Re:View – ‘The Killing’

London, The Arts

*No Spoilers*

How do you create a ‘talker’ you can’t talk about?

‘Is this any good?’ asked the girl at HMV as I bought the boxed set. ‘Everyone seems to be asking for it.’

This is the Danish TV thriller that was built almost entirely by word of mouth – certainly without much help from its broadcaster, who seemed vaguely embarrassed that it even existed – and became a national sensation. It had reached its tipping point fast enough for me to buy it unseen, yet no-one can talk about it for fear of giving anything away.

Comparisons with ‘The Wire’ are pointless, as both are excellent and both require subtitles if you’re English. ‘The Killing’ raises the bar for TV thrillers because its cliffhangers emerge from the elegantly constructed plot, and each of the 20 episodes adds depth to the subtly nuanced story.

I detested 24 and CSI, with all those textbook infodumps and everyone wandering around in the dark because it looked cool. Here we’re in Copenhagen, and the darkness feels as natural as the unhelpful dourness of the residents. Sarah Lund, DSI, is about to decamp to Sweden with her son to be with her boyfriend, but the case of a murdered girl delays her trip (at one point, dragging her off a moving plane).

We follow the grieving parents, the political campaigners, the suspects and the police through twenty days of investigation. The performances are painfully real, camerawork is intelligent and big-screen beautiful, and the story is a work of art, organic yet thrilling. Everyone is believably exhausted and stressed, and their actions are carefully shaded.

I enjoyed this a lot more than ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ (books or TV), partly because it understands how suspense should work and mercilessly plays on the nerves. Billed as ‘A Thriller’ rather than a series, ‘The Killing’ has no dead episodes, no bridges between the good shows, and simply feels like one longer-than-usual movie.

Having said that, series 2 is on its way, and I can’t wait.

7 comments on “Re:View – ‘The Killing’”

  1. madmary says:

    I loved this series. It is everything you say but the think I loved about it most was that the cops didn’t run around shouting at folk. You could see the thought processes in her face as Sarah Lund considered and reconsidered the evidence. She never stopped thinking about the case and we were thinking with her. It was the understatement of it all that gripped me.

    And the tension over whether she would ever change her sweater!


  2. Helen Martin says:

    So you’re seeing the Danish original – in Danish? with subtitles? dubbed English? The American version is pretty good (it’s always raining in Seattle) but I’d like to know if the one you’re getting might be available here.

  3. J. Folgard says:

    Well, I’m sold & will try to get this. I see I’m not alone regarding 24 or CSI -those shows are so popular I sometimes feel like I’m from another (grumpier) planet when I talk about these with fellow tv watchers!

  4. Wayne says:

    Ah Sorry chaps, But i have to say i watched it while it aired on BBC4 and although it was compelling viewing its was a bit predictable and i knew who the perpetrator was from the onset of the show. It was to me the most obvious person. The holes in the story and the parts of the story that never got answers i found a bit tedious too.

    It was okay but i am not sure i would watch it again or watch a second series.

    Well acted and good production values.

    As for 24 and CSI Best left alone i have so many gripes with these… I watched one episode of CSI and the first series of 24 but Honestly, what a waste of time and money.

  5. I.A.M. says:

    There’s a re-make on the US-based channel AMC, so that’s one to ensure you’re not looking at.

    As near as I can tell, there’s not a North American distributed version of the original Danish series on DVD… yet. You can order it from, but I’m not sure if that would work if you put it in a North American / Region 1 player, due to copyright controls (with the disuse of video tape we no longer have the number of on-screen lines to stop world-market mis-use).

  6. Mike Cane says:

    Heh. So you’re catching up, are you, Chris?

    Forbrydelsen: Post-Mortem

    Geez, you know, next you’ll be telling everybody you went and got a Sony Reader or something. Harumph.

  7. Jerry Boyajian says:

    A bit late to this party, but…I tend to agree with Wayne on this. Somewhat, anyway. I saw the Danish original, and found it compelling in that I found I couldn’t stop watching it. And indeed, I watched the last six or seven episodes in one marathon session. But it seemed to meander too much after the halfway point.

    It’s greatest strengths were in the creation of three completely captivating characters (the victim’s parents and the politician), played by astonishingly good actors, and an excellent sense of pacing.

    (Oddly enough, the American version’s strength lies in the portrayals of the same three characters. It’s pacing sucks though.)

    Very good, yes. But it’s not The Wire

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