Monday, 14 May 2012

The Bridge is the new Taggart | Scandi crime inspired by Scotland?

The Bridge, which concludes on BBC4 this weekend, is a crime thriller made in collaboration by funky modern Swedes and Danes set in the modernist houses and offices of Copenhagen and Malmo.

So what has that got to do with the now defunct Taggart, the STV cop drama set in Glasgow? More than you might think...

A few years ago I wrote the definitive history of Taggart -- 25 Years of Taggart -- for Headline. It involved watching an awful lot of murders, even though I'm not convinced anyone at anytime actually says There's Been A Murder.

One murderer
Like the current Scandi-hit The Bridge, and its fore runner The Killing aka Forbrydelsen, Taggart offered convoluted multi victim murder sprees scattered with red herrings and a plethora of suspects. The early Taggarts weren't the quick fix whodunnits they became.

The original team of Glenn Chandler and producer Robert Love wove long stories that ran across three two hour episodes. So that's six hours of screen time, minus the ads, to track down one murderer.

So one of the innovations of the new Scandi crime shows is actually to revert to Taggart's old format and make those investigations even longer, even more convoluted.

Saga, Lund, Martin... and Jim
Like Saga, who appears to have a form of Aspergers, Jim Taggart lacked a degree of empathy. He was Scottish, after all, and a man.

Saga: [in front of entire office] "I didn't have sex with your son!"
Jim Taggart: [to his sidekick, who had fallen in cow dung] "Go and get a wash, you're honking!"

Like Forbrydelsen's Lund, Taggart was single minded and his questioning could be blunt. And rather like Martin Rohde in The Bridge, he had a complex personal life. He hadn't had the snip, but he did have a wheelchair bound wife (who wrote a book about their sex life), a feisty daughter (she dared to speak back to him, this was the 1980s which in Glasgow terms meant the 1950s).

And like all of them, he had issues when it came to his partners, be they poncy Edinburgh university types or weirdy Christian teetotallers. None of them tried to kill him though. Or sleep with a witness. No, I tell a lie, pretty sure DS Macpherson did sleep with a witness or two.

The black glove
I almost fell off my chair watching the first few scenes of The Bridge. The black gloves were back! They were back!

Taggart fans will know the significance. It became a tradition in the programme that when the killer was shown, all you saw was a pair of black gloves. They did it countless times, memorably when a young magician was burned alive inside a sun lounger.

The Bridge has resorted to the Black Gloves numerous times as it reveals the activities of the murderer without showing his face.

Copenhagen, Malmo and Glasgow
The Danish capital was a major factor in the success of Sarah Lund's The Killing. It was stunning to look at and shot in a moody, film noir style. The trick is being repeated with The Bridge, but in keeping with the modernist lines of the bridge itself, the directors have gone for stark modernist settings. Martin Rohde's home for instance. In both cases, the setting is very much a character in the show.

It was exactly the same for Glasgow. Back in the 1980s when Taggart first appeared places like Glasgow's east end with its bombed out streets and dingy closes weren't featured on TV much. But they were on Taggart and became a major factor in the programme's success.

Glasgow looked like a dystopian future when in fact it was crumbling Thatcherite Britain's post industrial present. In later shows, the programme makers emphasised the glamour of the West End and Glasgow's burgeoning 'yuppie' scene (folks wi' jobs), contrasting them with the poverty also prevalent in the city.

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