Iceland has fewer people than Wellington, but that hasn’t stopped them from making a gripping, claustrophobic police drama, writes ANDREW JOHNSTONE.
CAPSULE COMMENT: Former highflying Reyjkavik police detective Andri Olafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) has retreated to the small coastal town of Seyðisfjörður after the disintegration of his marriage. He is awaiting the arrival of his ex-wife who is about to take custody of their two daughters, and is not in the best emotional state when a body is fished out of the water and a huge storm sets in, which cuts the community off from assistance and essential services. Apparently by Icelandic standards it’s ‘so far so good’, but it is only going to get worse for the increasingly harassed but marvellously stoic Andri. More bodies follow, and incidents with Lithuanian gangsters and corrupt local officials are all made worse by some frustrating political interference from his jealous senior back in the capital, who is resentful of Andri’s superior skills and reputation. Dark, dry and wry, Trapped is an interesting introduction to the Icelandic mindset, one not a hundred miles from that of another isolated island state called New Zealand. A terrific first season, with Season Two due in 2018.
A TV series from Iceland? Well, that’s got to be a story in itself. I mean, Iceland is tiny, with a population slightly less than the Wellington region and its Capital Reykjavik holding about as many people as Hamilton. TV productions are complex, costly and require considerable creative resource so for a small nation to have made something as polished and compelling as Trapped is quite a feat. The most expensive TV production this small nation has ever undertaken, it has been a sensation, not only in its home territory but also right across Europe, including the very influential British market.
In the first episode we learn that Iceland’s former colonial masters in Denmark are viewed with the same sort of eye rolling disdain Kiwis have for Australia, Poles have for Germans and Canadians have for the USA. We also learn that the mighty crash of the prosperous Icelandic economy in 2008 is still a raw wound that has made people contemptuous of bankers and cynical about politicians, and as for the harsh and brutal weather, it is described with understated nonchalance. Comments such as “it’s a bit bad today” abound.
Trapped is a real-time drama unfolding over a few days in a small Icelandic port town some ways over the hill from the Capital. The winter weather has set in and the airport and roads are closed and a body has turned up in the harbour. For the town’s chief of police, the stoic bear-man Andri, this means compounding and it’s not like he hasn’t got enough on his plate this week.
His ex-wife and her boyfriend are in town and to take over custody of their pre-teen daughters. Meanwhile (take a deep breath), a Lithuanian gangster has turned up on a Danish ferry with two Nigerian girls hidden in the back of his campervan, the body is stolen from the freezer in the fish factory where it is being stored (there is no police morgue), and the reappearance of a man jailed for the accidental death of Andri’s sister-in-law some years back is causing consternation with the locals. Besides the murder, financial schemes are brewing, with Chinese wanting to invest heavily in the port, and the potential for riches is making some people crazy.
Trapped was shot over a six month period in Seyðisfjörður, a tiny coastal fishing village with a population of just 1000. The title refers to the circumstance of the weather; the town is cut off and under pressure. Says the show creator Baltasar Kormákur: “It’s a mix of Nordic noir and Agatha Christie. I wanted to close people in with a murder, to make the town a ticking clock. And I wanted to remind the audience that we are on the outskirts of the inhabitable world. The weather is one of the ruling factors in Iceland, so I made it a pivotal character.”
It’s all very understated and monosyllabic (these Icelanders are economical with their words), charming and exciting and as for the weather – you have to wonder how people have managed to survive in this place for as long as they have. The first settlers arrived from Norway in late 800s and have never left. Yes, Iceland is proving to be very interesting if not a little unhinged.
* The Internet and ‘TV on Demand’ has revolutionised the way we watch TV shows. No longer beholden to television networks and their programming whims and scheduling, we can watch back-to-back episodes of new and old shows to our heart’s content without those annoying advertisements interrupting the narrative flow. TV viewing has suddenly become more accessible, democratic and a hell of a lot more fun. ANDREW JOHNSTONE scours the available channels and finds the best of the best, so you don’t have to.