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The Lord of the Rings (The 2020/21 Amazon Prime “Prequel” Series)

Here is everything you wanted to know about Amazon's forthcoming quarter-billion-dollar epic...

Just kidding, of course - not many hard facts are known yet. But as a lover of Tolkien's books, I am really interested in how his huge slice of dark history will be brought to the screen, thankfully in a format long enough to contain a good amount of it, and hopefully making good use of the stunning technology now available.

So here are some of the clues we have and links to help keep track of developments.

The Amazon production, so far as we can tell, will focus on the Second Age of Middle-Earth, but may eventually extend to those events in the Third Age that occur prior to Frodo's adventures.

The map provided by Amazon (click the image above for more details and click here to explore the map) contains several interesting clues for fans of the books. In particular it shows the island of Númenor (the human inhabitants of which had Aragorn as a descendent), and the Amazon series will certainly feature Númenor's cataclysmic destruction.

Tolkien was fascinated with languages and how they evolved, and his supreme creations were the Elvish languages (among others) that underpin The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (click the image to the right for an in-depth article).

For Tolkien, the languages came first. He said that they drove the development of characters to use the languages and then the stories around the characters.

(He also wrote that “it's always good to start with a map”.)

I look forward to seeing what use of the invented languages Amazon makes, a tough but essential thing to bring to film (although Peter Jackson's team did a commendable job in their movies).

A couple of postscripts for book lovers:

I loved The Lord of the Rings, but IMO a comparable work that surpasses it in world-building, realism and story-telling (but not invented languages) is Elizabeth Moon's Paksworld Novels (an epic story in many volumes). Elizabeth Moon is, among other things, a historian and an ex-1st Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, an interesting combination. If you liked LOTR, don't miss Moon's epic if you have never read it (the link is to a major article about it on my web site).

In The Lord of the Rings (the book, not the movie) Saruman, his powers removed but still full of malice, returns to The Shire ahead of the Hobbits and does his best to wreck both its environment and the peaceful relations between its citizens. Written long ago, does anyone else not see a spooky resemblance to what Trump is doing to the USA? Saruman didn't ultimately succeed in The Shire. It will be a long time before we know the outcome in the USA.

On that cheerful note...

If you're interested...

[Amazon's LOTR Twitter Feed]
[Latest Amazon LOTR news (w.r.t. when you are actually reading this)]
[Constructed languages (including Minionese and Klingon)]



I have just finished watching Netflix's reworking of the 1965 version of "Lost in Space" (which was itself based on "The Swiss Family Robinson" written in 1822!).

I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It's kind of like "The Martian" with Matt Damon except that here it's a collection of families stranded and the planet is much more interesting than Mars. Production values are extraordinary - a lot of money very well spent.

It's also interesting that like so many sci-fi/adventure films nowadays, women (and girls) have the strongest roles, although Toby Stephens as an American ex-SEAL is a great bonus.

(Click the image for many links.)


Vera

My screenshot from Season 6, Episode 4 of Vera, a very fine police drama starring Brenda Blethyn, set in and around Newcastle in north-east England (a region further north than some parts of Scotland)

If you have never seen this ITV drama, currently in its 7th season, then I highly recommend it. Based on novels by Ann Cleeves, it is very unlike most other police detective dramas, focusing as it does on human lives affected by a murder, as well as on the complex causes that can lead to the crime.

DCI Vera Stanhope (played by the wonderful Brenda Blethyn, still acting at 71) is not a stereotypical TV police detective. Among other things, she has no irritating boss with whom she is in conflict - she is the boss, and leads her very realistic team with considerable expertise, energy and acerbic humour.

Another feature of the series is the area of north-east England (map link) in which it is set, which is sometimes bleak, sometimes beautiful and often both, as the excellent cinematography shows - and see the link below.


If you like this...

[Stunning North East scenery where Vera is filmed]
[A 1280x1024 wallpaper version of the image]


The Two Ronnies - In Memoriam


Ronnie Corbett CBE (who died last year) and Ronnie Barker OBE (who died in 2005), two of Britain's national treasures, in their classic “Four Candles” sketch. If by some chance you haven't seen it, click the image to play!

(If the image link breaks, as sometimes happens, try here.)



1 Hour Long Sunrise at Langstiņi Lake, Garkalnes novads, Latvia (map link)

If you're feeling stressed, or even if you're not, why not stop for a while and watch this nice example of Slow TV (full screen on the TV in your living room, if you can)?



I greatly enjoyed Minions... and hearing words apparently from a number of languages, including Japanese and Spanish, that form the strangely comprehensible gibberish of “Minionese”.

I didn't realise, though, quite how many languages that French director Pierre Coffin actually plundered (and voiced) for his “Minionese”. Click the image above if you would like to know more!

Constructing realistic languages for books and films, on the other hand, seems to me to be an awesome task. The supreme example of this must surely be J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish languages (among others) that underpin The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings - a massive work of scholarship, love and time.

(Click the image to the right for an in-depth article.)

Tolkien, it is said, wanted to write The Lord of the Rings entirely in Elvish, but (fortunately for us) was persuaded that the result would not be saleable...

I was very grateful to Peter Jackson's team for letting us hear these beautiful languages (both Quenya and Sindarin) in the screen version of The Lord of the Rings.

The next most impressive example of such a language (corrections gratefully received!) must be Klingon, originally created as a basic sound and a few words by James “Scotty” Doohan for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but developed considerably thereafter - much further than I had imagined.

Like Star Trek itself, Klingon has found its way into all kinds of other popular culture (e.g. it appears several times in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). However, I had no idea how far it had spread - if you're interested, take a look here.

Along with many people, I enjoyed the remark from High Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, who said, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

Also like many other people (I suspect), I hadn't realised that you can read him in the original Klingon - it's a real book called The Klingon Hamlet. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, but it represents a considerable tribute to the development of the language. There's also Much Ado About Nothing: The Restored Klingon Version. Check them out!

Constructed languages, it seems, can take on a life of their own...

At a much earlier stage of development than Klingon, but obviously gaining momentum, is Na'vi, the constructed language of the sapient inhabitants of the planet Pandora in the film Avatar.

Unlike Klingon, Na'vi is intended to be only a spoken language, passed down orally from one generation to the next. Nevertheless there is a growing community interested in learning it - a strange phenomenon, but perhaps a tribute to the work that went into its construction (and is still ongoing), and to the film itself.

In following these links I came across an amazing resource:

for both real and constructed languages. You can delve there into the various varieties of Chinese, for example, and also into Klingon.

Which shows that you never know where a trip to the cinema is going to lead you...


Poldark (the BBC TV productions and the books by Winston Graham)

Two reasons why the 2015 BBC remake of its 1975 original was so popular are not hard to find...

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark. Aidan was previously best known for playing Kili, an improbably handsome dwarf, in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. Eleanor's best role (prior to Poldark) was probably Georgiana Darcy in the excellent BBC adaptation of P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley.


The name “Demelza” is apparently Old Cornish for “Fort of Maeldaf” or “Fort on the Hill”, but Winston Graham is said to have derived it to mean “Thy Sweetness”, with “Melza” being originally derived from an old French word for honey.

Whatever, Demelza will always be associated for me with a feisty red-haired Cornish waif, who develops through hardships and class barriers in a way that still resonates today.

It was Angharad Rees's memorable portrayal of her in the 1975 TV series (right) that made her perhaps Britain's best-loved redhead (Demelza is a dark-haired lass in Winston Graham's novels). When I started watching the new series I felt that Angharad as Demelza would be a tough act to follow... but Eleanor has done the series proud.

I didn't start reading the 12 Poldark novels until I had watched the recent TV series, which brings me to another reason why the latest BBC remake has been so successful: the stories on which it is based (the first two novels, and a bit of the third novel).

Winston Graham's writing combines an almost cinematic quality of description with powerful character relationships that drive the suspenseful story, a fascinating historical background, and (in Ross Poldark) a humane view of the injustices and hardships of the times and a positive struggle to do something about them.

The latest TV adaptation has taken full advantage, doing a great job of conveying the first few novels to the screen. This isn't Downton Abbey, BTW - it's a much grittier and deeper story altogether.

(BTW, if you have watched the 2015 remake on PBS in the USA, you may know that PBS cut several small, important scenes from your version to suit its schedule - an act of artistic vandalism IMO. Buy the uncut DVDs!)


The above image was taken from a truly excellent blog post by Michael J. Bayly - a link well worth following.

I also strongly recommend Winston Graham’s Demelza: developing an 18th century Cornish world, a very thoughtful and deep analysis of the second novel, which will also tell you a great deal about the others.

The title of the third novel, BTW, is a little misleading (at least to me). It gave me the impression that the novels were a saga spanning generations, whereas in fact Jeremy Poldark is an unborn infant for most of that novel. I am currently reading The Black Moon (written after a gap of 20 years, although there is no sign of this in the writing), but so far as I can tell, the principal characters remain throughout the whole series.

So far, I am experiencing that rare thing: a set of novels and a screen adaptation that are equally satisfying. I look forward to Season 2!


Battlestar Galactica (2003 TV miniseries followed by 2004-2009 TV series)

“Galactica and Pegasus” by Balsavor, typical of much fine fan art spun off by the series (and worth seeing full size)


High resolution (2400x1600) Viper wallpaper, showing some of the series creators' loving attention to detail


OK, so I messed up on this one. This post was going to explain why the re-imagined BSG (based on Glen A. Larson's 1978 original) is the finest [insert category] television drama ever made, and why you shouldn't miss it if you haven't already seen it, even if you're not an SF fan. In the UK it's currently available free from Netflix, Amazon Prime, blinkbox and iTunes (and no doubt similarly in other countries).

The problem is that BSG is in a quite unique drama category, and so is bound to be the best of its type. Yes, it has awesome space hardware and effects, superior IMO to those in most blockbuster movies, but those exist just to give a very realistic background to a story about politics, ethics, religions, war, love, prejudices formed and overcome, loyalty and betrayal, what it means to be a person, and much else besides. Short version: my wife liked it as much as I did.

If you've seen it, hopefully this will bring back some memories. If you haven't, it helps to know that the Cylons are a cybernetic race originally created by humans, but now evolving themselves. Many Cylons are human in appearance (and in many other ways). These exist as many copies (or instances) of a small number of Cylon “models” - the exact number is one of several unfolding mysteries in the story. Some instances don't know that they are Cylons, believing that they are human until triggered.

Models are referred to by Cylons by number, e.g. Six, but not all models, nor instances of a particular model, think or behave the same way. The development of individuality and dissension amongst the Cylons is one of the rich elements of the story.

If a Cylon instance is killed then its personality is downloaded (if important circumstances are met) to a resurrection mechanism whose details emerge only gradually in the story, and is reborn in another identical body with memories intact. An instance that survives in this way is effectively immortal.

The Cylons have their own religion (the humans have several), and at least one non-corporeal “Angel”.

And, of course, the (supposedly) human characters in the story, both military and civilian, include an unknown number of Cylons. What happens as they gradually become aware of this is one of the many fascinations of the series.

Enough confusion... I'll hand over to some of the main characters.


Edward James Olmos as Commander (later Admiral) William Adama

Like his ship, Adama is ready for retirement when the story opens. The obsolete nature of his ship's equipment, and his justifiably paranoid refusal to network its computer systems, allow his ship to survive the Cylons' first sophisticated and devastating attack on the humans' Twelve Colonies, when more modern elements of the fleet are apparently all destroyed.

The attack - whose cause is not as obvious as first appears, as with so much of BSG - leaves only about 50,000 civilians alive in the human race, who eventually embark on an epic search for a new home, the fabled Earth, pursued at every turn by the Cylons.


Mary McDonnel as Laura Roslin, the surviving Secretary of State for Education who has to take over the role of President of the Colonies

Laura turns out to be a tough cookie, deceptive appearances to the contrary, and an able leader of the diverse remnants of the human population now inhabiting a motley assortment of civilian spacecraft. She and Adama will have many run-ins and conflicts of interest, eventually developing mutual respect and a very touching relationship.


A rare peaceful interlude. In a pivotal section of the story, the Colonists are persuaded to reject Laura as president by the despicable Gaius Baltar (below), abandoning their search for Earth to settle on a planet they call “New Caprica”, supposedly hidden from the Cylons by a nearby source of stellar radiation.

Many of the military elect to join the ground colony and start families, under the indolent presidency of Baltar. Galactica and Pegasus (the other surviving Battlestar encountered later) are essentially reduced to watchkeeping (and Adama grows that moustache). Then all hell breaks loose, as the Cylons find the colony, thanks indirectly to one of Baltar's many betrayals. There follows a period of occupation and guerilla-style insurgency, suicide bombing and reprisals. Some humans join the Cylon's secret police force, Baltar is coerced into signing death warrants for civilians, and a conflict escalates which echoes many around the world in recent times, as well as the Nazi occupations of WWII.

The four episodes that open Season 3, leading to the final liberation of the human colony, would make a blockbusting movie epic in their own right.


The beautiful Canadian model and actress Tricia Helfer, who plays many different instances of the Cylon “Number Six”

“Number Six” is undoubtedly the most complex of the Cylon models. As the instance known by the Cylons as “Caprica-Six”, she is responsible for seducing the brilliant scientist Gaius Baltar, giving the Cylons access to the Caprica defence mainframe and enabling the devastating nuclear attack on the planet.


Gaius Baltar (the English actor James Callis) with “Head/Inner/Messenger Six”, a non-corporeal instance of the Cylon model who constantly guides and motivates Gaius

One of the quirks of BSG are the frequent views of Gaius and “Head Six” when other people are present. Her interactions with him are quite physical, and when we see them from other people's point of view (when she is invisible) he is doing all kinds of strange things, including apparently talking to himself, which he has to desperately cover up. Surely someone would notice? And it gets even stranger before the end...


Gina Inviere, a very different instance of “Six”, with Gaius Baltar

Gina infiltrates Pegasus and is responsible for its invasion by Cylon soldiers. She is subsequently unmasked and traumatized by severe sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Pegasus' crew, instigated by and participated in by the brutal Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes). Baltar assists her to escape, whereupon she kills the Admiral (something that most viewers will feel is long overdue). Baltar hides her in the fleet, forming a long-unrequited relationship with her that complicates his relationship with “Head Six”. This relationship will ultimately lead to the discovery of New Caprica by the Cylons.

A full description of the “Six” model instances will be found here (with spoilers).


Katee Sackhoff as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, considered to be Galactica's best Viper pilot

Kara is one of BSG's most deeply-developed central characters. Tough but vulnerable, she has complex relationships with other main characters. Saul Tigh (see later below), Galactica's Exec, throws her in the brig for insubordination. Commander Adama sees her as a daughter figure, and his son Lee Adama sees her as lead pilot, sparring partner and sometime lover. Kara doesn't appear to value her own life, but saves the fleet many times by extraordinary feats of flying and courage.

She has a final destiny that I have no intention of describing here...

Kara with Lee “Apollo” Adama (the English actor Jamie Bamber), who for some time is the CAG (Commander, Air Group) for Galactica

Due to tragic family history (caused inadvertently by Kara, though this isn't discovered until later), Lee and his father have a difficult relationship, one of many such interesting story-lines that thread BSG.


Kara in deep trouble, later in the story, and an illustration of how Kara's character was developed through Katee's acting ability


The American-born Canadian actress Grace Park as Sharon “Boomer” Valerii, one of the instances of the “Number Eight” Cylon model

The first Sharon that we meet is “Boomer”, a pilot who doesn't realise that she is a Cylon. Boomer has an against-regs relationship with Chief Tyrol (see later below), who initially protects her when Sharon realises that she is unwittingly performing acts of sabotage. She asks Gaius Baltar to test her for being a Cylon; Gaius does so but falsifies the result out of cowardice.

Eventually she is triggered into shooting Commander Adama, nearly fatally, and is subjected to severe interrogations by Saul Tigh and Gaius Baltar. She is subsequently shot and killed by Cally, a female colleague of Chief Tyrol. A new instance of Boomer will return later...


We meet the second Sharon (given the callsign “Athena” much later) when Karl “Helo” Agathon (the Canadian actor Tahmoh Penikett) is stranded on Caprica. Helo thinks that this is the return of Boomer who was evacuating civilians; this Sharon is a knowing part of a Cylon plot to form a relationship with him and infiltrate the human fleet. But then Helo sees another “Eight” copy and realises what is going on, by which time this Sharon has genuinely fallen in love with him, and is pregnant with his child - a child who will be of immense importance in the future.

Returning to Galactica, a really interesting sequence of events develops, as various attempts to have her executed are postponed by Sharon's decisions to support the humans against the Cylons, saving the humans on several occasions. Winning trust (including Helo's) is a long and painful process, culminating in Adama's extraordinary appointment of her to lead the rescue mission on New Caprica, as only she can defeat their systems on the ground.

“How do you really know that you can trust me?” she asks Adama before the mission. “I don't,” replies Adama. “That's what trust is.”

On her return from the successful mission, it is the pilots themselves who give her the callsign “Athena”.

Helo later becomes the conscience of Galactica, first arguing against and then thwarting an opportunity to completely wipe out the Cylons in an act of genocide. Adama, secretly relieved, declines to punish him for what is in fact a serious act of treason, and the notion that Cylons are “just machines” begins to die.


Chief Galen Tyrol, “The Chief” (the Canadian actor Aaron Douglas)

Responsible for keeping Galactica's fighters operational, and even building one as a personal project during a desperate period, The Chief was originally intended to be a minor character in BSG. However he becomes a complex and important part of the story, representing the interests of the working man, becoming part of the resistance movement on New Caprica, and at one point making a key discovery in the search for Earth.


Samual T. Anders, callsign “Longshot” (the American actor Michael Trucco)

Sam Anders' role in the BSG story is much more complex than first appears. We meet him on Caprica after the Cylons' nuclear attack, leading a resistance group that escaped the initial devastation. In planting explosives he encounters Caprica-Six, the reincarnated Boomer and (for the first time) “Three” (see later below). Inexplicably at the time, the first two turn on “Three” and allow him to escape, one of the first indications of dissention developing among the Cylons.

Anders later meets Starbuck who is on a personal mission from President Roslin (an unapproved mission which leads Adama to imprison the President and declare Martial Law). Anders and Kara form a relationship, and Kara promises to return to rescue him and the rest of the team, although it will be a long time until she can fulfil that promise.


Sam marries Kara on New Caprica, and later rescues her from a particularly unpleasant captivity after the Cylon invasion. Kara's problems and her relationship with Lee Adama make the marriage very difficult, and eventually it breaks down. But Sam's part in the BSG story is far from over...


Saul Tigh, Galactica's Exec (played by the Canadian actor Michael Hogan), after losing an eye during mistreatment by the Cylons on New Caprica


Adama welcomes Saul back to Galactica after the rescue mission on New Caprica. Saul's experiences there have made him very bitter, and for a long time he is useless, and even destructive, as a functioning officer. He was responsible for hard-line insurgency on New Caprica, and was put in the position of killing his toxic wife Ellen after she (not quite fatally) betrayed the rescue operation.

Prior to the New Caprica incident, Saul had a disastrous experience deputizing for Adama after the Commander was shot by Boomer. His relationship with Adama goes back a long way, and we discover over a period of time why Adama tolerates less than ideal behaviour in his hard-drinking Exec.


Saul Tigh with an instance of the Cylon “Three” (the New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless), towards the end of the story

This encounter follows some extraordinary developments in the lives of both of these characters (and in many other lives as well). Explaining why would be a serious spoiler...

BSG does have some flaws or weaknesses, unsurprising in an epic of 77 episodes including the opening miniseries. Some people view the end itself as one such; I found myself coughing gently when I recognized the Citroen DS, and several other European cars, parked on Caprica (the makers must have hoped that US audiences wouldn't notice). However from my point of view these are totally minor, and I am enjoying BSG just as much, if not more, on my second time through.


If you like this...

WARNING: SPOILERS

[List of BSG episodes]
[Quotations from BSG]




The Mexican singer Malukah (real name Judith de los Santos) has a beautiful voice, and she has made some very popular cover versions of songs from computer games like Skyrim (among others), as well as music from other kinds of popular entertainment.

I particularly liked this version of the Game of Thrones Theme and “The Children” from the same popular TV series, as well as her recording of “Misty Mountains” from the film The Hobbit.

You can currently download several of her songs for free at her web site, or watch and listen to her here on Youtube.



Mathias (Richard Harrington) and Mared (Mali Harries) in the “Welsh Noir” mini-series Hinterland

From the page:

You may remember Richard Harrington from Bleak House, IMO one of the finest TV dramas of all time, and certainly one of the finest TV versions of a Charles Dickens novel. (Richard is also one of the actors featured in my previous post below.)

I have featured some of my favourite “Nordic Noir” here. On a scale of the Swedish Wallander (my yardstick) = 10, Hinterland scores for me about 7 - but that's a high score, and it's well worth watching for its highly atmospheric stories (4, so far).

The other joy of Hinterland for me was listening to the beautiful Welsh language, with subtitles. One of the reasons that I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (the book) so much was the depth given to it by Tolkien's creation of the various languages, and Elvish in particular (he was persuaded not to write the whole book in Elvish as it would have been unpublishable).

Having also greatly enjoyed Peter Jackson's film version, and the care taken to do justice to Tolkien's Elvish language (among many other things), I found myself listening to Welsh in Hinterland and often almost hearing the Elvish that Peter Jackson's team worked so hard to reproduce. I knew that Tolkien had drawn on Celtic roots for his story, but this was still a very interesting and pleasurable surprise.



A collection of fine actors read truly great poetry - a feast of sheer quality packed into less than 2 minutes.

This is a real treat... don't miss it!




This wonderful happy song (click the lyrics to listen) reminded me...

Life sometimes seem just too frenetic, with no time to stop and watch the world go by.

The Norwegians, recognizing this, have pioneered a new kind of entertainment with Slow TV. You can spend hours on a train just looking at the scenery, or enjoy a slow cruise up the Norwegian fjords, or stare dreamily into a log fire (if you're not lucky enough to have one of your own), or watch salmon swimming upstream...

It sounds unlikely as a crowd-pleaser? Well, an early experiment drew 1.25 million viewers in Norway, about a fifth of the population, and the idea is certainly taking off as you can see here (literally, in the case of British Airways, who are introducing an example of Slow TV on their long haul flights).

I peek into the future and sadly see people still living in urban sprawls, but with low-cost giant HD screens showing a better world outside...






If you like this...

[A complete virtual trip (can be sampled!) on the Trans Siberian Railway]
[Caretake this moment...]
[Go placidly amid the noise and haste...]
[Creating a field of flowers]
[Things to enjoy in life (including this one)]


Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia on BBC Breakfast, talking about “The Bridge”


A couple of days ago we saw Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, stars of the mega-popular Scandi-hit The Bridge (finishing its second season here in the UK, with another season in production), appearing on BBC Breakfast. They are over here for London's Nordicana Festival, devoted to Nordic fiction and film.

It was particularly nice to meet the real Sofia, who has a charming and bubbly personality very different from that of Saga, the character she plays on television. Saga has an unspecified condition that might be Asperger's, a condition that makes her a brilliantly intuitive (and sometimes scary) detective who is almost totally deficient in inter-personal skills.

Kim is obviously a big fan of Sofia. “People ask me how I can work with someone without feelings - but when Sofia is acting, you see all of Saga's feelings in her eyes - so many feelings.”

Asked about any problems that came up between the Swedish and Danish languages, Sofia explained that the initial difficulties actually helped. “Being Saga is like being behind a glass wall. At the beginning it was very difficult... It demands a good one [Kim] to play against, otherwise I wouldn't have dared to do it.”

The Nordicana Festival, running in London at the beginning of February, is a remarkable illustration of how popular Nordic entertainment and literature has become over here (see my previous post, for instance).


If you're interested...

[More about The Bridge, and the “Scandinavian Invasion” generally, here on my web site]


Borgen III

The wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays Birgitte Nyborg
(image from this Danish article on her new English-language role in the forthcoming movie The Duke of Burgundy)

A sizeable part of England has pretty much fallen in love with this lady, whom we have just said goodbye to in the third and final season of Borgen. It has been IMO one of the best (and most enjoyable) political and human dramas that we are likely to see for quite some time.

It wasn't long ago that the idea of a subtitled foreign-language TV series grabbing a whole country's attention would have seemed crazy - particularly a series about coalition politics in a country of only some 4 millions voters. But that was before Wallander (with Krister Henniksson), The Killing (original Danish version), and The Bridge (now running its second season over here), made BBC4 a prime time channel.

On top of which, unlike the other Scandi-hits, Borgen is not a crime drama, but is every bit as gripping - thanks in no small part to its creator and main writer Adam Price (an interesting character in his own right). Adam made unlikely issues (such as unethical pig farming and hypocrisy over prostitution) so compelling in Borgen that they apparently affected real-life politics in Denmark.

In the final season Birgitte returns to politics from her spell in the international private sector - and eventually realises that she must take the apparently mad step of trying to form a new centre party. As before, her combination of womanly sex-appeal, gritty determination, political savvy (not infallible) and essential humanity make her a very different kind of “Iron Lady” from the famous one.

Also as in previous seasons, Borgen is far from a one-woman show. Katrine Fønsmark (played by the beautiful Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, nominated as “Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series” at Monte Carlo in 2013), moves from journalism to a major role as Birgitte's media adviser and campaign manager. Torben Friis, TV1's editor-in-chief (played by Søren Malling, Sarah Lund's sidekick in The Killing), finds himself sinking beneath personal and work problems, the latter due to the attempted dumbing-down of TV1 news in search of ratings (a cliff-hanging development that also threatens Birgitte's political success). Will he recover? Will the worm turn? And the formation of the new party brings in a collection of characters of different political shades, some of whom are old friends to Borgen viewers, some new, and all excellently portrayed.

While on the international circuit, Birgitte acquires a new (and thoroughly nice) English architect boyfriend, Jeremy Welsh (played by Alastair Mackenzie, also thoroughly nice in real life and best known for the well-loved TV Series Monarch of the Glen). Asked on BBC Breakfast to explain the appeal of Borgen to non-Danish viewers, he said that apart from Birgitte Nyborg herself, it was simply because the series was so good.

Adam Price's decision to draw a hard line under Borgen III allowed the story to reach a very satisfying (and unexpected) conclusion. It also liberated the small pool of Danish top-class dramatic talent to work on new projects, including one of his own (a new television drama in collaboration with House of Cards creator Michael Dobbs).

Fans of the Danish (and Swedish) TV hits have had some fun spotting how this small pool of Danish dramatic talent gets recycled between different productions. But now we are also getting used to seeing them appearing in British TV - e.g. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen appearing in Agatha Christie's Marple with Julia McKenzie (the recently aired episode Endless Night), and Lars Mikkelsen as the wonderfully repellent master villain Charles Augustus Magnussen in the cracking third and final episode of Sherlock (season 3), His Last Vow - and see the caption on the above image!

If you haven't seen Borgen but think you might like to, may I suggest this as your next stop!

If you like this...

[My posts on Nordic Noir]
[Borgen II]
[Borgen I]
[Birgitte Hjort Sørensen]

...and from the Movies / TV page of my web site

[The Scandinavian Invasion]



Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, one of many good reasons for watching the superb Danish political thriller Borgen
(see my previous post below)


Borgen II

A less likely scenario for a major television hit would be hard to imagine: a story about coalition politics, with a non-obvious title*, in a language even less familiar to most of us than Swedish, with subtitles...

However ever since the Swedish Wallander and the magnificent first Danish series of The Killing, Scandinavian police and political drama has attracted a large audience in the UK. BBC4 has established a prime time Saturday night slot, with multiple repeats through the week, for high quality original-language drama of this type (we are currently getting Spiral, a French import).

The second season of Borgen has sadly just come to an end, and it has been every bit as good as the first season. Thanks to great acting, direction and scripts, the main characters have somehow become part of our lives...

(If you click on one of my screenshots, in most cases you will get many more images of the actor.)

The wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg, here coming to terms with the effect of her life pressures on her young teenage daughter


Mikael Birkkjær (a hearthrob for female viewers, I'm told) as Phillip Christensen, whose marriage to Birgitte fell apart in Series 1, but who is still part of Birgitte's life. We saw him as Detective Ulrik Strange in The Killing.


Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Katrine Fønsmark, a headstrong TV1 news anchor (whose attitude gets her an enforced leave of absence from TV1 to do other things), with Kasper Juul, the Prime Minister's media adviser. Katrine and Kasper each have relationships with other people, but keep gravitating irresistably together...


Johan Philip ("Pilou") Asbæk as Kasper Juul (also a hearthrob for female viewers, apparently). We saw Pilou in a wheelchair as the 3rd victim in The Killing II. Here he is meeting up with his demented mother, near to resolving his relationship-threatening history of child abuse.


Søren Malling as Torben Friis, TV1's editor-in-chief, here about to pronounce on whether Katrina can have her job back. Søren was superb as Sarah Lund's colleague and foil Jan Meyer in the first series of The Killing, and we also saw him as Major Kàrlis Liepa in the English version of Wallander, in an episode called "The Dogs of Riga".


Lars Knutzon as Bent Sejrø, some time Finance Minister, and always a good friend and mentor to Birgitte - one of many excellently-drawn minor characters without which Borgen wouldn't be as good as it is


Bjarne Henriksen as Hans Christian Thorsen, the Defence Minister, here listening to Birgitte in the Danish Parliament. His role in Borgen is a minor one, but in the first (and greatest) The Killing he was superb as Theis Birk Larsen, father of the murdered girl around whose death that story revolves... in 20 one-hour episodes.


Birgitte, delivering the "extraordinary statement" to the small Danish Parliament that closes Season 2 of Borgen

We're told that the third (and probably last) season will be transmitted in the UK in 2014 - I'm really looking forward to it!

*(Borgen, I discovered from Wikipedia, translates as "The castle", "The fortress" or "The burg", which is the nickname among Danish politicians for Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark's branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court.)


If you like this, you might like my other posts on...

[Nordic Noir]
[Borgen]



The beautiful Christina Hendricks - one of several good reasons for watching Mad Men

(This popular wallpaper was apparently published by Eggshellgb on deviantART as a retouch of a bad production photo, but has now disappeared from there. If you want to find a full-size original, first click the image above, then select Larger than... 800x600, then go to Options, Advanced Search and select an aspect ratio of Wide - good luck!)


Angels Take Manhattan was the last episode of Doctor Who to feature Amy Pond (I shall really miss Karen Gillan). It was probably the best Doctor Who episode of all time, thanks to a superb script by creator Steven Moffat and great work by the whole team.

The long time-knotted story of Amy Pond, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and River Song (the superb Alex Kingston) reaches an emotionally charged, bitter-sweet conclusion in this episode. The series that have featured Matt Smith as the Doctor have occasionally been barmy (for example Churchill and the Spitfires flying in space), but at their best they have been really good - and this episode, which features the genuinely scary Weeping Angels, was in a class of its own.

As well as a few of my screenshots, I have reproduced the closing words from the story below. As spoken by Amy, they really cracked me up...






Afterword by Amelia Williams

Hello old friend - and here we are. You and me, on the last page. By the time you read these words, Rory and I will be long gone. So know that we lived well, and were very happy. And above all else, know that we will love you always.

Sometimes I do worry about you though. I think, once we're gone, you won't be coming back here for a while, and you might be alone, which you should never be. Don't be alone, Doctor.

And do one more thing for me. There's a little girl waiting in a garden. She's going to wait a long while, so she's going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she's patient, the days are coming that she'll never forget. Tell her that she'll go to sea and fight pirates. She'll fall in love with a man who'll wait 2,000 years to keep her safe. Tell her that she'll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived, and save a whale in outer space! Tell her: this is the story of Amelia Pond - and this is how it ends.








BBC4 seems to have created (or discovered) an audience for excellent foreign crime fiction (strangely undeterred by subtitles) in its Saturday night slot. In 2009 it dabbled with the superb Swedish Wallander starring Krister Henriksson, before showing the entire first series, followed later by the equally superb second series. Then came two series of The Killing, an equally impressive offering from Denmark, and just recently Borgen, a cracking political thriller from the same company.

Some time ago BBC4 also dabbled with Inspector Montalbano, a very different kind of crime series from Italy. True to form it first showed two random episodes (Excursion to Tindari, from which my screenshots above come, and Montalbano's Croquettes) some months apart. Now, thankfully, it has decided (after much dithering) to show us all 10 of the RAI TV episodes, starting with The Snack Thief.

I am already a huge fan of the TV series, which is about as far from Nordic gloom as a crime series can get (OK - except for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency), and all of Camilleri's novels are now on my reading list!

An excellent description of everything you might want to know about Inspector Montalbano will be found here.

From Wikipedia (my links):

Inspector Montalbano lives and works in the fictional town of "Vigàta", in the equally fictional district of "Montelusa". Camilleri based Vigata on his home town of Porto Empedocle, on Sicily's south-west coast, while Montelusa, the district headquarters, is based on Agrigento. However the dramatizations of the Montalbano stories were mainly filmed at Ragusa, while the seaside and harbour locations were at Punta Secca and Licata.


If you would like to see a lot more good stuff that has been on the BBC...

[...click the BBC tag at the top of this post!]



Jean Shrimpton excellently portrayed by Karen Gillan (with an equally good performance from the Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard as the cocky, in-your-face David Bailey)

Extract from Wikipedia (the links are mine):

Shrimpton was once engaged to photographer David Bailey. They met in 1960 at a photo shoot that Shrimpton, who was then an unknown model, was working on with photographer Brian Duffy for a Kellogg's corn flakes advertisement.

Duffy told Bailey she was too posh for him, but Bailey was undeterred, and he and Shrimpton subsequently had a relationship for four years, ending in 1964...

Shrimpton has stated she owed Bailey her career, and he is often credited for discovering her and being influential in her career.

In turn, she was Bailey's muse, and his photographs of her helped him rise to prominence in his early career. Shrimpton's other celebrated romance was with actor Terence Stamp.

She married photographer Michael Cox in 1979 at Penzance register office when she was four months pregnant with their son Thaddeus (born in 1979). They own the Abbey Hotel in Penzance, Cornwall, now managed by Thaddeus and his family...


More about the Abbey Hotel in my previous post below.


[All of my posts on Karen Gillan]



Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte Nyborg in the new Danish TV masterpiece, the political thriller Borgen
(high def image from here)

If you like "Nordic Noir", and The Killing in particular, don't miss this new production from DR - it's a cracking political thriller of the highest quality. The first season of 10 1-hour episodes (no commercial breaks) has just started on BBC4, with at least one more season to come.

Update 13th Feb: This series, just completed on BBC4, has certainly not disappointed. Strictly speaking it is Nordic but not "Noir", although it shares with the Danish version of The Killing the same concentration on personal lives under stress (and several actors as well, Denmark being a small country!).

(Borgen, I discovered from Wikipedia, translates as "The castle", "The fortress" or "The burg", which is the nickname among Danish politicians for Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark's branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court.)



If you like this...

[Nordic Noir (links)]    [Nordic Noir (in this blog)]




Doctor Who stepped up to a whole new level when Christopher Eccleston took over as the Doctor (followed by David Tennant) and Billie Piper played Rose, and for the first time Doctor Who gave us a genuinely poignant love story.

The latest series has different kinds of relationships between the main players. We have come to expect great things from the Doctor's "assistant", and Karen Gillan as Amy Pond was (for my money) the best reason for watching the latest incarnation.


(Original post: March 26th, 2011)


A time of great sorrow is upon us here in the UK - the imminent end of a truly superb crime series, probably the best of the wave of excellent "Nordic Noir" that we have been enjoying in the last few years, which in 20 one-hour episodes has been following 20 days in a complex and fascinating investigation.

I could explain why I think it's so good, but I can't improve on the reasons given here.


[For more excellent "Nordic Noir" in previous reviews, click the nordic-noir tag at the top of this post...]


BBC TV 'Mistresses' with Orla Brady and Sarah Parish
(Original post: August 25th, 2010)

I didn't see the previous two series of Mistresses, but I am greatly enjoying the third one.

The glam image to the left conveys a typical sex-and-shopping romp for the chicks, but (like the name "Mistresses") it doesn't convey anything of the current series, which is an excellently produced, fascinating working-out of tangled relationships with very little glamour.

I like all of the actresses who play the "Mistresses", but IMO the two who make it as good as it is are Orla Brady and Sarah Parish, shown below.

Hollywood moguls, apparently, consider that any woman over 40 is no longer attractive (an attitude that the typical Frenchman, for example, would consider barking). Orla Brady (who gave Wallander a brief interlude of happiness in the English-version episode called "Firewall"), is currently 49, and Sarah Parish is currently 42.

And then there is Sarah's screen mother, the still absolutely fabulous Joanna Lumley, now 64 and wearing her age with beauty, dignity and grace.

Those Hollywood moguls need to wake up.


BTW: another multi-season BBC series featuring a fabulous collection of oldies (in this case mostly male, but including the wonderful Amanda Redman) is New Tricks. This still startles the BBC with record audiences whenever it slips a single episode of a past series into an inconvenient gap in its schedules.


Orla Brady and Sarah Parish


(Original post: August 2nd, 2010)

I was watching an edition of BBC's Countryfile programme recently, which featured the Yorkshire town of Holmfirth, shooting location for the classic BBC series Last of the Summer Wine, and was reminded what a gem of entertainment that series was, at least in its early seasons.

The disreputable antics of Foggy, Compo and Clegg, retired but determined to enjoy it, and their battles with various disapproving womenfolk, delighted millions of people around the world for many years (it's the longest-running comedy show in the world). The cast has changed over time, but this trio (together with Nora Batty) remain in my memory as the essence and heart of the show.


The London-born Bill Owen (Yorkshire's favourite adopted son) as Compo, and Kathy Staff as her real self, both now sadly passed away


Kathy Staff as the battleaxe Nora Batty


Clegg (Peter Sallis), Compo and Foggy (Brian Wilde) being seen off by Nora Batty in typical style

The Countryfile programme played a clip of one of many encounters between the doggedly (and leg-pullingly) amorous Compo and Nora Batty. He chaffs her for driving him wild with the clothes-peg in her mouth, and she replies (please imagine a trenchant Yorkshire accent): "How come you're still interested in women at your age?", to which Compo counters: "I think it's because you're the only opposite sex we've got... and they don't come any more opposite than thee!"

In later seasons the humour still remained, but as the cast changed and expanded it became somewhat formulaic with a number of endlessly repeated running gags and situations (e.g. the ladies simultaneously raising their tea-cups after disparaging the men, Howard and Marina hiding from Howard's wife). I still love the originals. It's time to get hold of those DVDs...




(Original post: September 11th, 2009 - updated again July 28th 2014)

One of the best things I have seen on TV for a long time is the original Swedish version of Henning Mankell's Inspector Wallander, starring Krister Henriksson and Johanna Sallstrom (Johanna later died tragically), which has been running on BBC4. The BBC (for reasons best known to themselves) have suspended the series after 10 episodes, deciding to show the remaining 3 episodes of this series over the Christmas period (actually as of October 2009 they are starting again with the entire 13 episodes).

The cinematography, atmosphere, acting and stories have all been really first class. A good English language version of 3 episodes starring Kenneth Branagh introduced Wallander to many English viewers who (like me) had never heard of him, but the original Swedish version is even better.

Wallander has some of the melancholy of Inspector Morse (Kenneth Branagh was dubbed "Inspector Norse"), but he is not the "prima donna" of John Thaw's classic interpretation of Morse. Krister Henriksson plays Wallander as a serious cop, well able to work with colleagues (including his screen daughter Linda) who are real people with real problems. The sometimes tedious conventions of English and American TV detective shows are refreshingly missing in Wallander. The events in the stories are often quite brutal, but are counterbalanced by the natural beauty of the area, the realistic and absorbing personal relationships, and the quietness of the professional police operations.

The Inspector Wallander web site, intended for English-speaking fans, is an excellent source of information on the series. Among other things you can find out about the second Swedish series, and get advice on a logical reading order for the translated books.

I am actually not a great fan of the books, especially the early ones. Kenneth Branagh's version of Wallander is drawn from these books, whereas the Krister Hendriksson version is based on specially-written stories for the series, when Wallander is much older and more experienced.

The second series of Wallander starring Krister Henriksson is, unusually for a sequel, every bit as good as the first. Wallander's daughter is no longer with him (for reasons not dwelt on), but a new recruit, played excellently by Nina Zanjani, provides a new non-sexual relationship with Wallander which is part of the enormous appeal of this series.

The third (and definitely final) series is not quite as enjoyable as the second, due to Wallander's character succumbing slowly to Alzheimer's as his career draws to its inevitable end, but is of unmissable quality. His daughter Linda returns, this time married and played most capably by Charlotta Jonsson. Krister Hendriksson's acting, however, is in a class of its own.

In 2014, Britain is totally hooked on the superb standard of Nordic Noir and Borgen. Krister Hendriksson's Wallander was where it all began.

If you like this...

[My Movies/TV page]