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Dear Europe, stop sending us your mediocre dramas

When it comes to TV, we only need the very best imports, says Alison Graham

Published: Saturday, 28th May 2016 at 9:22 am

Get me a battlebus! I want to hit the road to take my campaign message across the land – European countries, stop sending us your mediocre dramas! Our schedules are full!


At the very least we should have some kind of reciprocal arrangement. If Denmark is going to give us Dicte: Crime Reporter (Fri More4) and France both The Disappearance (Sat BBC4) and Versailles (Wed BBC2), we should be allowed to lob Love, Nina (Fri BBC1), River and Home Fires at them. Yes, I know Home Fires has been cancelled. Quite right, too.

What’s happened? From those heady days of Wallander (the proper, Swedish version), The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge and, more recently, the splendid Icelandic thriller Trapped, have we now reached the point where we’re getting the generic subtitled stuff (see also the Swedish Thicker Than Water and the Danish Follow the Money)? Versailles isn’t subtitled, but more of that later. Maybe the bubble has burst.

The Disappearance (BBC4) is a perfectly serviceable French missing-person drama about a teenage girl who vanishes on a night out with her friends, and her family’s subsequent torment as they discover she’s not the innocent daughter they thought she was.

But it’s nothing special. We were doing this kind of thing five, ten years ago. We’ve moved on; we do The Night Manager, Line of Duty and Happy Valley now. We’re that good at making dramas. We are, in fact, the best.

Similarly, the Danish Dicte: Crime Reporter feels like a nations-and-regions daytime drama about a woman who is, indeed, a crime reporter. Naturally, Dicte doesn’t just report on crimes, she solves them, too, as dim-witted detectives trail in her wake. (Declaration of interest: I used to be a crime reporter, and I never solved a crime.) And she’s really irritating.

Then there’s Versailles, an absolutely over-stuffed foie gras of a historical romp – Wolf Hall it ain’t. Can you imagine Thomas Cromwell roistering with nubile lovelies of both sexes? Or maybe you can.

Mind you, anything that upsets uptight MPs months in advance when newspapers seek quotes about Versailles’s supposed excess of raunchy sex scenes is fine by me. There’s rumpy-pumpy in episode one, including a curious quirk involving the juice of a freshly squeezed orange, but nothing to frighten les chevaux. So, uptight MPs, there’s no need to clutch your pearls.

It looks fabulous – locations, costumes, the works, all stunning. But King Louis XIV and his brother both resemble members of Yes from the early 1970s and, to be honest, Louis’s incipient megalomania comes over as little more than a middle manager having a strop at a particularly beautiful call centre.

Versailles is a French production, made by the people who brought us cop show Spiral,
but the dialogue is in English, with an English-speaking, variously accented cast. I say “dialogue”, though it’s really just sentences coming out of people’s mouths. As in this little peach from Louis: “We must build our own destiny right here!”


Of course, there must also be a fatuous nod towards 21st-century feminist sensibilities, with a plucky, doe-eyed girl who yearns to be a doctor like her dad. “A woman with knowledge who speaks her mind?” exclaims her outraged père. Oh please.


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