TV Review: The Spider
Copenhagen 1949. When young, idealistic journalist Bjarne Madsen (Jakob Cedergren) receives a tip-off about organised crime and black marketeering on a grand scale he decides to unravel the threads of the extensive network and work his way to the “Spider” himself. A highly esteemed crime reporter tries to dissuade him, but Bjarne is fearless—even when it transpires that there may be links from the Copenhagen underworld leading to the top echelons of the police force.
The Spider is the classic Danish series that first aired in 2000. Several cast members from The Spider would go on to star in the most popular Danish shows such as The Killing and Borgen. Released on DVD 15th June 2015, the DVD will feature all 6 episodes.
The Spider features an array of well-known Danish stars of series such as The Killing, Borgen & The Legacy, including Lars Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Bjarne Henriksen, Trine Dyrholm and Nikolaj Lie Kaas.
The world of horror cinema, born of the post psychoanalytical world, growing from the late 1800s and being fully born during the 1920s with such classics as Nosferatu, finally peaked in the 1930s: The Golden Age of Horror, which saw Universal dominate the cinemas with classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein. It would be a high point not to be repeated for decades as the genre found itself dying by 1941 as the US saw itself dragged into World War Two and the real horrors of the world present themselves to an unprepared American public. There were notable exceptions such as Cat People, but horror found itself being replaced by a genre that was still dark and full of grotesque characters, and also retained the often bleak ending that have characterised horror from the beginning: the genre of Film Noir. Lost souls searching for answers in an unforgiving world in which nobody was to be trusted and the resolution was not the happy ending you hoped for. The classic era ran from 1941 (the same year as the last great Universal horror The Wolf Man) until 1958 when Orson Welles’ seminal Touch of Evil was released. Noir itself would see itself beaten out by the arrival of Atomic age horror and Sci-fi that tied in with the growing fear of Communism and saw alien invasion as a metaphor for the paranoia of “Reds under the bed”.
Noir was, in many ways, the closest cousin to the horror genre. Dark worlds full of creepy characters where even those in authority were either not to be trusted or didn’t believe the protagonist in his pursuit of the truth. Even the femme fatale often resembled the vampire brides of horror. There were no happy endings in noir. Even if the hero caught the villain he still ended up losing everything else along the way.
In recent years, the horror genre has found its way back to commercial success at the cinema, and there have been a few successful TV shows coming out of the US (Dexter, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story), plus cult hits such as Hannibal and Penny Dreadful. In the UK, audiences are happy enough to watch dark material, but the masses seem more absorbed with reality TV or Downton Abbey (if ever there’s a show that needs Norman Bates or a plague of zombies to visit, surely that’s it?). Of late, the truly dark material of Europe has come out of the television world of the Nordic regions: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Borgen, Wallander, and The Killing being the breakout international hits. What is it about such seemingly nice, quiet and socio-politically advanced countries that their artists can produce such bleak, horrific and engaging stories?
Kicking off the world of darkness back in 2000 was The Spider. Set in a 1949 Denmark that was still dealing with the fallout of the Nazi domination of Europe, it’s the seemingly simple story of a dogged, yet naïve young journalist Bjarne Madsen (Jakob Cedergren – Those Who Kill, The Killing, The Sandhamn Murders) as he tries to discover who is ‘the spider’, the man at the top of the crime chain and responsible for the brutal murders of a growing number of people. It’s a world of grotesque characters doing unspeakable things in a conspiracy that seems to involve everybody. The police are all corrupt; gangsters evade justice; people who interfere or are a liability are all viciously murdered.
The Spider is set in a post-war Denmark still trying to come to terms with its complicated wartime past in which the country surrendered within two hours of a Nazi invasion and cooperated with Hitler’s regime until 1943 and saw many Danes join the Danish Nazi Party. It’s a broken country in which the poor still struggle with austerity while the rich and criminal elements work hand in hand for their own benefit.
It’s strange to see a European country take on the noir genre, but it works. Using the setting of the post war turmoil in which the forces of darkness seek to exploit and profit provides a fascinating story rarely seen.
The Spider also benefits from stand out performances, especially the always excellent Lars Mikkelsen (Headhunters, The Team, House of Cards, Borgen, The Killing) as Bjerne’s brother Ole, the troubled former Nazi, now a jazz lover who returns to Denmark from New York with dreams of setting up a jazz club, only to find himself drawn into the world of crime; and Stine Stendgade (Tidsrejen, Above Suspicion: Deadly Intent, Forsvar) as Lisbeth Gordan, the wannabe actress and spoilt daughter of the police chief who may be involved with “the spider” and is the good hearted if troubled femme fatale and love interest of the hapless Bjerne.
The story is engrossing and supremely watchable, leading to an ending that is unexpected.
The Spider is dark, brutal and pessimistic and is all the better for it. Recommended.
Images: Arrow Video & mhznetworks.org