Wednesday 21 August 2019

The Bridge review: 'new series without Martin Rhode is still brilliant, just differently brilliant'

Reviews of The Bridge, BBC4, 5*, and Ireland with Simon Reeve, BBC2, 2*

The Bridge, BBC 4
The Bridge, BBC 4

Pat Stacey

All hail television’s Norse Gods . . . and BBC4, of course. The Bridge is back, here to span those long, dark Saturday nights between now and Christmas when most of the channels refuse to put on anything good for fear it will be mashed by the relentless, bullshit-belching ratings steamroller that is I’m a Celebrity.

But as every fan knows, Martin Rhode is most definitely NOT back, having been banged up at the end of season two for murdering his son’s killer. Martin had been due to figure this season, albeit from behind bars, until the actor that played him, Kim Bodnia, quit the series.

Is The Bridge the same without Martin/Kim? Of course it isn’t. It’s different. But the good news is it’s still brilliant, just differently brilliant.

If we’re missing Martin, Saga (the stupendously great Sofia Helin), who did her duty by turning her partner in for his crime, is missing him more. She might even be grieving, after a fashion.

Bodnia’s abrupt departure, apparently after four scripts had already been completed, forced some hasty rewrites that could have proved disastrous. They haven’t.

The writers have turned a crisis into an opportunity to deepen Saga, make her that little bit more vulnerable and self-doubting. Another layer is peeled back when her hated mother turns up and for the first time we see a fragile, emotional side to her.

Not too self-doubting, though. She’s still as hilariously blunt and lacking in empathy as ever. When Saga’s exasperated boss Hans, now married to Lillian, asks her to give him two minutes, she snaps: “To do what?”

Still, you can’t have The Bridge with Saga going solo (it would render the title meaningless for a start), so when a LGBT campaigner from Denmark is found murdered in Malmo, her face painted into a grotesque smiley, her heart cut out and her body posed with three mannequins in a grisly tableau meant to evoke the family unit, our icy Swedish heroine must hook up with a new Danish partner – a woman called Hanne, who’s smirkingly homophobic.

Ah, but Hanne is a red herring. No sooner have they got off on the wrong foot than Hanne is missing a foot, blown off in a bomb blast. Saga’s proper  new Danish partner is Copenhagen homicide cop Henrik Saboe (Thure Lindhart).

Henrik is a strange character: a pill-popping insomniac who trawls singles clubs for casual sex and then goes home and tells his partner/wife (it’s not specified which she is) all about it. She doesn’t seem to mind. I have a theory about what’s really going on in these strange scenes, but I’m not sharing it at this early stage.

Then the killer strikes again, murdering a liberal Danish priest  who’s been performing same sex marriage ceremonies, and the finger of suspicion points at an odious right-wing vlogger called Lise, who’d been spewing toxic hate speech about the victims before their deaths.

She’s not the only suspect; there’s also the first victim’s estranged son Morten, a hulking, disturbed ex-soldier who’s been traumatised by four tours of duty in Afghanistan.

This was a spectacular return. With four more Saturdays of double-episodes to be savoured, Christmas can take its sweet time arriving.

In Ireland with Simon Reeve, the globe-trotting host expressed surprise, as he drove across the border into Northern Ireland, that there wasn’t so much as a road sign to indicate that he was about to enter the UK.

It was just about the only moment of surprise to be found in the first episode of this wearingly familiar two-parter.

Reeve, always an engaging and engaged guide, is usually to be found trekking through far more exotic and dangerous places than our Oul’ Sod – he nearly died after catching malaria on a journey round the Equator, for instance – so I imagine standing on a motorway flyover in Clare while bewhiskered folklorist Eddie Lenihan talked about fairy bushes was something of a relaxing novelty for him.

In a brief nod to the brutal reality of post-crash Ireland, Reeve visited Penny Dinners in Cork and spoke to the wonderful volunteers, some of them teenagers who dispel the myth that young people today care about no one but themselves, who selflessly strive to feed up to 1,500 needy people every day. Then it was back to by-the-numbers business as usual.

No modern Irish TV travelogue cliché was left unturned. Paramotoring in Wexford? Check. Surfing in Lahinch? You bet. A visit to a Famine village? That too.

I imagine even the British viewers at who this is aimed must be as fed up as the rest of us with programmes extolling the wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way.

The occasional older cliché also reared its head. Reeve climbed Croagh Patrick, marvelling at a Filipino missionary who’s been up it 13 times and a man who was doing it barefoot. “It’s supposed to be the best way to do it,” said Shoeless Joe.

Tell that to the rescue services who have to save weather-defying idiots from both the mountain and themselves every year. Tepid.




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