REVIEW: Black Lake (S2 E5&6/8)

So here we are again, on the idyllic, secluded Swedish island of Kallskär, with our group of people desperate for a life change and a good, old spot of healing. Except there’s a killer on the loose, the missing participant from last year’s retreat is still missing, and the course leader is a) a dodgy geezer and b) not who he says he is.

So what’s in store this week? A trip to the Big Yellow House…

Everyone’s a bit dumbfounded after the Amina’s disappearance, but no one really knows yet that she’s been murdered – everyone just thinks that she’s left the island. Undeterred, Uno/Erik decides to take the group to the Big Yellow House we saw in episode one (well, why not? When two members in consecutive years go missing, you might as well still carry on, right?). I must confess that I thought that everyone was staying in the Big Yellow House, but it turns out it’s been sitting, derelict on the other side of the island for years. It’s explained that it was a cholera quarantine house in the 19th century, and then a house for Baltic refugees in World War II. So, in a bid to make the gang ‘face their fears’ he gets them to explore a place that is full of death and bad memories.

In episode six, Uno/Erik conducts catch-up/psychoanalysis sessions with all members of the group.

Predictably, Minnie is very in tune with the Big Yellow House. There’s plenty of flickering lightbulbs, slamming doors and quivering of lower lips on Minnie’s part, especially when she’s looking at old photos of inmates and sees the ghostly apparition of a young girl in the grounds. Was the little girl Maja? Or someone else? Or nothing?

She was forming quite a relationship with Gittan, but she was still obsessed with Maja/Josefine. But it became evident – after she managed to get in touch with one of Josefine’s relatives – that Maja and Josefine were two separate people: mother and daughter.

So now we have the riddle of what happened in the Big Yellow House, two missing persons and a murder mystery. It’s all a bit too much.

Scary Gittan comes came more into things this week. She asked Uno/Erik about Bella – how she’s doing etc – which suggests that there’s more to calm, chilled Bella than perhaps meets the eye. She was also seen eying up some old photographs from the war during her nightly fireside reverie.

It was also confirmed – during an uncharacteristic heart-to-heart with Minnie – in episode six that the little girl who witnessed the mass shootings in the opening scenes of episode one was indeed Gittan, and that the bearded shooter was her granddad. Was he offing Baltic refugees?

When Minnie sneaks into Gittan’s cliff-toop cottage, she found more photos and newspaper cuttings – describing members of the Latvian resistance, how they were a threat to the Soviet regime. And a Russian medal in her drawer.

Johan, Bella and Vincent
Not much for these three tonight. Or was there…

She admitted to having not much of a family, but when Johan and Minnie were rooting around Gittan’s place, he found photographs of Bella on the wall and mantlepiece – and Bella admitted that coming back to the island each summer saved her drug addict family. Could Gittan have raised her as her own? She also spoke to Uno/Erik during their filmed interview about their own past, and intimated that they had had a relationship. That Uno/Erik… he doesn’t muck about, does he?

Being weird again. Not telling the whole truth. It’ll come out

She’s out of the picture, and we saw a shadowy figure burying her in a grave containing other skulls and bones.





Netflix confirms Bordertown series two date

Finnish series Bordertown is rather good. Last week we ran a story about series three (read that here), but until that moment, series two is yet to touch down in the UK.

But now Netflix – the global broadcaster outside of Finland – has confirmed that series two is now on the way, and it’s just around the corner. The series tells the story of Detective Inspector Kari Sorjonen (the brilliant Ville Virtanen) who takes a new job leading SECRI, the Serious Crime Unit in Lappeenranta, after his wife survives brain cancer. He moves his family to the town near the border of Russia for a more peaceful life.

Here’s a trailer with English subtitles.

Bordertown (Series 2): From Saturday 2nd February, Netflix

REVIEW: 35 Awr (S1 E1/8)

Over the past decade, Welsh drama has enjoyed a real boom, especially on the BBC, where the corporation has invested heavily in facilities, hubs and budgets. A knock-on effect of this investment has been S4C’s commitment to drama and, specifically, crime drama. During the past five years, we’ve enjoyed a number of high-quality, Welsh-language crime dramas like Y Gwyll (Hinterland), 35 Diwrnod and last year’s excellent Craith (Hidden).

This year’s early-year offering from S4C is 35 Awr (35 Hours). Written by Fflur Dafydd, it’s an eight-part series that is set in a jury room, featuring 10 people deliberating over a murder case. Of course, we’ve seen this set up in movies like 12 Angry Men and in books, like 2018’s highly recommended Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh, and it’s a premise that always has the potential to not only explore moral and socio-political differences within the jury members themselves, but also the ins and outs of a case.

All that being said, the opening scenes of 35 Awr don’t take place in a jury room – they take place in a grand, old building. It has an Agatha Christie vibe to it, and there are all sorts of things going on: a couple is having sex in a bathroom, someone is shouting ‘call an ambulance’, a woman is barricading herself in in her room, and a man, burning, tumbles out of the building’s door while being filmed on a mobile by a woman wearing a mask.

Quite the start.

It’s only after that disorientating start that we go into the jury room. The group of 10 people are all different, from different backgrounds and of different ages. Immediately there’s tension: there’s needle between officious foreman Haydn and Lynwen; there’s sexual attraction between married Merired and Peredur (which is consummated in a toilet cubicle later in the episode); Val (played by Gillian Elsa, who we saw play the terrifying Iona Harris in Craith last year) is the comedy outlet; Taz is a hipster who looks as though he can’t be bothered; Steve is brooding and says next to nothing; Ree is a surly young ‘un and snaps at everything and everyone; Carwyn is a bit moody; Nadine is prim, proper and slightly nerdy… and so it goes on.

Throughout this first episode they bicker, they chat and in the case of Merired and Peredur, they shag in a toilet cubicle. But what are they deliberating over?

A vulnerable and, what looks like, mentally disabled young man, Kelvin, has been charged with the murder of an elderly woman and, perhaps, her husband too. We see snatches of the incident in flashback, but what is clear is that Kelvin’s brother – Leighton – believes passionately that he’s innocent. Not so convinced is Leighton’s partner Susie, who recalls Kelvin being violent towards her. We also see in flashback that she caught him masturbating over some of her underwear.

As much as the jury, we’re also deliberating whether this disturbed young man is disturbed enough to commit murder.

There’s a lot going on in this first episode, but once it settles down the jurors start to discuss – argue – the ins and outs of the case it starts to get really intriguing and interesting. Each juror has his or her own prejudices that bleed into the discussion: some think that being mentally handicapped is no excuse and that Kelvin, perhaps even because of his frailty, is a murderer; while others argue compassion and want to give him the benefit of the doubt. And it gets more interesting by the end of the episode thanks to a good, old dramatic twist or two: Susie is run over by the police van transporting Kelvin to court, and Haydn has, what looks like, a heart attack. What does this all mean? The jurors are now forbidden to go home and are to be put up in a hotel for the night… presumably the grand building we saw at the beginning of the episode.

So we know this isn’t going to end well.

These twists and changes of location are clever – they’re like little bombs going off – and you can safely say that 35 Awr is completely the opposite of something like a Y Gwyll or Craith, which were both slow burners and based in the glorious Welsh countryside. Here it’s all about urban settings, fast-paced action and thrillery hooks.

I liked it. I liked it because it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, and I liked it because the characters were intriguing, likeable and unlikeable at the same time. I also liked it because I have no idea where this is going to go, which is a rare thing indeed these days.

Paul Hirons