The United Nations recognises 21 November as World Television Day so this may be a suitable time for a discussion of foreign-language television programmes shown in the UK. When I was younger the only foreign television I remember was American and in English. If you wanted to watch a French film, you had to stay up until 2am. The general belief was that British people, in contrast to many others across the globe, did not like subtitles and had an even greater aversion to dubbing. It is probably safe to presume that the vast majority of British people have no idea that two Welsh films, Solomon and Gaenor and Hedd Wyn have been nominated for Oscars for best foreign-language film and most have never seen them or anything else produced by S4C.
However, the recent popularity of foreign crime drama, from the French Spiral, the Italian Inspector Montalbano, to the Scandinavian The Killing, Wallander and The Bridge, has led to a renewed interest in crime series in languages other than English. The Danish political drama Borgen also met with considerable success. The Killing has been re-made in the USA and Wallander in the UK starring Kenneth Branagh, but the original versions are also very popular, even if some of them are shown on less mainstream channels. Many of these programmes have an obsessive following with on-line newspapers running detailed articles as soon as the programme airs, covering everything from Danish coalition politics, to home interiors, to detective Sarah Lund’s Faroese jumpers (pictured above). The popularity of these series has fuelled interest, not only in the languages, but also in the ways of life of the characters. Many commenters were astonished to see that the fictional Danish Prime Minister in Borgen had no domestic staff and cycled to work, while characters in The Killing demonstrate a very cavalier attitude to being questioned by the police. The popularity of these programmes has been so striking that jealous actors claimed in The Guardian that they only attracted audiences because they feature actors unknown to the British public. To any fan of the Danish series, this is a ridiculous claim as many of the same actors regularly appear in The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge, making them quite familiar to those of us with a penchant for Scandinavian noir.
The third, and last, season of The Killing started last Saturday. If you haven’t already seen it or any of the others, how about giving it a go? You’ll get a gripping drama, but also an insight into life in another European country and a few new foreign words under your belt. Before long you’ll be saying a huge ‘tak’ (thanks) to Sarah Lund and co for enlivening your weekend viewing.