Why the Killing is still so thrilling

Danish hit is part of the Aladdin's cave of drama riches this Winter, writes Pat Stacey

Pat Stacey

If you have a chunky knitted jumper your auntie made for you one Christmas lurking in the recesses of your wardrobe, dig it out now, because it's Killing time! Yes, fans of atmospheric Scandi thrillers, the third and final series of Danish drama The Killing begins on BBC4 tonight with, as ever, back-to-back episodes.

From a television point of view, I love this time of year. After a barren summer and a mostly unremarkable autumn, weekend TV has suddenly turned into an Aladdin's cave stuffed with an embarrassment of drama riches.

Love/Hate (more of which below) is raising hell and a few hackles on RTE on Sundays. Homeland is midway through its Channel 4 run on the same night. And let's not forget the utterly demented but bracingly original American Horror Story: Asylum, is repeated on Sundays on FX.


But for some viewers, The Killing is the main television drama event of the winter, not least because, according to star Sofie Grabol, this is definitely SARAH LUND'S LAST CASE. It was conceived as a trilogy and it's staying a trilogy.

How will it end? Will she be alive? I reckon she will. Will she be happy and fulfilled and full of the joys of spring (whatever spring in Denmark is like)? Probably not.

The Killing has been an extraordinary phenomenon and various theories about its popularity have been pushed forward: The stately, take-its-time script that gives the story and characters space to breathe and develop. The downbeat, sometimes doom-laden atmosphere. The quality of the writing, acting and directing. And, of course, the relative novelty of having a flawed, complex, very human female lead. All of these are valid explanations, but I reckon there's another one: its sheer unusualness.

It's been noted elsewhere that crime novels are more likely to provide an outsider with a more vivid picture of a society's obsessions and idiosyncrasies than supposedly more serious, literary fiction.

If you've read any of Henning Mankell's Wallanders, Nicolas Freeling's Van der Valks or George Simenon's Maigrets, you'll probably have come away with a stronger sense of what it means to be Swedish, Dutch or French than any two-week jaunt around the tourist traps will give you.

The same goes for European crime dramas. Who, if they'd never visited, knew what Denmark was like before The Killing? The same applies to Sweden in the original Wallander adaptations, France in Spiral and even Italy in the more upbeat and sunny Inspector Montalbano.

For Irish and British viewers raised on their own stuff and mainstream American series, The Killing provides a window into an unfamiliar and exotic place we may never know for real.

There's a reason the US remake was largely a failure: Seattle just isn't Copenhagen.

>UNCOMFORTABLE VIEWING You could be forgiven for believing that last Sunday's episode of Love/Hate caused a storm of controversy on a scale similar to that whipped up in 1979 when The Spike, RTE's drama set in a VEC school, was pulled off the air mid-run after an episode featuring a nude scene in an art class was greeted with outrage from the religious and political establishment.

A headline on Wednesday read: "Complaints to RTE over Love/Hate violence double in a day". Closer inspection, however, revealed that the total number of complaints was 36. Given that Love/Hate attracted 630,700 viewers, this is a figure so tiny as to be insignificant.

Most of the complaints, it seems, focused on a scene in which Charlie Murphy's character Siobhan is raped by an IRA thug called Git (Jimmy Smallhorne). It was a deeply unpleasant scene, albeit one essential to the plot, but then sexual violence IS deeply unpleasant. To depict it any other way would be hypocritical.

Ireland has changed a lot since the days when a pair of naked breasts on telly could cause the sky to fall. Love/Hate, a brilliantly made series, is the only Irish drama accurately reflecting those changes, including the worst of them, including the rampant increase in organised crime and violence, sexual and otherwise.

Everyone connected with it deserves to be applauded, not condemned -- even if the condemnation comes only from a tiny number of viewers who'd prefer if Irish TV drama had begun and ended with Glenroe.

>GET HELEN OUT OF THERE Is Helen Flanagan the most hated I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here contestant ever? That's what a UK tabloid wondered after Flanagan wimped out of one trial after another -- Thursday's aborted encounter with an ostrich in a darkened room setting a new time record for bottling it.

But it seems Flanagan has a history of anorexia, panic attacks and low self-esteem. So . . . a tabloid telling a fragile, none-too-bright woman with low-self esteem everyone hates her? Yup, that's bound to help.

> ROSS's reel deal Jonathan Ross is to present a new movie review show on ITV. There are many who believe Mark Kermode, and not Ross or Claudia Winkleman, who took over Ross's slot on the Film programme when he left the BBC, would be the ideal choice for such a job.

Much as I like Kermode on BBC2's The Culture Show, in The Observer and on radio with Simon Mayo, a man who thinks The Exorcist is the greatest film ever made, clearly has too much taste for such a trifling task.