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Explaining the Success of Bron/Broen (The Bridge)

Key to the international success of the Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and its Anglo-French remake, The Tunnel, is the simple yet glorious idea of a crime scene being divided by a national border, argues Ingrid Stigsdotter.

On June 9, Filmlance, co-producers of Bron/Broen (The Bridge), announced that production for the third season of the popular Scandinavian crime drama would begin in September 2014 – minus lead actor Kim Bodnia.

European TV

Danish actor Kim Bodnia (right) will not appear in the third season of Bron/Broen. Image: ZDF

Bodnia had been expected to continue his role as Danish police office Martin Rodhe. But the Danish actor has decided to leave following a disagreements over the development of his character in the new storyline created by series’ lead author Hans Rosenfeld.

So it seems Sofia Helin’s Saga Norén of Malmo County Police (as she always introduces herself – her job being crucial to her sense of identity) will have to do without her Danish partner in Season 3.

For the screenwriters, this meant rewriting parts of the plot. But how will it affect viewers of Bron?

The interaction between Saga and Martin plays a significant part in the series. In the first season, the characters’ diverging personalities can been interpreted – at least by Scandinavian viewers – as a humorous take on Nordic national stereotypes, according to which Swedes are reserved, cold and obedient subjects of the Nanny state, whiles Danes are meant to be friendlier and more life-affirming, but with slightly anarchic politics.

Saga is efficient, intelligent, hardworking and follows the law by the book, but is severely lacking in social skills, and although it is never explicitly mentioned in the series, it is implied that she has Asperger’s syndrome. By contrast, Martin is a jovial and likeable libertarian, but his tendency to follow his instincts (and sexual desires) rather than professional rules ends up having serious consequences.

In Bron Season II, references to Swedish squares and permissive Danes become less common. With the main characters already introduced, established and accepted, they seem more rooted in the common odd couple genre convention than in representations of national identity.

However, the notion of a transnational police investigation working across national borders remains an important feature of the series, and arguably integral to its international triumphs.

Of course, Bron rides on a wave of current interest in so-called “Nordic Noir”, crime stories in Nordic settings that have won new markets on the back of Stig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels, as well as their film and TV adaptations. And international critics often compare Saga with Sarah Lund, the protagonist of The Killing/Forbrydelsen.

But what makes Bron special is the simple, yet glorious idea of a crime scene being divided by a national border. International TV viewers can all relate to the idea of a national borderline, yet because borders look different and carry different connotations, the passport-free Swedish-Danish bridge crossing may also fascinate precisely because of its lack of political tension, in comparison with many other national boundaries.

The Tunnel

The Tunnel, starring an Anglo-French Clémence Poésy and Stephen Dillane, is an Anglo-French remake of Bron/Broen. Image: Sky Atlantic

This perhaps explains why the US version of The Bridge or the Anglo-French remake, The Tunnel, have been treated more kindly by critics than many other remakes. Both bring something new to the story, simply because the relationships between Britain and France on the one hand, and between Mexico and the US on the other, are completely different from that between Sweden and Denmark.

An obvious difference between Bron and The Tunnel is the respective structures used to join the two countries: a high, spectacular bridge, visible from afar and possibly evoking feelings of vertigo, versus a tunnel hidden below the sea, frequently associated with claustrophobia. Another key difference is the the way that Karl (Stephen Dillane) is completely helpless when Elise (Clémence Poésy) speaks French to colleagues and clients, whereas Martin and Saga are able to communicate using their own languages.

This could easily make The Tunnel – which received its Swedish premier on SVTFlow, a new web TV service, in May this year – seem like an Anglophone series with a little French thrown in to spice things up. But while stereotypical French sexiness may seem to play a part in the plot – Karl straying from fidelity with Charlotte on the other side of the Channel or Elise being described as “you would” by Danny, the saucy tabloid hack – more emphasis is put on Karl’s promiscuity than on Elise’s functional approach to sex.

In addition, being set in Folkestone and Calais, The Tunnel completely eschews the tradition of associating the ‘chunnel’ with romantic trips to Paris (Le Week-End, 2013, Just a Sigh, 2013, Somers Town, 2008 to cite just a few recent films). In contrast with Bron, where the camera hovering over the bridge and the black Öresund strait at night serves to make Malmö and Copenhagen appear like one coherent urban space rather than two separate cities, The Tunnel does not make England and France appear physically closer to each other.

Returning to the question of Kim Bodnia’s departure, unless the screenwriters replace Martin Rodhe with a new Danish character able to anchor the criminal investigations on the Danish side of the water, Bron III risks losing its transnational feel, potentially becoming more of a Swedish crime series featuring occasional trips to Copenhagen. The popularity of Saga Norén might be sufficient to make the series work for Swedish audiences, and as long as Nordic noir remains marketable, Bron may also be viable among international audiences to whom the language spoken is irrelevant.

If not, fans of the transnational crime story may just have to hope that Sky Atlantic and Canal+ continue to develop more seasons of The Tunnel, after the planned sequel announced in March this year.

Ingrid Stigsdotter is a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at Linnaeus University, Sweden.

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