As Faroese drama Trom makes its UK debut, the cast and production team behind the series discuss filming challenges, language complications and why Nordic noir is still in demand.
Asked why he wanted to take the leading role in Faroese crime drama Trom, star Ulrich Thomsen is completely candid in his response.
“I had never been to the Faroe Islands. I liked the story, I thought it was a good thriller. I had never been there so there were very personal reasons [to do the show] – it would be nice to go to the Faroe Islands,” the Danish actor says. “I always wanted to go but it’s not a place you usually go. When it’s summer, you go to Monaco or some place warm. The Faroe Islands are not known for being warm, but it’s a beautiful place. One of the things I hear from people when they’ve seen the show is, ‘I really want to go there.’ It’s a good commercial for the islands.”
The Faroes’ breathtaking scenery certainly has a starring role in the series, which is the first high-end drama to be filmed on the islands. It tells the story of journalist Hannis Martinsson (Thomsen), who reluctantly returns home to the islands to investigate the disappearance of a young animal rights activist – who also claims to be his daughter.
He is then drawn into a search that involves the local fishing industry, a high-profile activist group and the islands’ most prominent businessman, Ragna í Rong (Olaf Johannessen). Hannis’s presence also leads to conflict with the local police and DCI Karla Mohr (Maria Rich) as his search for answers unravels a web of lies and secrets in the local community.
“I read two or three episodes. I just liked what I read. I liked the story, the crime element and the Faroe Islands element. At that point I’d never been, so I thought selflessly I’d go to the Faroe Islands and check it out. It was an interesting new arena also to play in and experience,” Thomsen says, speaking at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival last month where Trom won two Golden Nymph Awards, including the Jury Special Prize and Best Actor for Thomsen.
Similarly, the role of Mohr was “just one big ‘yes’” for Rich, who adds: “I wanted to do it because it was so interesting to go up there.” The fact that the Faroes were Covid-free when filming took place meant Rich also took the decision to move her family with her during the shoot. “My husband had to work from home, so therefore he could go there and work from home and my children could go to school there. It was the only place where there wasn’t Covid.”
“People were very envious when we called home,” says Thomsen. “Everything was open – bars, restaurants – and while they were under restrictions, we just thought, ‘Well, not up here.’ That was nice.”
Rikke Ennis, CEO of Danish producer and distributor Reinvent Studios, picks up: “The Faroe Islands has an impact on you. Once you visit, you will know. It should be mandatory for all Danes to go to the Faroe Islands early in life because I did not know how beautiful it was. And they are beautiful people – they are very humble. When they say something, they mean it and they mean it from the heart. They embraced us, and people have just helped out for free. It’s almost too much. They really wanted this to become their first series. That has been mindblowing for us.”
Rich describes working on Trom as an opportunity to interact with the Faroes’ natural environment. “When you stand there, you have the wind and the landscapes, and it’s playing with you. That was a part of [the job],” she says. But getting blown about by the changeable coastal weather was just one challenge of acting in Trom, which is directed by Kasper Barfoed, Davið Óskar Ólafsson and Peter Ahlén.
“Then there was the challenge with the language,” Rich continues. “In the Faroe Islands, they have a very difficult language. It’s not one you can just jump into. You had to learn what everyone would say, so we had an English version, a Danish Version and Faroese version [of the script]. You could not improvise in the way you might do normally; you had to remember what the meaning was.”
Ennis agrees filming was “very difficult. You have snow one moment and, when you turn the camera, you have rain, sunshine… If a scene takes two hours to shoot, that can change so many times. The editing has been a great challenge,” she says. “They call it the ‘land of maybe,’ and that says everything. You never know if you can leave the islands on a certain day. If the weather is too harsh, you can’t leave. It’s very interesting. That makes the people more relaxed – they just take one day at a time.”
Playing a journalist, Thomsen jokes that in the series, “I’m not doing a whole lot of journalism.” Instead, “I’m trying to find out what happened to me daughter,” he says. “I had all kinds of discussions with the director and writer about the nature of the character, and what we’re trying to go for and the mood.”
“I did a lot of research with the local police and the way to do it,” Rich says. “The way I understood it, people do know each other quite easily [in the Faroes] so there’s a lot of police work that’s more about going to talk to people first. There’s a long way before they have to actually do the police job. They can solve a lot of problems by just talking to each other, and of course everyone knows each other.”
A long-time ambition held by Faroese creator Torfinnur Jákupsson, who wrote the series with Donna Sharpe, Trom began life as a pilot script and series bible that was presented by Reinvent to potential industry partners at the 2019 Berlinale Copro Series event. Faroese broadcaster KVF and Scandi streamer Viaplay then came on board, as did France’s Arte and ZDF in Germany. Danish broadcaster DR then picked up local rights, while other buyers include VRT in Belgium, SBS in Australia, AMC in Latin America and Viaplay in the US. In the UK, Trom launched on BBC Four on Saturday.
According to Helene Aurø, Reinvent’s sales and marketing director, part of the show’s international appeal is that is an undeniable example of Nordic noir, from its crime story to the “grey, mysterious, thrilling tone.” Breakout Nordic noir series Forbrydelsen (The Killing) was also notable for the fact that main character Sarah Lund famously wore Faroese-style knitwear.
“Nordic noir is still so popular. In the UK and everywhere we sell it, we still use that term,” Aurø says. “We also want to develop and produce something fresh, and we do that as well, but still, when you talk to international buyers [about Nordic noir], they know exactly what they’re getting.
“The Faroes is a very exotic part of the world. Iceland was as well when we first started selling and producing stories from Iceland. Now moving to the Faroe Islands, that was a special place with exotic locations, and the location is a character in itself.”
Trom also stands out because the story goes beyond the crime that is revealed in episode one. “It’s crime, it’s universal. The characters are not that far away from real people – a police officer, a journalist, parents, kids… and a murderer,” Aurø says. “There is still a huge demand for crime series but also crime series with other layers. Here we have whaling, things about nature and climate, and that’s what’s also attracted a lot of buyers. Just as in [Danish political drama] Borgen, where we had all the politics and the woman behind the prime minister, here we also go much deeper.”