REVIEW: Wisting (S1 E1&2/10)

After a dominant decade, the Nordic Noir star has faded somewhat, with the region struggling to come up with something to match the perfection of The Killing and The Bridge.

But hopes were high for Wisting, a 10-part Norwegian series reckoned to be one of the most expensive in the country’s history, and based on Jørn Lier Horst’s popular crime novels The Hunting Dogs and The Cave Man.

And, of course, this series appears in the fabled BBC Four, Saturday-night, 9pm slot, which, again, hasn’t really had a bonafide hit on its hands since, well… I’m not sure. A while, at least.

The set-up for Wisting is an intriguing one and a headline-grabber: the coastal town of Larvik, just south of Oslo, is home to detective William Wisting (Sven Nordin), a seemingly placid, pleasant man who goes about his business in his small town without too many problems. He knows the locals, he says hello and they say hello back. Except there’s a melancholy lurking behind the smiles and the easy-going nature – Wisting’s wife passed away a few years before, and he touches her pillow every night before he goes to sleep.

He’s called out to the snowy waste (this is a seriously good-looking series for those who love snow, windswept, ice-cold Scandi coastlines), where a man has found the grizzled, frozen remains of a man.

And so it begins – Wisting and team soon deduce that the victim is American male, and subsequently, a fingerprint secured on a brochure found on the body match with… an American serial killer. The FBI is called immediately, and soon two agents fly in from the US. And, you can guess, that culture clashes begin almost straight away, especially between by-the-book, gun-toting Maggie Griffin (Carrie-Ann Moss) and Nils Hammer, a local member of the police team who seems a little… strange.

The fun of Wisting is the procedural aspect, and there’s an added bonus in this respect: Wisting’s journalist daughter Line (Thea Green Lundberg) is sent to her hometown to investigate the death of an old man who seemingly died of loneliness. And this in a country that has been voted the happiest in the world. Of course, Line – who’s the opposite of her dad in that she’s fiery and passionate – soon thinks that the old man’s death initially ruled as not suspicious, is suspicious.

So we’re getting – for now at least because these two cases will no doubt converge at some stage – two cases for the price of one.

The serial killer case, meanwhile, started to gain some momentum, once the Griffin and her colleague lay down down some terrifying details about the serial killer – he had evaded capture for 20 years, like to prey on young, blonde women (no wonder he moved to Norway) and has a modus operandi of keeping the abducted women in a well.

By the end of the second episode, which implicates Nils in the case (a good twist, that), I found myself enjoying. Wisting himself seems like a nice guy but perhaps a bit on the dreary side, so I’m hoping he’ll come out of his shell a bit, but Griffin and Line I like.

I’m not calling it a classic yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing where it’ll go.

Paul Hirons

REVIEW: White House Farm (S1 E1/6)

ITV is making a habit of trotting out very well-made adaptations of true crime stories.

Last year, we had Manhunt, starring Martin Clunes, and later in the year, we had the excellent A Confession, featuring Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and Siobhan Finneran.

Both were grimly fascinating stories well told.

But as regular readers of this site will know, I have a bit of a problem with adaptations of true crime stories: many of them, especially in the case of, say, A Confession, come at cases we already know the outcome of from new and interesting angles; some do not and recount the stories verbatim. And yet many of them tinker with the structure of the stories – factual stories – in order to fit into the format of television, which is, generally speaking, difficult. Why not just make a documentary?

I was interested in how the screenwriters of White House Farm would structure this famous story.

For this six-part series, we went back to the summer of 1985.

A party at Colin Caffell’s place (Mark Stanley) saw his ex-wife and mother of his two sons Sheila (Cressida Bonas) have a tricky time in dealing with the noise and excitement. She suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and her breakdown in the bathroom after the party was a truly harrowing scene. Bordering on psychosis, she had a full-blown anxiety attack, weeping, muttering, weeping more. Colin, obviously a kind, caring man who remained friends with his ex-wife, seemed like he was on top of things, but Sheila’s condition meant there was a weary sadness behind his eyes.

At the party, Sheila’s younger brother Jeremy (Freddie Fox) showed up. Young, angular, confident… he explained to Colin that he’d take care of his two young sons and Sheila when they went to his parents’ farmhouse in the Essex countryside for the school holiday.

The next day, Colin drove them out to the farm. There waiting for them was Nevill (Nicholas Farell) and June (Amanda Burton), an upper middle class, God-fearing couple who lived in a well-kept farmhouse. Sheila – zonked out on medication – was instantly on edge, while the boys didn’t want to see their dad go. There was a prolonged hug and a last look back.

At the start of the episode, Jeremy had called the police saying that his father had telephoned him, saying that he was scared because his Sheila had gone berserk. So we knew something bad was going to happen, and, of course, if you know the story, you know something very bad did happen. Something very, very bad.

After a very tense scene in which we saw armed officers enter the building to find all of the family – including the children – shot, investigating officer DCI Thomas ‘Taff’ Jones (Stephen Graham) thought this was an open-and-shut murder-suicide: Sheila was found with a shotgun laying on top of her chest.

Jeremy, who had been there with the police the whole time, wept and vomited when he was told the news.

Assigned to look after the family was DS Stan Jones (Mark Addy), who instantly didn’t like what he saw at the crime scene. He noticed that Sheila had been shot twice. Twice. Murder-suiciders don’t normally shoot themselves twice. Shut down by a rather pitbullish Taff Jones, Jones’ suspicions will be the platform from which this story really takes off.

There was a lot to like, especially with the starry cast and the direction. It had a bleached-out colour palette, which really made it feel like a 1980s period piece – for some reason, the 1980s felt bleached and full of sunshine. But it was really inside the farmhouse, postmortem, that the cinematography really came into its own. With the chinzty, garish wallpaper, it felt like The Shining in Essex, the murdered family members slumped and arranged like some sort of macabre installation.

On the whole, White House Farm had an eerie, nightmarish feel to it. I do wonder how they’re going to be able to string this out for another five episodes, but there was one major concern in this first instalment – the accents of both Stephen Graham and Mark Addy. Graham’s Welsh accent (at least I think it was supposed to be Welsh) and Addy’s Essex accent were just plain dreadful and slipped more times than an ice skater with Vaseline on his feet. In the case of Graham’s accent, it went all over the British Isles and took in some parts of Europe, too. It seems like a trivial thing, but they really did stand out like a sore thumb.

And, I have to say, they almost took away from what was an engrossing and fascinating first episode. When you’re dealing with real people and real memories, the margin of error is small so things like this really matter.

Paul Hirons