TV Drama takes a look behind the scenes at the making of The Sommerdahl Murders with series creator and head writer Lolita Bellstar.
Nordic noir has a style all its own, but with The Sommerdahl Murders, there’s a certain lightness to it. The blue-sky crime drama is based on Anna Grue’s best-selling book franchise, though it is not a direct adaptation, according to series creator and head writer Lolita Bellstar.
“When I had the chance to work on this project, two or three other teams of writers and producers had already tried to crack the code and hadn’t succeeded,” she tells TV Drama Weekly. “So, I knew that if I should have a chance, I had to make really radical choices. I’ve really changed a lot.”
The main character in the books is a copywriter who becomes a detective, and his wife is a doctor; their friend is a police detective. But the copywriter, for some reason, is better at solving the crimes than the police. “The more I worked with the material, the more I realized that in this day and age, it became almost [comedic],” says Bellstar. “So, the broadcasters and the producers were wise enough to let me drag all of them into a police station [laughs]. Then we sold the whole thing; then it worked.”
Set in a picturesque town on the Danish coastline, each episode centers on a murder investigation, solved by Dan Sommerdahl (Peter Mygind) and his best friend, Detective Superintendent Fleming Torp (André Babikian).
Even with its blue-sky take, there are still threads of the classic Nordic noir genre that has become so beloved the world over. “I like to think that us Scandinavians living half of the year almost in darkness gives us the opportunity to really reflect inward (since you can’t really see anything outward!),” says Bellstar. “The tradition that we carry on from dramatic writers like [Henrik] Ibsen in Norway, [August] Strindberg in Sweden and so forth is very much about the darkness in the character. We try to bring that part in a very light and joyful way into the blue-sky format.”
The series tells its stories from the heart of society, making it relevant and relatable for broad audiences. Its themes are ones of love—and, on the other side of the coin, the loss of love—a second coming of age later in life and friendship. “I’ve chosen for the show as a premise a very broad idea of, true love never dies,” Bellstar says. “You might think that’s a big fat cliché, but it is one for a reason! The theme of love is very important and interesting for all of us.”
The Sommerdahl Murders is a co-production between Dynamic Television, NDF, Sequoia Global Alliance, ZDF and Danish broadcaster TV2. The series premiered on March 1 on TV2 Charlie and was an immediate success; TV2 has picked up the series for a second season slated to premiere in spring 2021. Dynamic Television has signed a slew of deals for the crime series, including sales to Mediawan (France), NPO (Netherlands), OTE (Greece) and Acorn TV (the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America).
The franchise on which the series is based has 12 books in total, with eight released thus far. On the plans for season two, and the correlation with the books, Bellstar shares: “One of the very lucky situations around this project is that the writer of the books has given me and my producer, Janni Helleskov, the opportunity to really work in her universe very freely. That means that it’s not like I use one book for one episode, the next book for the next episode; it’s not like that at all. It’s more like I’m using the theme of one book and a character from another and inventing a totally new plot around that. What we stick to is really the values of her work in the book series.”
Bellstar has relished the opportunity to bring these stories to the small screen and the exploration into human nature that has come with it. “I really started writing because I’m an activist,” she says. “I see my whole life as one big peace project. Writing is communicating ideas. Crime shows are just phenomenal for bringing inspiration. Even in a genre like The Sommerdahl Murders, which is very light drama, still the values of how the characters really relate to each other is very important. And to see what makes us violent as human beings, the structures in society, our ideas and discrimination, it’s perfect for what I’m about.”