Saturday 24 March 2018

Making a drama out of obscure history

Katherine Parkinson in Channel 4's Humans
Katherine Parkinson in Channel 4's Humans

RTÉ1 could have brightened up the dismal summer schedules with the outstanding Swedish TV adaptations of Henning Mankell's Wallander crime novels, but instead it's opted for the leaden Kenneth Branagh versions - and not recent ones, either, but the 2008 first season.

Happily, RTÉ2 has acquired the Danish historical drama series 1864, recently shown on BBC4 but well worth a look by anyone who missed it. The year in question was when the Danes embarked on a disastrous and pointless war with superior Prussian forces who annihilated them, and the battle scenes are depicted unflinchingly.

I'm not so sure about the series' other strand - the love of two young soldier brothers for the same girl -but the venality of politicians and the duplicity of military leaders is arrestingly depicted, as are the cruelties of battle and both the sadism and decencies of individual combatants.

There was little overt violence in the second season of The Legacy (Sky Arts), which ended this week, but this Danish drama about a disputed inheritance was unerringly good about the emotional violence that family members can visit on each other when their wishes and needs are in conflict.

In an outstanding cast that managed to avoid using any actors familiar from other much-watched Danish series (Borgen, The Killing, The Bridge), Trine Dyrholm was riveting as outwardly icy sister Gro, and Marie Bach Hansen was equally persuasive as cuckoo-in-the-nest younger sibling Signe. If you missed it, the box set of both seasons is now available.

Meanwhile, only two episodes remain of Humans (Channel 4), with this week's episode picking up the pace considerably, as it needed to do.

Again, it's the women who dominate this intriguing if patchy drama, Katherine Parkinson as the initially sceptical and somewhat hostile wife and mother finally coming into her own as she seeks to help the semi-human robots in their bid for freedom. Where will it all end, though?

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