Magazine article The Spectator

Bonjour, Benelux!

Magazine article The Spectator

Bonjour, Benelux!

Article excerpt

So long, Scandinavia. Bonjour, Benelux!

BBC4, your subtitle-friendly channel, has filled the hole left by Nordic-noir The Bridge with Belgian crime drama Salamander (Saturday). At first, I thought this might involve a series of murder mysteries set in Flemish country houses, all solved by a dapper English detective called Horace Parrot. Not to be. Salamander is a 12-parter that kicks off with a break-in at the very heart of evil, a private bank in Brussels. The robbery eventually lands incorruptible police investigator Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters) in the midst of a dangerous conspiracy, as he is chased by all manner of crooks keen to protect secrets they'd kept in their safe-deposit boxes.

Salamander, like its amphibian namesake, is a creation at once sleek and slow-moving.

It took 12 TV minutes for six men to rob the bank - an eternity. Even I could crack a high-security facility in that time (I think).

The dialogue was both spare and laboured, while cliches abounded - the lone good cop, the 66 stolen safety boxes, the banker baddies with their bald pates and sinister spectacles, a community of monks. Yet it was also gripping. The aesthetic was elegant, showing off Belgian architecture - less showy than French buildings, more grandiose than Nordic ones - to good effect. Gerardi, craggyfaced, with bohemian grey hair and a beard, was like a Rodin statue come to life. I will keep watching, if only to soak in the Brussels atmosphere and to find out what the monks are up to.

Did I say 'so long, Scandinavia'? Not so fast. Midsomer Murders (ITV, Wednesday), epitome of the pastoral English whodunnit, feted its 100th episode by setting it partly in Denmark, with Ann Eleanora Jorgensen from The Killing and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen from Borgen making appearances as Copenhagen cops. The episode, called 'The Killings in Copenhagen', was born of mutual admiration, as Midsomer is Denmark's most popular foreign-TV acquisition. It opened with the murder of a man in a hotel room in the Danish capital. But the man was a Briton and was killed in a most British way, by a biscuit. It turned out he's Eric Calder, the bikkie baron of a Midsomer bakery, so cue the entrance of DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon).

From then on, scenes of stark, cool Copenhagen with its savvy female detectives alternated with snippets of a sweet English tea room and a Willy Wonka-type factory that churned out teatime treats. An uneven mixture, and midway things crumbled. …

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