I was interested in the second of the six films based on the novels of Maria Lang made for Swedish TV channel TV4. The films are being broadcast by BBC4 in its Saturday night slot reserved mainly for European crime dramas. The first of the six last week was generally panned by the UK press. I confess that I didn’t get to the end. I found the first film very easy on the eye – a summer-house on an island near Stockholm in the 1950s – but the plotting of an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit was a tad tedious. I did however like the three central characters who are the focus for the whole set of films. I therefore approached the second film with my hopes still raised.
According to Wikipedia the first film was released in cinemas but subsequent releases went straight to DVD. I noticed immediately that the second film was presented in 16:9 whereas the first had been in CinemaScope (2.35:1). Fortunately the reduction in aspect ratio wasn’t followed by a reduction in narrative scope, I found this episode more interesting. The idea behind the six films is to present the central trio with crimes that are all ‘close to home’ – i.e. their social settings all involve the trio. The stars of the show are Tuva Novotny (Puck), Ola Rapace (Krister) and Linus Wahlgren (Eje). Puck is a doctoral student of literature. The first film opened with a lecture she gave on Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. Eje and Krister are both from a fictitious small town in Central Sweden called ‘Skoga’ – created by Maria Lang and based on her own small town Nora. Eje, a history academic is Puck’s fiancé and Krister is a Stockholm police Inspector. The basic premise of the stories is that Puck becomes Krister’s amateur assistant rather like Miss Marple.
The second film, ‘King of Lily of the Valley’ is set in Skoga with Krister and Eje invited to a wedding. It is also getting close to the time of Puck and Eje’s own wedding and she is with him. The Skoga bride never makes it to the altar and Krister and Puck set out to find her murderer. The press notes issued by the production company quote Maria Lang as aiming for “escapist entertainment with a problem to be solved. The tone is ‘light’ with some almost absurdist comedy and this is more important than heavy and serious social realism.” This has lead some UK commentators to compare the films to Midsummer Murders (very popular in Denmark, but I don’t know about Sweden?). I can see the connection, but it is important to remember that these stories were written in the 1950s, i.e. the period of Agatha Christie’s later Miss Marple stories. However, Puck is a very ‘modern’ figure, a proto-feminist in many ways. At the end of the second film she and Eje discuss what they want in marriage and she asserts that she isn’t sure that she wants children and that her career is very important to her. Eje, to his credit, seems genuinely to support her.
Researching the actors I noted that Tuva Novotny was the titular character in Slim Susie (Smala Sussie, Sweden 2003), an absurdist ‘crime comedy’ set in Central Sweden and a big local hit. I’m also reminded of Masjävlar (Dalecarlians, Sweden/Denmark 2004) also set in small town Central Sweden with some humour in an otherwise dark family melodrama and a young woman at its centre. I mention these links simply because there are several Swedish references in the films that refer to literature, rural cultures etc. that aren’t immediately apparent to UK TV audiences. The title of the second film refers to a poem by Gustaf Frödings, a nationally renowned poet from Värmland in Central Sweden. Skoga/Nora is by the looks of it a ‘heritage town’ with beautifully preserved residential houses and ‘quaint’ streets of shops etc. and the 1950s setting is easily evoked.
The first two films have been beautifully shot in summer settings and there is an obvious fascination in the clothes, hair styles etc. Mad Men meets Miss Marple is an obvious shorthand for what we see. I will watch the other four films mainly because of the three central characters and especially Ms Nuvotny who is not a conventional beauty but is still disarmingly attractive. I think it’s worth noting too that compared to Agatha Christie there is much more overt sexual action in these films as well as a sense of humour. Maria Lang must have been an interesting writer in her day.