What is it about Scandinavian drama?

Film stripsI have just completed the second series of the Danish television drama  The Legacy. The Legacy tells the story of four adult siblings dealing with the repercussions of their mother’s death. Their mother was no ordinary woman. She was an internationally renowned artist who let her children to lead chaotic lives and this has continued to impact them in adulthood. It is only their mother’s death that brings them all back together. If you add a love child, adultery, fraud, drug abuse and suicide to an already fraught situation what you have is addictive viewing.

Then there is another personal favourite Borgen. A political drama series about Birgitte Nyborg the fictional first female Prime Minister of Denmark. A political drama that is riveting? Believe it. After watching all three series, you will never look at politicians or political announcements the same again. This series takes you behind the scenes – to the spin doctors, the compromises that have to be made and the destruction such exposure can have on your family and ideals. This is not dry, predictable drama. When you see Nyborg struggle to get into a skirt due to recent weight gain, you fall a little in love with her vulnerability and then you cheer her on as she tries to convince other political parties to form a coalition government. She is magnificent.

I can also recommend The Bridge. This crime drama begins with a body that has been cut in half and placed precisely on the border between Denmark and Sweden. This results in the cooperation between two unique detectives, Saga Norén, from Sweden, and Martin Rohde, from Denmark. Again there are no predictable plots here, and much of the drama comes from the interactions of the lead characters. You have Martin with his troubled private life, and Saga who has difficulty in social situations due to an unspecified almost Asperger-like condition. Together they make for fantastic viewing.

So what is it about Scandinavian drama? Well, to me it is about the quality of the acting and the unpredictability of the storylines. Combine that with relatable characters and strong female leads and I am won over – despite subtitles.

If you are looking for an evening more interesting and entertaining than another cooking or DIY TV show, then you need to get your hands on these DVDs. A friend of mine told me she hates subtitles as she didn’t come home after a hard day at work to “read the TV”, but I have even managed to convert her! Are you next?

Enlightened television

In our household we like a good TV series. In fact, we like to totally immerse ourselves . In the winter of 2010 it was The Wire that captured our lives. Jimmy, Omar, Kima, Lester and the city of Baltimore were beamed into our living room every night for weeks on end. We watched Season 1, 2, 3, and 4, we were addicted. We were drawn in by the complex storylines, well-developed characters and gritty social and political realism. It was a wonderful distraction during a difficult time.

We followed this with more series, a couple being Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire both compulsive and thrilling watches. More recently it has been Enlightened. This was recommended by a couple of colleagues, independent of each other. Librarians can be counted on for their recommendations.

DVDs at South LibraryDVDs at South Library

We watched the ten half-hour episodes in one night and were well satisfied with our viewing. I did say we immersed ourselves. We talked about Enlightened after watching it, we talked about it the next morning, and I continued talking about it when I got to work. It was enlightening.

The series begins with forty year old Amy, played by Laura Dern, returning home to live with her mother after spending the last couple of months at the Open Air Retreat following a self-destructive breakdown. Amy now intends to change herself, she is determined to make the world a better place, and begins each episode with some new age insight. Her good intentions are thwarted by her self obsessed personality and she goes on to create havoc at home and work. This sets the scene for some memorable interactions with her mother, ex-husband and co-workers.

Enlightened is full of irony, very funny and yet is an unsettling watch. In fact, it can be cringe making and compelling at the same time. It is an intriguing watch as Amy’s philosophical awakening gradually uncovers a dark side to corporate America. If you need a good thought provoking television series then look no further. You will not be disappointed.

What television series would you recommend for these last winter days?

Arts festival laughs in the face of adversity

coverChristchurch, gird your loins, pull up your bootstraps and pop a clean hankie in your pocket. Yes, the Christchurch Arts Festival, hard out laughing in the face of adversity, is back, and at the programme launch soirée last night, a varied and exciting array of artsy acts waiting to razzle-dazzle us was revealed.

Spread over eight weekends (12 August- 2 October) with 57 diverse events, The festival is utilising previously unplundered venues including the Rudolph Steiner School Hall, Aranui High School’s theatre and most bizarrely/excitingly of all Ginger Meggs Hair Design studio. Thanks to generous sponsorship ticket prices have been kept an incredibly low $5-$20 per ticket per event leaving us with no excuse to not to feast at the fest.

And what can you expect to enjoy? Theatre, dance, music, food, ideas, a programme for schools and the visual arts: Highlights include actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand as Rita Angus, the cast of the Simpsons in MacHomer, singer/songwriter Liam Finn, band Electric Wire Hustle Family, singer/songwriter Don McGlashan, The Royal New Zealand Ballet, chef Richard Till, writer Tess Gerritsen, Baby-O an opera for babies, The Press Festival of Ideas looking at Christchurch past, present and future … the list, as they say, is endless.

Tickets are available from Monday on the Christchurch Arts Festival website and Dash Tickets. Get in fast, as demand in culture-starved Christchurch is expected to be high.

Dave Armstrong, playwright, puts it on the line

Reserve Bro'town DVDs and annuals at Christchurch City LibrariesGoing to the first public reading of Dave Armstrong’s new play reinforced to me how much creative people bravely put themselves on the line when they go public. Reading from a published work can be pretty brave but an unpublished work? (See the wrap up of the opening night of the Festival)

Two actresses, the director and the dramaturge (new word for me – literary manager, in this case of Auckland Theatre Company) on a platform reading through General Ward (yesterday the title was changed to Visiting Hours). They have had two days of workshops prior to this and Dave Armstrong had supplied rewrites the morning of the reading. So it is all under development.

Plot – two women Iona (white, middle aged teacher at a private school and played by Catherine Wilkin) and Shinayd (17, Maori, check out operator and graduate of Harakeke High, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) find themselves side by side in the general ward of the local hospital recovering from serious surgery. After an initial period of cultural, generational and racial misunderstandings and disagreements they start to bond in their shared troubles of health and life and love.

The play has a way to go – the ending for instance needs work for the play to succeed and hearing the actors and the playwright talk and answer questions after the read was fascinating. The play begins with a lot of laughs and gets more serious as things go on. Shinayd about reading books “I had to read them at school so why should I do it now”. Shinayd on hearing about food and drink at the themed book club evenings that Iona loves so much. “So if you were reading Once Were Warriors you’d cook fried eggs and give each other the bash”

Dave Armstrong says he values workshopping as a potentially dangerous but valuable experience in writing a play. ATC is looking to include the play in its 2011 season. Dave Armstrong’s plays include Niu Sila (with Oscar Kightley), The Tutor, Le Sud, King and Country. His television writing includes Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, Bro’town, The Semisis, Skitz and Shortland Street.

Dr Who, I miss you…

This year, so far,  we’ve had two of the promised four Doctor Who special episodes and while they’ve been sufficiently Who-ish; Planet of the Dead featured a BBC budget Lara Croft-esque character called Lady Christina and The Next Doctor with an anatomically ambivalent CyberKing, the knowledge that this is  the delicious David Tennant’s protracted swan-song has made it a miserable experience so far.

Oh yes, Mr Tennant I’d climb into your TARDIS any day of the week  but I’m not so sure about this new chap Matt Smith, there is something vaguely unnerving about an actor born in 1982-the Peter Davidson era- playing a 900 year old time-lord. There is also a new assistant in the pipeline and with almost unimaginable self-restraint the new ginger –haired, Scottish lassie has been named Amy rather than the infinitely more obvious Heather or Agnes, this may yet prove a mistake as no-one likes a stereotype better than your average telly viewer and Scottish stereotypes are just so much fun, usually corrupt coppers or whiney, malnourished druggie/ crims.

We won’t be able to enjoy the next series for some considerable time here in far-flung NZ so in the meantime the library has oodles of Dr Who DVDs, audio-books, novels and magazines featuring the Doctor in his many guises. Yes, the vintage TV series sets do wobble and every second story-line was filmed in a quarry in the Cotswolds but for sheer nostalgia and a chance to hide in terror behind the couch again, they are well worth another watch. And although I must confess to having become a little fatigued by story editor Russell T Davies’s plots, the latest Doctor Who series have lots of famous acting faces, racey plots and fantastic CGI.  The empty child and The doctor dances with Chrstopher Eccleston are two of my favourite episodes and won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic presentation.

Beeb drama at its very best!