Books, TV, Movies & Music

Forbrydelsen/The Killing: Possibly The Greatest TV Series Ever Made

“I saw that sweater and I just felt it was so perfect because to me it tells a lot of stories. It tells the story of a woman who’s not vain and it tells the story of a woman who’s so self-confident that she doesn’t have to show by the way she dresses that she can compete with the men.” ~Sofie Gråbøl, on the jumper worn by her ‘The Killing’ character Sarah Lund. 

Since the last few posts I’ve written have been a bit heavy going and potentially triggery I thought maybe I should lighten things up a bit and write about something a little more comfortable. So I’ve decided to tell you about a TV show in which lots of people get murdered and nothing remotely cheerful ever happens to any of the characters.

But it is really excellent TV noir; easily one of the best series I’ve ever seen.

I’m going to tell you about the Danish version of The Killing, that we watched with subtitles. There’s a US remake that would possibly be easier to watch as it’s in English; that show might be excellent also, I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen it. Either way I think you should give the Danish version a go anyway.

Even without seeing it I can tell you that by watching the English-language version you’d be missing out on watching the incredible actress Sofie Gråbøl – and her character’s by now legendary jumpers. You also wouldn’t get to see the rest of the cast of ridiculously attractive Scandinavians being ridiculously attractive and Scandinavian. The Danish series also has the advantage of being set in Copenhagen, so visually it’s essentially three series of brooding murder mysteries set on top of a chocolate box. I somehow can’t imagine the US remake having managed to recreate an atmosphere that quite matches it.

All in all I think the quality of this drama more than makes up for the subtitles, even if you usually hate them. Plus there’s the added bonus that you get to kid yourself that you’re learning some Danish while you’re watching it.

So far I’ve only actually watched the first two of the three series of Forbrydelsen – which literally translates as ‘the crime’ rather than ‘the killing’ – because they’re the ones that are on Netflix. I’m still waiting for series three to arrive from Amazon.

Forbrydelsen I

Forbrydelsen I opens with the discovery of the body of missing student Nanna Birk Larsen by a police search team lead by Detective Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl). It is supposed to be Lund’s last day on the job, as she and her son are due to move to Sweden to join Lund’s Swedish boyfriend, a forensic psychologist. With the advent of this new major case Lund reluctantly agrees to stay on a few days longer to bring her replacement, Jan Meyer (Søren Malling), up to speed, however, the aftermath of the brutal murder soon wreaks more lasting changes on her life; as with every other character who is touched by the case.

The series follows the investigation into Nanna’s death, with each episode featuring one day that follows on from the killing. It is similar to The Wire in as much as the show isn’t simply a police procedural pitting the cops against the bad guys, the drama shows us the repercussions of the investigation from the point of view of all the characters it touches.

We see Nanna’s parent, Theis (Bjarne Henriksen) and Pernille (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen), struggle to come to terms with the loss of their daughter while trying to shield their two small sons as best they can from what has happened. The lives of Nanna’s college friends and her teacher, Rama (Farshad Kholghi), are also changed forever by the murder.

There is also a political thread to the story as the murder investigation has major ramifications for the ongoing mayoral election race. Prior to the killing Troels Hartmann (Lars Mikkelsen, looking absolutely beautiful in stark contrast to his more recent appearance in Sherlock) had been confident of defeating his opponent, the corrupt incumbent Poul Bremer (Bent Mejding); but when he is suspected of involvement in the case both his campaign and his relationship with his political advisor and lover Rie Skovgaard (Marie Askehave) are thrown into chaos.

Hartmann is not the only suspected killer. In fact almost every character outside of the police force finds themselves the focus of the investigation at one time or other; and thanks to superb writing by Søren Sveistrup the show keeps the viewer in genuine suspense right until the final episode. The fact that the show was written and filmed as it originally aired may have supported this, as none of the cast knew who the killer was or how the series would end until they were handed their scripts in preparation for filming the finale.

Sviestrup’s writing of the ensemble in terms of both characterisation and plotting are fantastic. The only criticism that I can make of the whole project is that the revelation of how Nanna came to be in the place where she was murdered is too contrived for such an otherwise slick and seemless piece of storytelling. It jars with a lot of what has previously happened and isn’t quite believable.

And Sofie Gråbøl’s performance as the taciturn but brilliant detective Sarah Lund is outstanding. Gråbøl herself has described Lund as being the same as any one of Clint Eastwood’s characters, only she’s a woman. Lund is almost comically aloof and inept at social situations, ending every single phone call throughout both series by hanging up mid conversation, but her single-minded dedication to her job make her far more effective than most of her colleagues. She also wears a series of strikingly bad jumpers, which were so popular with the viewers when the show originally aired that it caused them to sell out across Europe.

Forbrydelsen II

Forbrydelsen II sets a slightly different tone. This series has more deaths, opening with the discovery of the first victim of a serial murderer, but only half the number of hour-long episodes (ten). The serial killer proceeds to target members of the a single army unit whose officers had previously served in Afghanistan.

As with the first series there three threads to this drama; the first centering on the investigation led by Lund and her new colleague, and potential love interest, Ulrik Strange (Mikael Birkkjær), under the watchful eye of their boss Lennart Brix (Morten Suurballe); the second on the relationships between the officers of the local army base where the murdered soldiers are or have previously been stationed; and the third focussing on the political ramifications at the Justice Department caused by reaction to the murders and how these are handled by the newly anointed Justice Minister, Thomas Buch (the excellent Nicolas Bro).

Similarly to the first series none of the characters prove themselves to be above suspicion of wrong doing even if they aren’t directly implicated in the murders. The series conclusion is equally powerful, even if the revelation of the eventual culprit isn’t quite so surprising.

Forbrydelsen III

Forbrydelsen III I can’t tell you anything about other than Sofie Gråbøl is still in it and the plot is in someway linked to the financial crisis. I’ve avoided reading any further down the Wikipedia article about the show because I don’t want to hear any spoilers before I watch it. I want the development of the story and revelation of the culprit to be as exciting as it’s been with the other two series.

Anyway, I hope I’ve sold it enough to you because if you haven’t already you really, really, need to watch this show.

6 thoughts on “Forbrydelsen/The Killing: Possibly The Greatest TV Series Ever Made”

  1. When it was on Netflix, I didn’t get Netflix, having come very late to the streaming party. I bought all 3 seasons from Amazon UK, which is what I have an all region DVD player for. It is certainly in my all-time top 10, which includes The Wire – a comparison that I’d thought of before reading your article. I like Sarah’s sweaters (a “jumper” in North America is a loose dress or jacket, worn over a blouse, although I knew the UK usage from years back). I didn’t find how Nanna got to where she was killed to be contrived, although I’ve started rewatching it (again) and will look for that. YMMV. Otherwise, I love your article!


  2. Sounds like a good show. I just signed into my Netflix to find it. We only have the US version here, but I’ll give it a try. I see the Danish series has Lars Mikkelsen who was in the last episode of Sherlock. Played a very creepy bad guy!


  3. I’d been considering watching the US version of The Killing, however I hadn’t looked into it enough to realize that it was a remake. From what I’ve read in your post, it seems like both series would be of about the same interest to me, though I may have to check out the Danish version just to hear the show in another language.


    1. I might watch the US version as well just to see what they’ve done with it, I’ve heard that they ended the first season quite differently. My housemate and I only ended up watching the Danish version because Netflix recommended it after we’d finished Breaking Bad; but we were both big fans of the Sarah Lund character and I think she could only work the way she does in a show set in somewhere like Denmark.


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