Swedish period drama Vår Tid är Nu (The Restaurant) begins in 1945 with celebrations to mark the end of the Second World War. At Djurgårdskällaren, a high-end restaurant run by the Löander family in the heart of Stockholm, oldest son Gustaf (played by Mattias Nordkvist) has managed to keep the restaurant afloat by somewhat dubious means and intends to carry on down that path.
But when middle son Peter (Adam Lundgren) returns home from the war, he discovers changes are needed to keep the business from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, a brief encounter with kitchen hand Calle (Charlie Gustafsson) leads to untold consequences for daughter Nina (Hedda Stiernstedt), who has designs on opening a nightclub in the restaurant banquet hall.
In this video, stars Hedda Rehnberg (Suzanne) and Gustafsson reveal how the mix of drama and comedy drew them to the project, which has filmed two seasons and has been recommissioned for a third.
They also describe the “bold” decision made by broadcaster SVT to heavily invest in an epic period drama that charts the growth of the Swedish welfare state and discuss why it stands out against the ever-popular Nordic Noir crime series.
The Restaurant is produced by Jarowskij for SVT and Viaplay and distributed internationally by Banijay Rights.
This autumn, Swedish pubcaster SVT is serving up what it describes as one of its biggest drama productions ever. DQ hears from head writer Ulf Kvensler and director Harald Hamrell as they prepare to launch Vår tid är nu (Our Time is Now), known internationally as The Restaurant.
In the clamour to make their dramas stand out from the crowd, broadcasters often resort to increasingly hysterical hyperbole. Some are labelled groundbreaking, while others might be variously described as cutting edge, thrilling, subversive, twisted or simply as a landmark in scripted television – at a time when every other commission is for an ‘event series.’
But when Swedish pubcaster SVT describes its forthcoming period drama Vår tid är nu (Our Time is Now) as one of its biggest drama productions ever, this is no understatement.
In fact, the series, which has been renamed The Restaurant for international audiences, is as brave, bold and ambitious as they come. A sprawling ensemble drama that opens in the aftermath of the Second World War and runs across two decades, it is an emotion-filled family saga that charts the fortunes of the owners and staff of Djurgårdskällaren, a high-end restaurant in the heart of Stockholm.
It could also be described as a state-of-the-nation drama, but one that examines contemporary Swedish society from the perspective of the post-war years and through the emergence of the country’s welfare state.
Recognising the potential scope and scale of the project, SVT gave the show an initial 20-episode order, to be split across two seasons that will air this autumn and in 2018. Season one begins on Monday, October 2.
“It is huge,” admits director Harald Hamrell. “We do 20 hours, it’s a big budget. That means we could build a huge set for this restaurant. We had the money to do the things we wanted but, of course, you have to be careful as well when you’re spending money.”
The Restaurant is created by head writer Ulf Kvensler, Malin Nevander and Johan Rosenlind, with the latter initially developing the series based on his own experiences in the restaurant business. SVT found a lot to like in the premise, as the network happened to be looking for a show both about a restaurant and one that could dramatise the growth of the welfare state after WW2.
“So this project was spot on,” Kvensler says. “They asked me if I wanted to work on one of the biggest Swedish drama projects ever, which is going to follow characters over 25 years and talk about how the Swedish model of society came into being and, of course, I said yes.
“It’s a unique project, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I jumped on it. It’s a love story, there’s intrigue and fighting within the family [that owns the restaurant] but at the same time we have all the classical drama elements – and the restaurant is also a metaphor for Swedish society. I thought the scope of that and the ambition was something I really loved.”
The series begins in 1945, with the opening scenes taking place during confetti-covered street celebrations as news spreads throughout Stockholm that the war has ended. By the end of season two, events will have moved forward to 1962. A potential third and final season would then continue the story between 1968 and 1971.
“Then we will have followed these characters and this restaurant for 25 years. And during these 25 years, Sweden as we know it, and the welfare state we have now, came into being,” Kvensler says. “That’s a big part of this show – to show how these changes in society affected people. You can see it in the way some of the characters are very pro-change, while others are hesitant and negative about change. It’s like a tug of war inside the family.”
The family in question is the Löwanders. Oldest son Gustaf (played by Mattias Nordkvist) has managed to keep the restaurant afloat by somewhat dubious means and intends to carry on down that path. But when middle son Peter (Adam Lundgren) returns home from the war, he discovers changes are needed to keep the business from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, a brief encounter with kitchen hand Calle (Charlie Gustafsson) leads to untold consequences for daughter Nina (Hedda Stiernstedt), who has designs on opening a nightclub in the restaurant banquet hall.
As the family descends into conflict, matriarch Helga (Suzanne Reuter), with assistance from head chef Backe (Peter Dalle), watches over the family business.
The series is produced by Jarowskij, in partnership with SVT, Viaplay and Film i Väst. It is distributed by Banijay Rights.
After joining the project, Kvensler identified Calle, originally given a tiny role, as the potential hero of the story, who could work his way up from underappreciated kitchen hand to open his own restaurant.
“That’s the kind of hero’s journey you want in a story,” Kvensler explains. “Also, the love story with Nina is a timeless story that you want to have in a show like this to carry the interest of the audience.”
Working with co-writers Nevander, Rosenlind and Jonas Frykberg, Kvensler broke down the initial story outline and then built up the scripts episode by episode. “It was a long and tedious process,” he admits. “We started all over again a couple of times because it was hard to find the balance between telling the history of Swedish society and the restaurant business. We learned a lot about it to write it; we read a lot and talked to people. But then what you have to do is throw all that away and just tell the basic story. It’s not going to be very interesting for the audience if it’s a history lesson. We try to find the balance, and hopefully we did.”
Hamrell joined the series when there were scripts in place for the first and last episodes, “but nothing in between,” he says. “It’s a huge project and was a great task to take on, from the cinematography to building the sets. It’s been a great journey.”
He worked alongside fellow directors Molly Hartleb in season one and Anna Zackrisson and Andrea Östlund in season two, and says his aim was to make a modern drama, despite The Restaurant’s post-war setting. The budget afforded him the chance to build the restaurant and kitchen sets across several hundred square metres, which gave him the space he needed to keep the camera work looking fresh across 20 episodes. The set also embodies class boundaries in 1940s society, with the working class confined to the kitchen while the wealthy and powerful enjoy fine dining yards away in the opulent surroundings of the restaurant.
The biggest challenge, however, both on set and in the writers room, was figuring out how to seamlessly advance the story across several years without alienating the audience. For Hamrell – who was the conceptual director on Äkta Människor (Real Humans), the inspiration for Channel 4/AMC sci-fi series Humans – the task of keeping his cast on their toes for 276 shooting days meant he could never let them relax.
“They didn’t do it, but when you know your character so well, it’s so easy sometimes to lean back and not deliver,” he says. “On the other hand, the script was always changing so they couldn’t relax. They also had to deal with the language – how to find the correct tone. It was a challenge not to be too modern but also not too old.”
With such a large ensemble cast and multiple plot points in play from the outset, Hamrell also needed to find a way to hook viewers from the start. “So I took a lot more shots in the first two episodes than in three and four, to keep the pace up,” he explains. “By the third and fourth episodes, the story starts working by itself because, by then, you’re interested in the characters. But you have to catch the audience and bring them in before they switch off.”
Time jumps were something Kvensler had never previously had to content with in a series. In one case, four years pass between two episodes in season one.
“The challenge then is when you come back [after the jump], you need to tell the audience what has happened, and that bogs down the episode for the first two acts,” he says. “The other thing is it’s been four years, so you want something to have happened. You don’t want the feeling that, ‘OK, they say four years have passed but this could have happened the next week.’ So finding the balance between that has been really tough. It’s been always the episodes that have come after the time jump that we’ve had to work on the most.
“When we start on season two, we’ve moved five more years, so we start in 1955 and then we end season two in 1962, so there are more time jumps within that season. It’s been a real challenge.”
Perhaps the biggest time jump the series makes is one to the present day, as both Hamrell and Kvensler draw parallels between post-war Sweden and contemporary society.
“We have challenging times now, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” notes Kvensler, who developed The Restaurant alongside another SVT drama, snow-covered thriller Svartsjön (Black Lake). “In Sweden, the discussion we are having is can the welfare state we have survive? I think a story like this can bring a little hope because if you go back to 1945, you can see it was a much harder society and a lot of people lived rougher lives.
“Everything that has changed from then to now is the result of hard work and political decisions. Do if they could fix their problems, probably we can fix ours. We just need a little positivity and hope.”
Swedish horror thriller Svartsjön (Black Lake) sees a group of friends experience a series of disturbing events when they visit an abandoned ski resort that was once the scene of a horrific crime. Jarowskij producer Emma Nyberg offers six things you need to know about the eight-part series with the help of writer Ulf Kvensler.
1. Black Lake is about student Hanne, 25, who follows her boyfriend Johan and some other friends to an abandoned ski resort in the northern part of Sweden. Johan plans to buy the place and reopen it. But strange things soon start to happen at the resort, leading Hanne to investigate why it was closed down on the eve of its opening 20 years ago. Johan is convinced locals are simply trying to scare them away, but Hanne feels there’s a deeper meaning to uncover. Soon, solving the mystery at Black Lake becomes a matter of life and death for the group and forces Hanne to confront demons from her past.
2. The show stars Sarah-Sofie Boussina as Hanne; Filip Berg as Johan (pictured top); Mathilde Norholt as Mette, Hanne’s elder sister; Valter Skarsgård is Filip’s younger brother, Lippi; and Victor von Schirach as Osvald, Johan’s best friend who is involved in a secret love affair with Lippi. Other cast members include Philip Oros as Frank, childhood friend to Johan and his new girlfriend Jessan (Aliette Opheim); Odin Waage and Anderz Eide as Norwegian brothers Jostein and Dag, who live in the area; and Nils Ole Oftebro as the mysterious caretaker, Erkki. Casting was carried out by Lovisa Bergenstråhle.
3. Ulf Kvensler, creator of the show, was inspired by films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity: “I’m a big fan of horror movies, and especially the psychological kind where you don’t get to see very much but build the monster yourself in your head. It’s also a very cost-efficient sub-genre of horror. Paranormal Activity cost like US$15,000 to shoot and has grossed some US$200m worldwide. And it’s scary as hell!” He adds: “In the end, we didn’t go full ‘found footage’ for Black Lake. The broadcaster wanted a little more production value, and they also wanted to scale back the horror a bit to broaden the appeal. More focus was put on the mystery and on the relationships between the young people in the group. This was also necessary to have enough story for eight episodes. I think we found the right balance between the elements. Horror buffs probably think Black Lake is pretty lame stuff, but the regular audience definitely thinks it’s scary enough.”
4. The nature of the found-footage style means there is a documentary quality to the series. Kvensler explains: “Part of the attraction is that it has a documentary feel. When you frame supernatural elements this way, it makes them all the more powerful. So we wanted the dialogue in the show to have a very natural feel. We actively sought actors who enjoyed improvising and finding their own words to express the beats in each scene. And directors who also wanted to work that way.”
5. Kvensler believes that in a ghost story, “the ghost should symbolise something that society as a whole is haunted by, something it wants to hide or forget.” He explains. “In Black Lake, that ghost is the relationship between the Swedish government and the indigenous Sami population in northern Sweden. In the first decades of the 20th century, Sweden was world-leading in racial biology, the purpose of which was to prove that Swedes were superior to the Sami and Finnish populations who also live in Sweden. German scientists, who would later be prominent during the Nazi regime, were inspired by their Swedish counterparts.”
6. Black Lake’s first run was a hit and a second is currently in development with Modern Times Group-owned broadcaster TV3 in Sweden. The series, distributed by Banijay Rights, also aired on MTG’s streaming video-on-demand platform Viaplay.