With the dark evenings rolling in and the headlines sounding gloomier than ever, what better way to enter winter than by getting stuck into a good Scandi noir?
Once the preserve of late nights on BBC Four, the genre has become a bankable success for streaming services - and a source of friendly(ish) competition between the Nordic nations.
Here are eight of the best recent offerings currently available on Netflix:
Brooding crime drama Bordertown has attracted praise from such luminaries as horror supremo Stephen King, as well as smashing viewing records in its native Finland. The plot follows a detective inspector, Kari Sorjonen, who relocates to a small town (Lappeenranta) by the Russian border in search of a quieter life - only to find himself on the trail of a serial killer who might just be connected to his own family. Acquired by Netflix in 2017, the series has since launched a spin-off film and even a filming location tour for super-fans. A fourth season is expected before long.
In a genre that can sometimes feel a bit repetitive, Sweden has at least delivered what must surely be a first for Scandi noir: a classic origin story. Delving into the backstory of Henning Mankell’s famous creation, Young Wallander does allow itself one big creative indulgence, with the detective’s backstory set not in the 70s but in modern day Malmö - the multicultural city synonymous with Sweden’s gang crime problem. Interestingly the show isn’t even filmed in Sweden at all - but in Vilnius, the charming capital of Lithuania.
The Valhalla Murders
Despite its famously low crime rate, Iceland is carving a bit of a reputation for its blood-chilling murder mysteries. Known in its native land by the Icelandic word for ‘violation’ (brot), The Valhalla Murders sees a veteran Reykjavik detective delve into a web of murders and disappearances connected to a scandalised children’s home that closed some 30 years earlier. Bleak and rather relentless, this is rather an uneasy watch - even by Nordic standards - but the twists will hopefully keep fans of the genre engaged.
Billed as Finland’s answer to The Bridge and The Killing, Deadwind was added to Netflix this summer. While the plot - a grisly homicide which leads to tapestry of long-hidden secrets - is standard fodder for Nordic noir, creator Rike Jokela does at least do justice to the genre by doing it rather well. The show was even nominated for best screenplay at the prestigious Nordisk Film & TV awards - a gloomier and grislier version of the BAFTAs.
Whether or not Caliphate (or Kalifat) qualifies strictly as Scandi noir, this terrorism thriller certainly excels on one crucial front: sheer bloodcurdling tension. Just witness the unbearable suspense as remorseful ISIS bride Pervin - trying to persuade Swedish agents to help her escape from Raqqa - has to tiptoe past her sleeping husband - an unhinged Jihadi assasin - in order to try retrieve information from his laptop. While some elements might strain credibility (an ISIS agent resorting to crossdressing to escape the police, for example), this is still a mighty good boxset that will have you hooked within minutes.
Another effort from Iceland, Trapped takes the well-rehearsed Scandi setup and then adds an additional element from the classic slasher movie. With a killer on the loose, a small fjord community is caught in an immobilising snowstorm - otherwise known as a ‘whiteout’ - which renders them cut off from the rest of civilisation (even by Icelandic standards) and forced to rely on their wits to stay alive. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson - who resembles a younger and less bombastic version of Brian Blessed - is captivating in his portrayal of the town’s grizzled detective. Season two - which makes excellent use of Iceland's stunning volcanic landscapes - landed on Netflix last year.
Based on an idea by Jo Nesbø - the rockstar Norwegian crime novelist whose books have shifted some 30 million units worldwide - Occupied is set in a fictional near future in which an environmentally-radical Norwegian government decides to end the country’s involvement in fossil fuels - only to find itself under attack from outside powers (namely Russia) keen to restore the supply of oil to a geopolitically-fraught world. An action-packed geopolitical thriller which often feels closer to the average Bond movie than The Bridge, Occupied has become a bit of a ratings hit for Netflix - and a welcome reminder that those Nordics aren’t just one trick ponies.
Given the success of Scandi noir it was inevitable that sooner or later someone would come up with a clever way to subvert it - and take it down a peg or two. Fallet - Swedish for ‘the case’ - is a irreverent spoof of the whole genre, in which a police duo from Stockholm are tasked with solving a murder in what they dismissively call a ‘shitty little town with horrible restaurants’.
At the heart of the show is a simple but effective premise: rather than the stereotypical unsung geniuses whose deduction skills border on superpowers, Fallet's central characters are hapless buffoons who bounce from one calamity to the next. Olivier-nominated Tom Godley - who pops up all over the place on British television and even in Breaking Bad - plays one of them.