Walter Iuzzolino, chief creative officer at GSN and curator of Walter Presents, reveals the shows that inspired Channel 4’s new global drama platform.
German drama is undergoing a true renaissance. Once associated with gentle, mainstream cop shows and period pieces, Germany is suddenly bursting with edgy, powerful premium series, which have gained international acclaim and recognition in a very short time.
Generation War, a compelling miniseries offering a refreshingly different take on the narrative of the Second World War, was an early indicator of the quality of productions to come.
Deutschland 83 (pictured) is one of the strongest and most powerful pieces of storytelling I have seen in years. Written and produced by husband-and-wife team Anna and Joerg Winger, this is an iconic and stylish thriller that stands in a league of its own, totally redefining standards for excellence in global scripted programming. The unforgettable, fast-paced coming-of-age story of a young spy forced to leave his past behind to start a new life in the West is an irresistible cocktail of pathos, drama and humour, delivered with the most exquisite cinematography, art direction and aesthetic framework since Mad Men.
Line of Separation is another compelling historical drama, this time set in the Second World War. Produced by the Oscar-winning team behind The Lives of Others, it also stars Jonas Nay, the lead actor of Deutschland 83. The story, inspired by true events spanning 1945 to 1961, focuses on a small town torn apart by clashing ideologies and split down the middle by a carelessly drawn border dividing it between east and west – a miniature version of the impending Cold War.
Another historical drama and family saga, this time set in Berlin, is Hotel Adlon. Directed by top movie director Uli Edel, the series is inspired by the events that marked the first 90 years of Germany’s most extraordinary hotel. Personal and political narratives of love, war and the destiny of a family through three generations are skilfully interwoven in a beautifully crafted script and brought to life by an exceptional cast.
German detective series also feature in our mix, including hit franchise Nick’s Law, Nick’s Revenge and Nick’s Pain; Inspector Borowski and crime thriller Cenk Batu. All three series revolve around charismatic maverick detectives, all of them loners but with very different policing styles.
The breadth and quality of German drama now on offer and currently in the production pipeline will surely shine a bright light on Germany as the next big creative hub for scripted content globally.
Right next door to Germany is another country that’s largely undiscovered by global audiences in terms of scripted output. Famous for its blockbuster gameshow formats and reality juggernauts, the Netherlands has never really acquired an international reputation for its drama series – but that is about to change. We have assembled a powerful slate of 61 hours we hope will prove a bit of a revelation for critics and viewers alike.
Among the key Dutch offerings is Penoza (pictured), produced by NL Films. This seminal Sopranos-style crime saga is built around the compelling central character of Carmen, a housewife who is reluctantly forced to take charge of the family’s criminal business following his assassination. The multi-award-winning series is now in its fourth season.
The Neighbours is a sassy gem of a series – a dark, sexy and voyeuristic Fatal Attraction between two couples living in a quiet suburban neighbourhood. Based on the bestselling novels by Saskia Noort, its transmission on RTL last year attracted millions of viewers on 10 consecutive nights. A second series is currently in production.
The Prey is an award-winning and Emmy-nominated drama based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Jeroen Smit. It depicts the true story of the rise and fall of Dutch banker Rijkman Groenink and the downfall of the entire ABN AMRO Bank, which was one of Europe’s financial powerhouses at the time.
Bellyacher Cel is another hit drama series from Holland, starring JanAd Adolfsen. The six-part series follows a man wrongfully accused of a fatal hit-and-run. Hunted by the police and criminals alike, he attempts to find out who has stolen his identity and why they are determined to frame him.
A country normally associated with telenovelas, Brazil is producing some really exciting and innovative dramas, with standout visceral and dramatic tones which is totally unique.
SOB (Son of a Bitch, pictured) is a comedy series about a football referee who dreams of one day officiating the World Cup final. On the pitch he’s a man of high morals and a stickler for the rules, but off it his life is in freefall. Starring Eucir De Souza and directed by Katia Lund, whose previous credits include the Oscar-nominated film City of God, the series has a wonderful supporting cast of lovable characters and also features guest appearances by Brazilian football stars and commentators.
Magnifica 70’s season premiere became the second highest-rating Brazilian original production in the last 10 years. Set in the 1970s, it tells the story of a married man bored with his job censoring films for the Sao Paulo government. Unexpectedly, he becomes obsessed with the beautiful Dora Dumar, an erotic actress whose films he is obliged to censor. To save her from ruin, he agrees to help write and direct her films to get them through the state censorship department. Stylish, evocative with a wonderful script and talented cast, Magnifica 70 stands out as a bold piece based on a truly unique and gutsy premise – the clash between personal freedom of expression and political repression, set against the unusual and captivating backdrop of Boca do Lixo, an iconic suburb of Sao Paulo, which was home to a flourishing erotic film industry in the early 1970s.
From Bergman movies to Strindberg plays, Sweden has always been the land of filmmaking, theatrical and literary excellence – and its TV drama output is just as exceptional. Having taken somewhat of a back seat to Denmark in the explosion of Nordic drama, Sweden now seems to be producing a much more diverse range of top-drawer series.
Thicker than Water is a 10-part drama set on an island in the enchanting Swedish Alandic archipelago. It tells the story of three siblings suddenly reunited and thrown together when their mother commits suicide. In order to inherit her money, the siblings are forced to live and work together in the family hotel for one summer. Dark secrets begin to emerge, compelling them to confront long-buried emotions from their past. Featuring an exceptional cast in a beautiful setting, this seductive family thriller has been a ratings smash hit and a second season is currently in production.
Blue Eyes (pictured) is another eye-catching Swedish series but for totally different reasons. A bold, edgy, contemporary political thriller, it focuses on the rise of political extremism in Northern Europe. There are only a few, crucial weeks left to the national election when a spate of brutal murders from a fringe group of young, dangerous Neo Nazis throws the country – and the corrupt political elite – into a state of shock.
This is as incisive and arresting as Scandi drama gets: a bold and daring approach to issues of racism, immigration and xenophobia in which the definition of good and evil is not always so black and white. It’s edge-of-your-seat television.
Finally, we’ve uncovered an unexpected treasure in the Czech Republic’s output. The Lens is a stylish and beautifully shot story about an aspiring young filmmaker who is devastated when his father dies following a hit-and-run. Determined to find his father’s killer, he joins the police force as a crime photographer.
Burning Bush (pictured), meanwhile, is a stunning three-part drama created by world-renowned Polish director Agnieszka Holland. Based on real characters and events, this haunting drama focuses on the personal sacrifice of a Prague history student, Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in
1969 – and his family’s fight against the Communist regime following his death. It’s a deeply moving story focusing on big themes of personal and political freedom, the fight against corruption and ideological repression – and the personal family tragedy that shook a country and changed its history.
This is the drama piece that inspired us to launch the service and start Walter Presents more than a year ago. When you come across something so exceptional and powerful, you can’t help wanting to share it.
tagged in: Bellyacher Cel, Blue Eyes, Burning Bush, Channel 4, Deutschland 83, Hotel Adlon, Line of Separation, Magnifica 70, Penoza, SOB, The Lens, The Neighbours, The Prey, Thicker Than Water, Walter Iuzzolino, Walter Presents