Crossing the Line
Writer Cilla Jackert reveals how Twitter inspired Swedish drama Tunna blå linjen (Thin Blue Line), which follows the personal and professional lives of police officers as they grapple with the emotional labour of the job.
On the surface, Swedish series Tunna blå linjen (Thin Blue Line) bears all the hallmarks of a quintessential crime drama: a team of dogged, determined police officers, unbearably tense silences and investigations ranging from domestic violence to a missing child.
But for creator and head writer Cilla Jackert, placing the 10-parter into that genre would be to miss the point entirely. “It’s not a show about police officers or crime,” she tells DQ. “It’s about a question I have carried for a long time: how do you become a full and whole human in the world we live in? I thought that the work of police officers was the perfect prism through which to explore that question.” The crime and policing, then, are better described as secondary characters.
Thin Blue Line, which launched on SVT in Sweden on January 17, is instead more concerned with how police officers reconcile their personal and professional lives. “Other people can look the other way and pretend the world is normal, but police officers live with human misery all the time. I wanted to look at the ways they cope with that, rather than the law or crime side of the profession,” Jackert explains.
Produced by Anagram Sweden, each episode focuses on of six different officers – Sara (Amanda Jansson), Magnus (Oscar Töringe), Jesse (Per Lasson), Leah (Gizem Erdogan), Danijela (Sandra Stojiljkovic) and Faye (Anna Sise) – who all find different ways to cope with the demands of the job. In the first episode, we see Sara singing in a choir. “The characters are all handling how to be a sane and whole person in this universe and they all approach it differently,” Jackert says. “This show isn’t about the answers and is instead a discussion around the different ways people respond to things.
“I don’t have a favourite character, but you have to love your characters even if you don’t agree with them. Sara’s character is a new one for me as I have never written someone who is so lovely to other people before. Her way of coping is also the simplest. She believes in being good and relies on her religion and that God will just come down and fix everything.”
The idea for Thin Blue Line began to form after Jackert stumbled across the Twitter account YB Södermalm, written by two police officers. “The account is about the day-to-day lives of police officers,” she says. “The tweets are not the headline stories but are instead about helping people who are depressed and smaller things like a missing dog. It made me realise there was a whole other side to the job and I wanted to explore that.”
Following the death of her mother in Borneo in 2006, Jackert was also struck by the emotional labour of policing, which she says isn’t highly publicised. “I was told about her death by the police,” the writer says. “I had never thought about that aspect of the job before, and years later after recovering from the shock, it seemed a strange thing to have to do. It must be traumatising to have to deliver difficult news to people who aren’t expecting it.”
Jackert describes her writing process as “not good.” While she likes a simple setup (a desk, a chair and perhaps a classical music soundtrack), she finishes projects at the very last minute. “But I have been writing like this now for 25 years and I find if I write things with time to spare, I always have to rewrite it because I had too much time,” she adds.
At any one time, Jackert is working simultaneously on a book, a screenplay for a feature film and a TV series. It may sound exhausting but, for Jackert, different mediums “challenge and evolve” her writing. Otherwise, she says, there is a risk of going into autopilot. It clearly works. Jackert has been successful in all three areas, with her previous work including Swedish youth TV series S.P.U.N.G., Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein’s feature film Känn Ingen Sorg (Shed No Tears) and children’s book F som i sämst. “I generally start with a topic that is small and matters to me,” she notes. “I then like to make it big, so it matters to a lot of people. I also prefer to write about ordinary people and ordinary lives.”
Jackert began work on Thin Blue Line over six years ago and says it was a relief to complete the project, which is distributed internationally by ITV Studios. “I have been pregnant for six-and-a-half years with the show, so I’m really happy to say goodbye to my baby,” she jokes.
The initial stages of the project, however, were more straightforward. Jackert wrote a page-and-a-half treatment and took it to SVT. “Sweden is a small country and I’ve been working for 25 years, so I don’t need to introduce myself,” Jackert admits. “I just left the pitch with them and they thought it was interesting, so I wrote 40 more pages.”
Jackert then approached producer Anagram to make the series because they “felt right for the project,” and one of their first suggestions was the main filming location, Malmö. The script hadn’t been written with a city in mind, but Jackert wanted the series to feel “close, authentic and real.” She thought the southern coastal city fitted the bill. “I thought it was a great idea because it is a small city. You can be on a street which is between a fancy neighbourhood and a neighbourhood with problems,” she says.
Lead director Sanna Lenken (Min lilla syster) then shared Jackert’s vision for Thin Blue Line. “We just got each other completely,” the writer says. “She was the right person for the project and I trusted her creative process. If you choose the right people, you can trust them to make the right decision for the show.”
Jackert remained “heavily involved” throughout the production process. One key decision she made was to cast unknown actors, which she says makes the characters feel more “authentic.” “You don’t then think, ‘There’s Hugh Grant,’ for example,” she says. “If you don’t know the actor’s faces , you see the character they’re portraying more clearly.” The plan worked perfectly, until Erdogan shot to fame starring in eight-part drama Kalifat (Caliphate) before she began filming as Leah in Thin Blue Line.
It is the edit, though, on which Jackert places the most importance. “It is almost as crucial as the screenplay,” she says. “You can change everything in the edit, from the stories to the characters. I know in some edits they even throw away the script, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. Plus, you can change a scene just by adding two seconds to it. That was particularly key for Thin Blue Line, as it is more about what they don’t do and say than what they do.”
Jackert, whose work on Thin Blue Line has earned her a nomination for the Nordic TV Drama Screenplay Award at the Göteborg Film Festival’s TV Drama Vision event, notes a growing trend of shows exploring the periphery of a dramatic event, rather than the event itself, citing Danish real-life drama Efterforskningen (The Investigation) and Norwegian drama 22 Juli (July 22) as examples.
The Investigation is about the murder of journalist Kim Wall, but never mentions her killer’s name and instead focuses on the police’s investigative work, while July 22 is set before and after the terrorist attacks that struck Oslo and the island of Utøya in 2011 but gives little attention to terrorist who committed the atrocity.
“Those shows are much more about how people react to crimes and police work, rather than the crime itself,” Jackert says. “I see more shows going in that direction because, for the most part, people aren’t in the middle of a big event. Also, for a long time, killers have been glorified and made interesting on TV, and it is refreshing to see less and less of that.”