot off by snipers.

He is rushed to the hospital, where Inge and Sofia have argued their way in as nurses. In an almost unbelievable moment, Inge and Paul literally brush shoulders, but they are turning in opposite directions, and neither sees the other.

This scene immediately prefixes the strangest moment so far: Larssen enters the closed off sector where Laust is waiting to die, straddles his chest, forms the fingers of his hand into a pyramid and plunges it into Laust’s chest, above his heart. Blood runs, Laust spasms, but Larssen withdraws a lump of ice which he first holds above Laust’s mouth, dripping meltwater from it, before dropping it in. He tells Laust that he’ll be well now, and as the pisode ends, a fully healthy Laust returns to duty.

It’s an astonishing moment, yet whilst seeming so completely inimical to what 1864 has been thus far, it does not seem wholly implausible, and I want to see where this element is going.

Because episode 6 has thrown in a twist that may yet be a derailment for the whole series. Instead of our usual start at the old Baron’s decrepit home, Claudia has gone to her home, to her mother, still pitifully mourning her dead son, Sebastien. The woman can barely function, but Claudia manages to direct her to her purpose. She believes there is a trace of Gypsy in their heritage, which her mother confirms comes from Claudia’s dad’s side. There’s an old album of photos, but these contain more than just photos, but also old letters. One that Claudia reads is about war: she is shocked that it mentions Laust. Moreover, it is signed Peter.

At the end, she takes these to the Baron. There is an old photo, of a couple, with children, a very old photo. The woman is Claudia’s Great-great-great-grandmother. We recognise her as Sofia. The Baron, being blind, asks Claudia to describe the man to him. He recognises every word but we don’t need them. Even through the full beard we’ve already recognised him as Peter. The Baron is almost crying as Claudia, still puzzled, ask what it means. It means we’re related, he says.

This I’m not sure about. More than the unbelievable, this is perhaps a moment too far to accept. But there are four more episodes to go, and I’ll await the end before I seek to judge.

It’s not the end though, not quite. The last word goes to a peace conference in London, presided over by Palmerston, who, gently but frankly, tells the Danes they are doomed to massacre. When the stiff-necked Lundby marches out, insisting that God will intervene since the Danes are in the right, the resigned Palmerston politely asks the German, Moltke, if the inevitable can be done gently. Moltke asks if he has ever heard of a gentle war.

The ungentle battle comes next week. And apparently I’ve got it wrong with my assumption of ten episodes: 1864 weighs in with only eight. It’ll all be done by this time next week.

Saturday SkandiDrama: 1864 – Parts 1 & 2

Peter, Laust and Inge

It’s been a long while since there’s been any decent Danish drama on BBC4 at 9.00pm on Saturday night, but the new historical series 1864 looks well placed to make up for that drought. It may not be a crime series, but then neither was Borgen, and that was none the worst for that.

As usual, there are two episodes, back to back, and I’m assuming that 1864 follows the traditional Danish template of ten episodes, though on the evidence of the first two, a lot of ground is going to be covered and it’s going to be interesting to see if ten hours is going to be enough to complete everything that’s been started here.

For most Britons without an interest in European history, the date, 1864, will be meaningless. It relates to what the Danish call The Second Schleswig War, which will automatically trigger memories in those of us who studied History A Level in the early Seventies and who cannot help but add the companion word Holstein. We know it as the Schleswig-Holstein Question, an obscure point of complex claims about which the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, once claimed that there were only three men in Europe who understood it: one was dead, another had been driven mad, and the third, Palmerston, had forgotten the answer.

But whilst this may seem an obscure and irrelevant point of history to us, the Second Schleswig War is part of a chain of historical events that sent the history of Europe on a course to where we are now. Where the Danes had defeated Prussia in the First Schleswig War, 1848 – 51, in the Second they experienced a crushing defeat that saw the Duchy of Schleswig absorbed into the German Confederation, only a few years before the Unification of Germany under the dominance of the heavily-militarised Prussia, a Unification that would lead, in due course, to the two World Wars of the Twentieth Century.

So yes, the subject might seem of little importance, it is in fact a key step in how Count Otto von Bismark manipulated the fate of Germany.

But this isn’t going to be a purely historical drama, relating the facts of the War. The first episode, in particular, divides its time between 1851, 1863 and a so-far puzzling strand set in 2014. This is because a major strand of the drama is going to centre upon the three-side romance between Inge, the Estate Manager’s daughter, and Laust and Peter, twin-but-very-different sons of Tolger, a tenant of the Baron who returns from the First Schleswig War with a suppurating leg wound that will not heal (and which kills him at the start of episode 2).

Also back from the war, physically wounded but obviously traumatised, is the Baron’s heir, Didrich. Didrich is going to be a problem, which becomes most clear as he attempts to start a seduction of Inge, who is only about 11 here.

Whilst this picture of a genuinely idyllic childhood, shadowed but lightly yet by the aftermath of a war that Denmark has won, goes on, the story alternates with the political build-up in 1863 to the Second War. This centres upon the political Liberal leader, both an enthusiast for the beginnings of modern democracy and an uber-patriot, Bishop Monrad, whose flagging energies are restored by acquaintance with the passionate actress Mrs Heiberg.

And in the twenty-first century, an unpleasant young woman, a self-centred, cynical, weed-smoking slacker who genuinely believes that the world owes her a living is pretty much abandoned unless she starts acting as a Meals-on-Wheels cum Housekeeper for a wheelchair-bound old man who is the contemporary Baron. He’s nearly as offensive as Claudia, though her self-entitled attitude puts her well ahead on points as far as I’m concerned.

The opening episode meanders composedly between these varying elements, making no effort to tie them into a structured story, confident that we will stick around to see how the pieces go together. And it’s not just the reputation of Danish drama that keeps us in place for a second episode, in which a sense of purpose does start to grow, and 1864 starts to feel like something genuinely great.

The second moves the historical action temporarily into 1863, Laust, Peter and Inge growing into young adult roles and still inseparable friends, though sexual interests are beginning to make themselves felt. In Copenhagen, Monrad, encouraged thoroughly by the now-widowed Mrs Heiberg, starts driving Denmark, God’s own, privileged country, towards a war that will unite Schleswig within the boundaries of the country and force its preponderence of German speakers to speak the holy Danish language only.

In Prussia, Bismark begins to prepare a response that will both crush Denmark and advance his plans for German Unification.

And on the Estate, the Baron acts to separate Inge from her friends, sending Peter and Laust into the Army.

In 2014, Claudia is continuing to visit the Baron, though only with an eye for stealing from him things that can be sold to provide herself and her even more offensive boyfriend with money that isn’t theirs. In a chest, she finds and pockets some jewellery before being disturbed by the present day Baron, but she also finds the book, the thick, handwritten book that is Inge’s memoirs and which is being used to narrate the series: her reading from the book underpins the narrative of episode 2 and the draw to bring her worthless ass back for episode 3.

Before which, Laust and Peter return on leave in the midst of a country dance for which Inge has donned an overlarge soldier’s uniform, and smeared her face with a greasy black moustache that draws Didrich’s eye. But instead she goes off to the woods and the shore with her two closest friends. There, stood with them in the water, she kisses Peter first, but it is Laust with whom she loses her virginity, enthusiastically. We will see where this leads.

Given that Denmark’s talent pool for actors and actresses is not very wide, it’s hardly surprising that there are a number of familiar faces on show here, fleetingly distracting you with the shadow of prior roles: Lars Eriksen (The Killing), Pilou Asbek and Sidne Babbett Knudsen (Borgen) and Nicolas Bro (The Killing 2) this far, whilst the trailer for next week reveals that they will be joined by Soren Malling (The Killing and Borgen). Not to mention a face familiar from non-Scandinavian television and a great favourite of all of us here, the wonderful Barbara Flynn.

Given the complete mess made by Fortitude in trying to put together a Skandi-influenced mysterious series, just the first two episodes alone are enough to make me wonder aloud about why Britain, with its much greater resources, can’t do anything half as good as this? I may say that again, several times, during the next four weeks.