Darkness of north is great viewing

By Dominic Corry

Nordic Noir continues to thrill audiences, writes Dominic Corry.

Jon Oigarden and Lena Kristin Ellingsen in Mammon, which evokes such Brit classics as Edge of Darkness.
Jon Oigarden and Lena Kristin Ellingsen in Mammon, which evokes such Brit classics as Edge of Darkness.

One of the more unexpected cultural trends of the past decade has been the rise in worldwide popularity for a type of Scandinavian crime drama now often referred to as Nordic Noir. It first took hold in literary form, thanks to best-selling books by the likes of Sweden's Stieg Larsson and Norway's Jo Nesbo.

Well-received film adaptations of their works helped the big screen embrace the trend, but some of the frankest praise has been reserved for the TV shows that have come in their wake - oft-adapted Danish series such as Forbrydelsen (The Killing); Broen (The Bridge) and Borgen.

Into this milieu of threats and deep-held secrets comes Mammon, a six-part Norwegian miniseries debuting with a double episode next Saturday on the Sky Arts channel, which is free to all Sky Basic subscribers between August 4 and 10 as part of an "open week".

Like Borgen, Mammon emphatically proves that a focus on cops and murderers isn't necessary for superlative Scandinavian tension to be felt.

The title refers to greed, which casts an appropriately ominous pall over the series. I'm only two episodes in, but the unique foreboding dread that defines these kinds of stories hasn't begun to dissipate.

Although the set-up can't help but evoke Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the story is soon treading its own path. Indeed, the series seems to delight in the parallels, which only makes their subversion all the more entertaining.

Jon Oigarden (star of the delightfully titled Norwegian crime film, F**k Up) stars as Peter Veras, a classic crusading newspaper journalist whom we meet just as he's putting the finishing touches on a huge story exposing corruption at a multi-national company.

Peter faces the inevitable resistance from above, including an editor who wants to sit on the story.

Although this all plays out more or less as cliched as that sounds, the Norwegian setting and classy production values keep things interesting until the clearer points of difference come into focus.

It soon transpires that one of the targets of the expose is Peter's brother Tore (Terje Stromdahl), who just happens to be married to Peter's ex, and has a teenage son with her.

The story is published and denied, but Tore loses his job. The revelations are less soapy than they sound, although familial squabbles take a back seat when Tore inexplicably shoots himself after a deep and meaningful with his brother.

This is all within the first half of episode one. Following a five-year jump, we rejoin Peter as he discovers new information about what happened to his brother and sets about uncovering the truth - which may or may not have biblical implications.

The elements sound generic and familiar, but our Nordic brethren are so good at livening up old tropes like these, it remains a hugely enjoyable watch. Mammon beneficially evokes classic British miniseries like Edge of Darkness and State of Play.

Sky Arts are following the Norwegian run with The Third Eye, the new crime drama from the makers of Lilyhammer.

Mammon double episodes premiere Saturday at 8.30pm on Sky Arts.

- Herald on Sunday

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