Event review: Nordicana 2015

I don’t know what the Green Room is like at the Troxy in east London but I reckon last weekend, at the third Nordicana, it was pretty empty. The actors, writers and producers of Nordic Noir weren’t huddling out of sight but were instead to be seen in the public parts of the complex, mingling with their fans, chatting and relaxing. There’s a delightfully incongruous moment when the cast of 1864 are joshing with each other and giggling, minutes before the screening of the harrowing final episode. And a much-tweeted highlight is Søren Malling stage-bombing Sofie Gråbøl’s question and answer session, to the delight of Gråbøl and audience alike.

You can celebrate Denmark and Sweden at the same time
You can celebrate Denmark and Sweden at the same time

The relaxed atmosphere among stars and star-struck alike make it clear that organisers Arrow Films learned the key lessons from last year’s, in retrospect over-ambitious, event. The Troxy is a proper venue, built for screenings. Attendees have numbered seats in the main hall, allowing them to come and go as they please without losing their place. There is still an exciting mix of screenings, discussions and signings, with hard choices to be made about what to see, but this time you are pretty much guaranteed to see your first choice. And if you change your mind – as I did many times – it’s because you’re being spontaneous and not because of frustration.

Last week I wrote that I was looking for ‘perspective’ and ‘good advice’. This year’s programme offered both, with everything from a romp through the literary scene from the Beck books of the 1960s to the present day, through previews of The Legacy II, Jordskott and The Saboteurs, a session on Scandi cuisine, a stand-out discussion of TV production using Borgen as a case study, live theatre (a Nordicana first) and a special focus on 1864 to mark the end of its run on BBC FOUR: two actor panel interviews, screenings of the final episodes and a packed historical discussion on the programme’s accuracy presented by the Scandinavian department of University College London (one of two sessions run at Nordicana by the UCL team and followed by a further discussion the next day back on campus). Indeed, 1864 is covered from all angles, with the different sessions taking different approaches. Marian Keyes speaks as a fan, Wendy Mitchell gets the actors to spill the beans, and UCL really explore what it means to watch someone else’s history: the drama series has been controversial in Denmark (partly due to its severe anti-nationalist stance) but in Britain where the story of the war is less well-known, the audience is less bothered: what are the implications of that? While you’re thinking about that, note also that the Nordic Noir available in the UK is filtered: according to one panel we’re twenty years behind the Scandinavians and ten years behind the Germans in experiencing the form, and whereas market conditions meant that previously only the best books and TV would make it here, the recent boom has meant that lesser works are now becoming available. That makes it even more difficult for the average enthusiast in the UK to really remain on top of developments.

It’s telling that the best attendances of the weekend are attracted by people from The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen and 1864, ie. the BBC FOUR selection. The wonderful cast of The Legacy are not exactly ignored but you feel that their Sky Arts home is a disadvantage. Similarly, although I wasn’t in attendance for all of Sofie Gråbøl’s sessions, it’s The Killing, not the more recent Fortitude on Sky Atlantic, that people still want to talk about. This balkanisation is disappointing but with ITV Encore and More4 also showing Nordic Noir in the future it can only continue.

What else do we learn? First, don’t eat liquorice just before drinking lager. Second, Sofia Helin is quite forthcoming about The Bridge III (more anon). Third, in planning your programme, remember to make time to chill out with your friends (ones you’ve come with or the ones you will undoubtedly make). Fourth, make room in your bags for more books than you intended to buy – this year’s stash includes a Per Wahlöö from 1970 and Sarah Ward’s debut novel, In Bitter Chill. Finally, and most important, Nordicana is back as a fantastic celebration and distillation of Nordic Noir which is both accessible for the average fan but also explores the genre. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 18 months until the next one.


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