A Killing Across The Water

A Killing Across The Water

The Danes who made The Killing - or Forbrydelsen - were basically giving the two-fingered salute to all those slick US thrillers they'd been fed down the years. The tiniest smirk may have crossed their faces when the Americans liked it so much they ended up copying it.

"The creation of the series was in part an aggressiveness to US thrillers, where everything's solved within one episode," said the show's creator and lead writer, Søren Sveistrup. "Also, I never saw grief really in US thrillers. I never saw anything remotely touching. I wanted to change all that."

The US version, which comes to Channel 4 in the UK in July, carefully tries to preserve the winning aspects of the original - the dark atmosphere, the focus on the family devastated by Rosie's murder, the unglamorous detectives. It was produced by the makers of Mad Men, AMC, premiered in April and the early episodes were given a big thumbs-up by critics. A second series of 13 has just been commissioned by AMC.

But as good as it is and refreshingly different from the mainstream - Hawaii Five-0, CSI, Blue Bloods - the American retread does not hit as many high notes as the 2007 Danish series.

Here's how they match up...

Story and production

The US version is 13 episodes, the Danish 20. The opening two-hour US special follows the original pretty closely, with detective Sarah Linden about to move away and get married, but is held up by the disappearance and murder of a teenage schoolgirl, Rosie Larsen. Sarah meets the Neanderthal detective who is taking over from her, Stephen Holder. The car Rosie's body is found in is revealed to be in the use of mayoral candidate Darren Richmond's campaign team. The action shifts from Copenhagen to Seattle.

While music from the original is used in the American version, and some of the sets are similar, such as the Larsen's kitchen, a few of the characters are less nuanced in the Seattle makeover. Holder offers a spliff to some schoolgirls to coax them into revealing where Rosie was during the school Halloween party, and her father's loyal employee, Belko Royce (Vagn in the original), is a stock racist from the word go.

Sarah Linden v Sarah Lund

The new version wisely has a low-profile cast of good actors who don't bring baggage from other TV shows. Mireille Enos is good in the lead as Sarah - but she has nothing like the depth and inscrutability of Sofie Gråbøl as Lund. She wears a similar jumper to Lund's must-have chunky-knit, but her performance cannot match Lund's witheringly powerful silences or Nordic glacial front. The way Lund simply blanked the oafish Meyer, and the shift in their relationship, which gradually morphed into mutual respect, was very moving in the Danish version.


Seattle under slate skies and rain is a terrific setting, and easily as foreboding as Copenhagen. The back alleys, the forests, the cold waterfront - very alienating.

The Larsens

This is part of the story that the American producers get right. The painful grief of the Larsens was depicted in depth in the original, where most cop shows just use death as a plot point. Here, the US casting is good and the emotions are raw, particularly in a scene when Stanley explains to Rosie's little brothers that she has gone to heaven, and one of the boys says, 'When is she coming back?' Of course, Bjarne Henriksen as the bear-like Theis and Ann Eleonora Jørgensen were heartrending, but their US counterparts are not far behind.

The Mayor

This part of the American production is limp. Troels (Lars Mikkelsen) was charismatic and sexy, and the uncertainty about his culpability was gripping. Billy Campbell as would-be Seattle mayor Darren Richmond has nothing like the same presence, and his team of advisers - Gwen and Jamie - are not as well delineated as their predecessors. Gwen has nothing of the Lady Macbeth about her as Rie did in Copenhagen, and Jamie is a clichéd nasty piece of work, always suggesting the most unprincipled tactics to his boss, advice that is repeatedly ignored.

AMC's production undoubtedly succeeds in injecting emotional power into the TV crime scene. It kept two to three million viewers gagging for the next episode as each week's show ended, and it will be interesting to see how season two develops.

But the original was one of those rare occasions when, as in the best films or records that capture a moment, everything came together - the conception, cast and writing - to make a sublime production that is impossible to repeat. That's why even though it was buried on minority channel BBC4 in the UK earlier this year, and despite the subtitles, Forbrydelsen became a word-of-mouth sensation.


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