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The Bridge – Season 3: Perspectives from the UK

In the last in our special series on the third season of The Bridge, Pei-Sze Chow reports that British enthusiasm for the hit Scandi crime drama shows no sign of abating.

At the end of 2015, viewers in the UK were treated to a third season of the bilingual cross-border crime thriller, The Bridge. Showing no signs of dipping in popularity, the series has only grown as a cultural event in the UK, with fans and pundits commenting on almost every aspect of the series.

According to viewing figures from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB), an impressive 1.81 million tuned in to the first episode of The Bridge 3 on 21 November 2015 (for comparison, 1.5 million watched the opening episode of the second season). An average of 1.49 million viewers per episode over the whole season. In Scandinavia, this third season has also seen record numbers of viewers.

Since it was first broadcast in 2011, it is clear that the series’ popularity has grown as more people are tuning in and the UK media is dedicating more coverage to the Nordic Noir phenomenon. The UK reception of the third season has been enthusiastic, if not ardent, and The Bridge remains an engaging portal through which UK viewers access Nordic culture and society.

Media Coverage and Paraphernalia


Cover Girl: Sofia Helin graces the cover of the Radio Times.

Even before the first episode of The Bridge 3 was screened on BBC Four in the UK, the national media outlets were already saturated with scores of articles about the series and its stars appearing in daily newspapers. Sofia Helin even graced the cover of Radio Times.

The premiere was accompanied by press coverage of all things Saga, from where to buy a coat like hers, to actress Sofia Helin’s family values and what she cooks at home, as well as the articles on Helin’s interpretation of Saga and the love-hate relationship with her character, and where to visit when in her hometown.

The hit series, which counts Bob Dylan as a fan, was heavily promoted on the BBC television channels in the month before the first episode, with a dramatic teaser reminding viewers of its ‘award-winning’ status (and making full use of a popularly misheard lyric in the song ‘Hurt’ by Johnny Cash), and a full trailer announcing “A NEW SAGA BEGINS”.

Just two days after the final episode was broadcast, Arrow Films, the UK distributor of the series, released the DVD and Blu-ray box-sets of Season 3 as well as a complete ‘trilogy box-set’ of all three seasons. ‘Exclusive’ collectible scale model Porsches emblazoned with ‘The Bridge’ were sent to magazine journalists and competition winners. Fan comics imagining a talking Saga ‘action figure’ made the rounds on social media. An analysis of Scandinavian fashion, as modelled by the series’ stars, has become a matter of national interest, with a variety of outerwear styles replacing our fascination with Sarah Lund’s jumper.

Performance through Paratexts

These peripheral media texts and paraphernalia are all concerned with the same promotion of a major media event. The extent to which there is such a focus on Saga and the foreignness of the series shows just how much UK viewers crave the consumption of a particular ‘Scandinavianness’ being performed through these paratexts. What is interesting also is how fans, the media, and the UK distributor have reinterpreted and adopted elements of the original televisual text to generate their own meanings and expressions of the series.

Acutely aware of the series’ ‘exotic’ appeal to non-Scandinavian viewers, producers of the series have, since the first season, made a point of emphasizing its Scandinavian identity through set design (e.g. furniture, lamps, architecture) and language. One could argue that in this third season this emphasis has grown considerably. Examples of such performances range from the intentional placements or reflections of the Turning Torso on windows within the frame, to the focus on gender-neutral schooling and the pronoun ‘hen’. Even the blindingly white mansion in which the art dealer Freddie Holst lives seems emphatically whiter and more minimalist than the house of Viktoria Nordgren in Season 2.

Meanwhile, an exhibition on The Bridge in Malmö Museum, open until September 2016, not only aims to draw international tourists to Malmö to ogle at actual set designs, props, and the Porsche from the series, but also signals the institutionalization of The Bridge as a bona fide part of Skåne’s cultural heritage.

Reality and Fiction

While The Bridge now claims a firm position in our cultural consciousness, the actual Øresund Bridge has also been a significant part of public discourse, albeit for a different reason. Around the same time that the series was broadcast in the UK, the Øresund bridge and the region was also a frequent item in the UK news media, in particular relating to the flow of refugees from Denmark to Sweden, border controls, and the two countries’ attitudes to immigration and asylum. Articles about The Bridge intermingled with articles about shutting down the Øresund Bridge. Even Sofia Helin was compelled to comment on the two countries’ approaches to accepting asylum-seekers.

At the time of writing, the Danish police have been given the authority to seize cash and valuables from asylum-seekers while Sweden has imposed ID checks on all commuters crossing the bridge, a stark reminder that the freedom with which characters from The Bridge traverse the Øresund region is a luxury not open to all.

The dust has only just settled around Season 3 of The Bridge, yet viewers are already asking for details about the fourth season on social media, with some even insisting that the current refugee crisis be incorporated into the plot. While the series’ writers don’t yet know if a fourth season will be green-lit, chances are that DR and SVT won’t be letting go of a most valuable and newsworthy cultural export too soon.

Dr Pei-sze Chow is a Teaching Assistant at the School of European Languages, Culture and Society, University College London. She recently completed her PhD on the representations of urban space and architecture of the Øresund region on film and television

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