Sunday, February 07, 2016

Review: The Spider (Edderkoppen)

The six hour-long episodes of the Danish TV serial The Spider (original title Edderkoppen) were released as an English-subtitled two-disc DVD set in the UK last summer, fifteen years after their original broadcast, as part of Arrow Films’ “Nordic Noir” strand of crime dramas. Unlike more famous Danish shows such as Borgen and The Killing (with which it shares a number of principal cast members), The Spider is not a contemporary thriller but a period piece, set in 1949, a time when Denmark was still suffering the after-effects of the Second World War, with many everyday items still subject to rationing. The central character, Bjarne Madsen (Jakob Cedergren), is an idealistic rookie journalist on a left-wing newspaper, who becomes preoccupied with investigating a local ring of black marketeers presided over by the ruthless Svend Aage Hjalmar (Bjarne Henriksen) – “the Spider” at the centre of this web of crime. Bjarne is aided by veteran crime reporter H C Vissing (Bent Vejding), who takes him under his wing, but they find their enquiries obstructed at every turn by corrupt police officers, who are in the pay of Hjalmar.

Partly based on true events, the story is set against the background of a nation struggling to come to terms with its wartime past, when some people joined the resistance to oppose the Nazi occupying force, while others became despised collaborators, creating tension within local communities and even individual families, as shown when Bjarne’s cocky collaborator brother Ole (Lars Mikkelsen) – curiously named after the series’ creator, director and main writer Ole Christian Madsen – returns from a period of effective exile in New York with a wad of cash, intending to set up a jazz club.

This is a very well-made serial, with strong central performances, high production values and good direction, creating a very authentic-seeming period atmosphere. Unfortunately, it is really let down by its scripting. The characters are clich├ęd and one-dimensional, the situations hackneyed and predictable, and the plotting disjointed and implausible. The end result is that, although The Spider has an interesting setting and an intriguing premise and is very pleasing to look at, sitting through all six episodes becomes really rather a trial.

Arrow Films’ DVD presentation of the serial is a bare-bones one, too, with no extras whatsoever. So, overall, this is sadly not a release I can recommend.

Stephen James Walker

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