|REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS|
A hot tale from the cold climes of Scandinavia that fails to ignite passion in the viewer...
Whether it's everyone and your Gran telling you to read Steig Larsson, or critics hailing an obscure Danish drama on BBC4 as the best thing since The Wire, it's clear we're basking in a golden age of Scandinavian fiction (although that's probably not the best cliché for a region often lacking in sunlight).
Inevitably, this successful invasion by our Viking cousins has been followed- by a slew of English-language adaptations (tagline: "For when you're too lazy, or stupid, to read subtitles."). Amongst others, we've had Kenneth Branagh busting chops as Wallander, a remake of The Killing screened recently on cable channel AMC in the US, and David Fincher's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be with us by the end of the year.
All of which, I'm sure, contributed to the decision to re-release this 1984 television relic. But it would be a mistake to lump Annika in with that current trend. Co-written by an Englishman and a Swede, it is told in both languages, set in both countries, and depends upon a relationship between the two. Indeed, the use of subtitles even gives the mini-series its best joke. When we're first introduced to our protagonist Pete, he's pushing things too far with a girl on the beach while a Swedish teacher off-camera addresses her class. "The little word 'please' will help you in many situations," we read, as the girl slaps him round the face for an over-eager grope.
Sadly, good intentions don't count for everything, and this is about as good as the show gets. Divided simply into three one-hour parts -- "The Beginning", "The Middle", and "The End" -- Annika hinges on the subsequent meeting between Pete, an 18-year-old cockney working the summer on the Isle of Wight, and the girl of the title: a Swedish blonde over here for a holiday. It's a simple boy meets girl tale. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that; it's just that this one isn't wholly convincing.
There's little special about their meeting. One minute Pete's bumping into her in a bar, the next he's asking her out in a rushed encounter on some stairs without them having had so much as a conversation. "Can I take you out?" he asks. "Yes," she replies. "What's your name anyway?" he adds, as an afterthought.
Such sophistication and depth defines their relationship henceforth. They have little in common, and it's more than culture that separates them; he stacks deckchairs for a living, she wants to be a doctor. At times their flightiness is charming -- most memorably on their first date at a fancy restaurant, which sees Pete holding his menu the wrong way up, failing to taste the wine, and asking for his meat "done normal" -- but the lack of substance on screen just leaves the viewer thoroughly bemused as to how he can cry on the phone about loving her just days into the relationship.
Still, Pete (performed with gusto by Jesse Birdsall, more recently seen in every English-TV drama going from Footballers' Wives to Casualty) does at least convince you he believes he's in love; which is more than can be said for the actress playing Annika, who's singularly incapable of conveying any emotion at all.
Before departing back to Stockholm at the end of the first episode, she tells a crying Pete: "Please don't come to the station tomorrow, I can't take any more goodbyes." This is reeled off in the neutral tone of someone reminding a husband of 30 years to pick up groceries. Whether she's angry at him or worried he's dead (minor plot spoiler) she maintains a robotic exterior. At one point she remarks: "I can't find the right word to express what I mean." The obvious retort is she lacks expression, period. This isn't an indictment of Swedes, understand; every other foreign member of the cast sounds perfectly engaged. And a check on IMDB finds the actress, Christina Rigner, has done nothing before or since. It's not hard to see why.
Unfortunately, the show has little to offer if you aren't hanging on the trials of the characters. Despite being set the first year of the UK miners' strike, the show's engagement with wider issues is pretty perfunctory. Its politics, for example, mostly consists of people occasionally remarking "there's so few jobs" while others nod sagely. Plot wise we get some contrived peril mid-way and a grisly finale, but if you don't see what's coming you're simply not trying hard enough. To be frank, the only real controversy comes from the fact Annika's meant to be 15-years-old. As Pete's best friend dryly intones: "Nearly 16 is still only 15 mate." Quite.
Visually the show is pedestrian -- mostly shot-reverse-shot of people talking in drab rooms -- and it only branches out for cheesy pop performances or long-takes of Pete looking broody on his bike. Most disappointingly, despite being set two-thirds in Sweden, we get no real look at the country; might as well be Swindon. Finally, there's the 80s theme-tune. Like the show as a whole, it's not clever, original, or especially enjoyable in too large a dose; but it has a certain tacky appeal.
So what if there were a real-time sequel in the manner of Before Sunset, to tie-in with the current Scandinavian wave; would I watch? If somebody else played Annika -- and somebody else wrote a new musical score -- maybe. If somebody converted it into a modern crime-drama where much of the cast are murdered? Definitely.
A series of not terribly-interesting stills from production and the programme itself. That's it. Severely disappointing given this is a re-release from the 80s; is it too much to ask for even a bog-standard retrospective?
Annika is released in the UK on 18th April
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