In recent years, European drama has become a fixture on British television, with fantastic shows from right across the continent. Germany recently brought us the brilliant Deutschland 83, from France there is the eerie drama The Returned, while Italy’s finest detective Inspector Montalbano has been broadcast on BBC Four for nearly a decade now. Even Netflix is getting in on the act, commissioning the French political drama Marseilles, albeit amusingly with the infamously ‘self-Francophobe’ Gerard Depardieu in the lead role.
Yet one region of the continent leads the way when it comes to quality television: Scandinavia. The Killing and Wallander started the phenomenon, and since then The Bridge, Borgen, Trapped, Those Who Kill, 1864, and others have followed.
Blue Eyes (Blå Ögon) is the latest import, shown as part of Channel 4’s ‘Walter Presents’ initiative. And my word, is it good. The Swedish political thriller follows the rise of the fictional right-wing nationalist ‘Security Party’ in the lead-up to the national elections, yet weaves this alongside Neo-Nazi terrorism, political intrigue, family drama and overall commentary on Swedish life. The basic premise was not without controversy when it was released in Sweden, due to the rather blatant parallels between the Security Party and the real-life ‘Swedish Democrats’, themselves a right-wing nationalist party. Yet this connection to reality was part of what made the show quite so effective.Often when the term ‘political thriller’ is used, the material in question will be thriller first, and politics second, with the ideological context of the characters no more than a backdrop. Yet on Blue Eyes, there was a concerted, and successful, effort to examine the circumstances in which far-right politics thrives. Towards the end there was some political posturing as one might expect, but that was justified as the ending to a well-rounded first series.
Central to the commentary were the Nilsson siblings – Sofia and Simon. It’s through them – a working-class family drawn further into the drama as the series progressed – that the corrosive nature of the politics became clear. In the aftermath of the murder of their mother Annika at the end of the first episode, Sofia finds common ground with the nationalist sentiment of one of the Neo-Nazis, and becomes part of the group Veritas. Such a development could easily feel contrived -indeed there are other times where coincidences move the plot along slightly too conspicuously to seem organic – yet one does sympathise with why Sofia takes the path she does, even if not agreeing with it. It’s a small distinction to make, yet one that carries through the series overall.
The core members of Veritas themselves, leader Gustav and Sofia’s recruiter Mattias, are passionate and vitriolic, but never appear as caricatures, with their ideology accurately mirroring right-wing thought across the continent. Their views may be reprehensible, but the show is written to allow the viewer to come to that belief, rather than forcing them towards it. Thus, the Security Party, while sharing the same questionable views, if not to the same extent, has human characters with their own developments and motivations beyond ‘right-wing politics’.None of this is to say there isn’t a great deal of excitement in the show. Alongside the political content, the show also follows Elin Hammar, the main character, who returns to her former role as Chief of Staff to the Minister for Justice after her predecessor (and successor, who had taken her job previously) disappears. It’s the closest to the ‘Scandi Noir’ trope as the show gets, with actress Louise Peterhoff sporting the classic knitwear made so popular by Sarah Lund in The Killing and Saga in The Bridge. But here is where the similarities end, with Peterhoff’s Elin a far different protagonist. She’s not a detective, nor is she in a position of particular power – far from it. Instead, she’s proactive while on the back foot, connecting the dots of the conspiracy she discovers. It’s a great performance with the same rounded quality of the rest of the cast, who are all written and portrayed as more than their plot points.
Overall, it was a fantastic ride to be on while it lasted. The ending seemed to point strongly towards a second season, but with it originally airing from the end of 2014 and start of 2015, the lack of news since makes the possibility of it materialising seem unfortunately bleak.