No longer just crime: Nordic TV's new wave

Turku (Finland) (AFP) –


For over a decade, Nordic crime series such as "The Bridge" and "Wallander" have captivated international TV audiences with stories of brooding detectives, elaborate murders and bleak Scandinavian landscapes.

But now the success of so-called Nordic noir has spawned overseas interest in a new wave of TV productions from Europe's far north, this time in genres from period drama to teen horror.

One hotly anticipated release is Swedish supernatural series "Cryptid" about unexplained goings-on among a group of college kids in the fictional small town of Morkstad.

Premiering in the Nordics this month, the series has generated "strong interest" abroad, according to its international distributor Beta Film, with sales so far to Germany's Joyn and France's Salto streaming services.

The 10-part show has also made the official selection for the Cannes TV series festival in the south of France, which opens on Friday, where a record six of the 20 shortlisted series are Scandi productions.

"The rise of streaming platforms has generated a demand for content that stands out and is still fairly cheap, and this is true for Nordic content," Aarhus University associate professor Pia Jensen told AFP.

"Nordic series have for the most part quite high production values, which is key if you want to sell on the international market."

The binge-friendly, half-hour episodes of "Cryptid" have a more dynamic feel than the slow-moving plot lines which often characterise Nordic shows.

The format -- and the colours -- also set the series apart from other Swedish horror hits, like the 2008 vampire film "Let the Right One In".

When AFP visited the "Cryptid" film set in October last year, a small, tree-lined lake close to the southwestern Finnish town of Turku had been turned into the setting of sinister happenings that begin to terrorise the town's youngsters.

"There's something lurking underneath the surface but we never know what," director David Berron told AFP.

The series will have "a lot more colour and flavour" than the gritty, grey realism of Scandi crime successes like "The Bridge" and "The Killing", he added.

"In Nordic noir, everything is very calm and low and melancholy, and this one has that spirit still, but we've added some more spices," Berron said.

- Comic noir -

Branded "Nordic comic noir" by the show's makers, the different feel partly stems from Cryptid's originator, the acclaimed French graphic novelist Sylvain Runberg, known for adapting Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy into the graphic novel format.

Runberg, who has divided his time between France and Sweden for the past decade, believes the success of Nordic drama is down to the contrast between the comfortable veneer of Scandinavian society and its dark undercurrents of crime, prejudice and pent-up aggression.

"It's a society which everyone can recognise themselves in, not that different to what you experience in France, the US or Britain," Runberg told AFP.

But the stories are "often very brutal and violent, which is not at all what you experience day-to-day in Scandinavia," he said.

"It gives them a certain feel, a resonance."

- New things coming -

International interest in non-crime Nordic series has stepped up in recent years.

Norway's "Skam" (Shame), a 2015 web series that took an unflinching look at the lives of a group of high school students, broke viewership records in Scandinavia, before sparking remakes across Europe and the United States.

"Ride Upon the Storm", from the creator of Danish political drama "Borgen", saw lead actor Lars Mikkelsen win an Emmy in 2018 for his portrayal of a priest at the centre of a family drama.

"Borgen", one of Nordic's first non-crime international successes, has itself now been recommissioned for a fourth series to air in 2022.

And in the coming weeks, viewers in Norway will be the first to see the lavish World War II-era drama "Atlantic Crossing".

The eight-hour show has been sold throughout Europe and a US deal is in final negotiations, distributor Beta Film said.

The action is based on a true story and takes place largely in the US, where Norway's crown princess Martha, played by Sofia Helin of "The Bridge", flees after the Nazis invade her country.

There, she strikes up an intimate friendship with president Franklin Roosevelt, played by "Twin Peaks" star Kyle MacLachlan.

While new Nordic genres are growing in popularity though, it is not at the expense of Scandi crime.

Netflix this year released "Young Wallander", a new take on novelist Henning Mankell's troubled detective.

And last year, the BBC acquired Denmark's "The Investigation", based on the 2017 murder of journalist Kim Wall.

"There will be new things coming out of the Nordics," Justus Riesenkampff from Beta Film told AFP.

"But there will always be a lot of crime."