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Palace life

As Versailles concludes after three seasons, executive producer Claude Chelli and costume designer Madeline Fontaine discuss the making of the lavish French historical drama.

For three seasons, French historical drama Versailles captivated viewers around the world with its daring mix of passion, power and betrayal, all set within the court of King Louis XIV.

The English-language series introduced the 28-year-old king of France, who commissioned the most beautiful palace in Europe, which came to serve as the king’s gilded prison — keeping his friends close and his enemies closer. As the Canal+  series progressed — the 10-part third and final season begins tonight in the UK on BBC2 — it exposed the dark underbelly of power as the monarch struggled to retain control of his palace and his people.

The concept of Versailles, created by David Wolstencroft and Simon Mirren, took more than four years to develop, executive producer Claude Chelli recalls, as coproducers Capa Drama, Zodiak Fiction and Incendo sought to bring together a broadcaster and coproducers to assemble the financing.

The 10-part final season of Versailles begins tonight in the UK on BBC2

“It was a big project with a big budget,” he says. “The first season is always difficult to find your mark; you don’t know what’s necessary or what’s superfluous. But after that, the second season was very nice and the third season felt like home.”

That success was reaped not only in France but around the world, as the series drew viewers in the UK, US (Ovation and Netflix), Scandinavia (C More) and elsewhere following deals with distributor Banijay Rights.

“It’s very surprising because France is a small country as far as drama is concerned, so we never expect things to go that wide. It was an incredible surprise,” Chelli admits. “Of course, we put a lot of money, effort and time into gathering talent but the reception from everywhere else is amazing.

“We know on a show like that, we’re not only working for France. It’s a €30m [US$30m] show so we need Europe at least; we need the world. But we’re very impressed by the reception in America and the work and effort that Ovation put in to support a show like this. We’re very proud of the show.”

Though ultimately necessary to bring the various financial pieces together, Versailles didn’t start out as an English-language series. Indeed, it was originally in French, but the switch was done to bring in the money to build the budget the show demanded.

Big-budget drama Versailles’ international success caught its makers by surprise

“So we switched from French to English very early on in order to get that money,” Chelli says. “We also knew we were going to be criticised in France, but that doesn’t really matter because the show is more powerful. Everyone understood why we needed to do it in English.

“Because we knew we had to gather the best talent in France, we knew we couldn’t cut corners to save money. We knew we had to have great costumes and that Madeline [Fontaine, costume designer] would dress the last extra at the end of the road the same way she would dress the main cast.”

Money was also required to build and dress the sets. “Ultimately nothing of the 17th century is left in France because if you go to Versailles, nothing is 17th century. Marie Antoinette came after Louis XV and hated the decor and the furniture and curtains, so she destroyed everything and changed it. So we knew we had to recreate the 17th century. That’s when we decided to build the sets because they’re very specific. And we had to create all the costumes. That was the biggest challenge.”

But why make a series about Louis XIV, played by George Blagden, at all? For those not au fait with French history, Chelli describes the monarch as a major influence across every artistic department.

The costume choices for Versailles involved a great deal of in-depth research by Madeline Fontaine

“He invented dance, he invented music, he invented cooking, basically,” he notes. “He invented architecture, the French garden. He made war with almost everyone and built castles. But also, what’s interesting about Louis XIV is that the origins of the French Revolution are there behind his actions. He spent so much money on war and building castles that the people of Paris and France were starving. It took some time for the people to revolt but the germs of the French revolution are in the third season. That’s what’s interesting about Louis XIV – it’s both the beginning of a new world and the end of the ancient world.”

When it came to creating the elegant gowns, outfits and dresses worn by the cast, costume designer Madeline Fontaine says that it was imperative she knew as much about the period as possible.

“Then, of course, after that, each character and the place they have in society is very important for the colours of every outfit,” she explains. “You also have to know how far we are from reality and be able to create the atmosphere of the period — to take the audience to the period and not to take them away. That’s the challenge anyway.”

Fontaine’s research covers the period’s history, its paintings and key pieces of writing, which she compiles to inform her own impressions of the time the series recreates. “My job is the interpretation of this information,” she continues, “and then you give the public your interpretation of your feeling of the period. It’s very interesting. I like this moment and once you go into the information, you can find what you need to make it.”

Fontaine was careful that characters’ costume changes evolved in stages

The key to Fontaine’s role, however, was not how many different outfits she could design for the characters — which were key to viewers’ understanding of their role in the series — but how they could evolve by changing smaller pieces rather than the entire costume.

“The public has to follow the characters, so if they change [their costumes] too much, that becomes more difficult,” she says. “So we can change different pieces of the outfit. For the extras we had 200 outfits, with three or four pieces for each one. Then you have to find the fabric for each of them, so it was a very big undertaking.”

Having worked across both television and film, with credits including Amélie and Jackie, Fontaine describes the process as the same, though the rhythm is decidedly different.

“On movies, you have the script from the very beginning and most of the time it doesn’t change so much and you have a schedule so you can prioritise what you need and save some things for later,” the designer reveals.

Louis XIV, played by George Blagden, had a huge impact on the arts

“Here we have the stories pretty late and we shoot cross blocks, so everything has to be ready at the same time. We don’t have so much flexibility. We have to be ready much more quickly than on a movie, and we shoot quickly too. So if you forget something, it’s done, it’s too late! It puts pressure on the workshop because everything has to be ready for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

Fontaine won a Bafta in 2017 for her work on Jackie, a film about Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) in the aftermath of her husband John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

“It was a real surprise and recognition of my work from British costume designers meant a lot to me,” she adds. “The challenge with any period project is to make it true, so the challenge is the same. You just have to do it the best you can all the time. That’s how we work.”

Capa Drama will follow Versailles with Netflix’s second original French drama, Osmosis, which follows in the footsteps of Marseille and is due to launch later this year. The eight-episode series is set in a near-future Paris in which a dating app called Osmosis can find anybody’s true love.

With so much contemporary drama on French television, creating new landscapes — rooted in the past or thrown into the future — is one way to give creators free rein to tell their stories. “For artistic reasons, you have to invent a whole new world,” Chelli adds. “Osmosis is sci-fi but it’s the same thing as Versailles — you have to invent a new world. As a producer, it’s the really exciting side of things.”

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Hometown girl

Swedish actor Ida Engvoll is on a roll, having appeared in hit series The Bridge, The Restaurant and Bonus Family. As UK streaming service Walter Presents premieres her crime thriller Rebecka Martinsson, the star talks about avoiding typecasting and working with mosquitos.

If you follow Swedish drama, there’s a fair chance you will have come across Ida Engvoll. The actor has steadily built her career on appearances in some of the country’s biggest series that, thanks to the global interest in Scandinavian fiction, mean she has been on screen around the world.

Roles in Beck, Arne Dahl and Fjällbackamorden (The Fjällbacka Murders) charted her early life on television before she took roles in pan-European crime drama The Team and the third season of Broen (The Bridge).

Engvoll has become much more recognisable, however, since starring in 2015 award-winning feature En man som heter Ove (A Man Called Ove). More recently, she has starred in TV4 crime thriller Rebecka Martinsson, period drama Vår tid är nu (The Restaurant) and comedy-drama Bonusfamiljen (Bonus Family), both of which have been renewed for third seasons by SVT.

It’s her versatility that makes her screen credits stand out, switching between genres with ease – a trend that isn’t entirely accidental.

“I always look for good parts and projects that are attractive but we have a lot of crime series in Sweden,” the actor explains. “It’s not easy to avoid doing crime series but it’s always about the character and the genre and the director as well. I try to not get stuck [in one show].

Ida Engvol plays the titular character in Rebecka Martinsson

“When you’re in a successful show, especially in Sweden because we’re such a small country, people can’t tell the difference between you and the characters so I always try to be in flow between things so people can’t judge me.”

Engvoll is speaking to DQ ahead of the UK launch of Rebecka Martinsson, which has been picked up by Channel 4-owned streaming service Walter Presents. The first episode will debut on More4 this Friday before the box-set becomes available online.

The eight-part series, produced by Yellow Bird and distributed by Banijay Rights, is based on the novels by Åsa Larsson, telling four stories each set over two episodes. The first instalment sees high-flying lawyer Martinsson (Engvoll) return to her hometown of Kiruna, in the northern most part of Sweden within the Arctic Circle, following news of her friend’s death. But when what appears to have been an accident turns out to be murder, she becomes embroiled in the investigation while also facing up to the terrible trauma that forced her to leave her childhood home behind.

“The script did stand out, especially after the first movie,” Engvolll says of the series, which first aired on Sweden’s TV4 in spring 2017. “After episode one and two, the adventure for her really starts. The ending of the first story opens her trauma and who she is and why she’s there and why she can’t go back to Stockholm. So after the first one, I was really intrigued by the character.”

The actor describes Martinsson as a character of many faces, but one who is very much grounded in reality.

The series gets its UK debut on All4 tomorrow

“For me, it was really important to make her true and not just a character,” she says of the lawyer who never seems at ease, unsure whether she belongs in the Stockholm metropolis or the isolated community in which she grew up. “It’s not easy to say she’s this or that. She’s very believable. She’s very alive. She’s not just one face, she’s really vulnerable and very tough in her own way, but she’s also very scared, even at the beginning when the series starts and she’s on top of her career and everything’s going her way. Inside she’s still scared and hasn’t found herself yet. She’s not your stereotypical crime character. You can’t pin her down. She’s complex.”

In the case that unfolds across the first two episodes, the murder victim is known to Martinsson, leading her to return home. She quickly forges a friendship with a local police officer, through which she ingratiates herself in solving the case. “But in the story she’s always on her own, she has her own way of doing things,” Ingvoll explains, describing this most flawed of criminal investigators. “She really makes some bad judgements, with her relationships and friendships and the way to do things right, she’s always doing things wrong and that’s a fun thing about her too. The drama is really in her personal life. It’s her personal life and her relationships that make you want to see more.”

Viewers may recognise Kiruna, the show’s Arctic setting, from 2016’s French-Swedish coproduction Midnight Sun, which saw a French cop head north to investigate the murder of a French politician. During the summer months, there is near 24-hour sunlight, a scenario of which that show took advantage to heighten its fish-out-of-water premise.

The midnight sun is also present in Rebecka Martinsson, though it serves simply as the background of the story rather than a driver of it. In any case, the environment proved no less challenging to film in.

The show sees Engvol’s character, a lawyer, become embroiled in a murder investigation

“There are many challenges working there – there’s no food and lots of mosquitos and you can’t really go everywhere by car,” Ingvoll says. “But it’s also very nice being there. That’s one of the reasons why I want to do a second season because I want to spend as much time there as possible. It kind of feels homely, even though I haven’t spent much time there. I really like it. Something happens to your body – it’s the midnight sun. Those long days never end and the sun never sets. I was really in love with the landscape.

“The mosquitos were the biggest challenge but the locals we had on the set were like, ‘Just let them eat you,’ because they’re immune to them now. After a while you get used to it.”

With the temperatures dropping to -17C, one scene called for Ingvoll to swim in a frozen lake. “That was some experience. I’m quite hardcore but that was really cold,” the actor admits. “Your body stops working and my Finnish colleague actor had to swim with his head down. We also shot underwater but that was in warmer water. I have done it before but the air was so cold, the acting was really tough.”

With all four Rebecka Martinsson novels adapted in the first season, the character would have to appear in some original stories should the series return for a second run. Until then, Ingvoll is keeping busy with turns in hit series The Restaurant and Bonus Family.

“For some reason I’ve been picking the projects that have become really successful,” the actor jokes. “They have been breaking viewing records in Sweden so that’s really good for me.”

Engvol’s other credits include such shows as A Man Called Ove

Ingvoll notes the irony, however, that she is most recognised for roles in which she plays ‘the wife’ or ‘the girlfriend,’ as in A Man Called Ove and Bonus Family, instead of more substantial parts such as in Rebecka Martinsson or The Restaurant, in which she says her character Ester will come to the fore in season two, airing later this year. “It’s really strange because I’m working on more interesting characters so it’s weird people recognise you from something that’s not your favourite moment.”

Crime series remain a staple of television in Sweden, across Europe and around the world. It means producers and broadcasters are continually trying to find ways to invigorate the genre and keep up with the demand, particularly in Scandinavia where the Nordic noir boom has seen global audiences drawn to its gripping plots and dark and moody landscapes.

That many series coming out of the region are backed by European funding presents a problem for Ingvoll. “We could never produce the amount of series that we do without the financial support from Germany or other European countries, but with that money also comes demands,” she notes. “The Germans want 90-minute films and this country wants 10 one-hour-episode seasons. There are so many layers, even when you haven’t really written the dialogue yet, the setting has already a shaped so it’s quite hard. There’s less room for the genius of writing or storytelling.

“If someone would let us do our own thing 100%, it would let us raise the bar even higher. Money talks, even down to the lines of the script. Bonus Family and The Restaurant, it’s SVT so they’re the richest channel [in Sweden]. The more money you can buy yourself freedom from, the better the quality because the idea will get stronger.”

Ingvoll first became aware of the Nordic noir trend when she starred in 2015’s The Team, cast alongside Lars Mikkelsen, Jasmin Great and Veerle Baetens in the story of a team of police officers brought together across Europe to solve a series of cross-border murders.

“I realised on that show that we had a genre [in Scandinavia] that was so specific. My co-stars from Germany and Belgium were asking, ‘How do you do this genre?’ We were like, we don’t do the genre, it’s just a show. That’s when I realised we had created a style, a way of doing things.

“It’s not really a conscious decision,” the actor adds. “We’re not really aware that we created a strong style of what a Scandi noir is. I think we were the last to find out what a Scandi noir was.”

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A taste of Sweden

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.

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Drama with bite

Juda is a low-life gambler hustling a living in the murky depths of the criminal underworld. But after winning big in a high-stakes poker game, his luck runs out when he is robbed and bitten by a seductive vampiress.

Unbeknown to her, she has drunk Jewish blood and begun her own path to mortality, therefore facing a race against time to kill Juda and save herself or save him and risk everything.

Zion Baruch, creator and star of the series, and director Meni Yaish, reveal how they were inspired by films such as Blade and Interview with a Vampire and filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino to bring this gothic horror to life.

They also consider why Israeli dramas have had such an impact on the global stage in recent years

Juda is produced by United Studios of Israel for HOT and is distributed by Banijay Rights.

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Converging on Cannes

The great and good of the television industry are once again packing their bags for another week in the south of France. DQ previews some of the drama series set to break out at Mipcom 2017.

Mipcom is often viewed as an opportunity for US studios to showcase their scripted series to international buyers. But this year the US will be jostling for attention with dramas from the likes of Spain, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Scandinavia and the UK.

The Spanish contingent is especially strong thanks to a major investment in drama by Telefonica’s Movistar+. Titles on show will be Gigantes, distributed by APC; La Peste, distributed by Sky Vision; and La Zona and Velvet Collection, both from Beta Film. The latter is a spin-off from Antena 3’s popular Velvet, previously sold around the world by Beta.

Beta Film’s Morocco – Love in Times of War

Beta is also in Cannes with Morocco – Love in Times of War, as well as Farinia – Snow on the Atlantic, both produced by Bambu for Antena 3. The former is set in war-torn Spanish Morocco in the 1920s, where a group of nurses look after troops, while Farinia centres on a fisherman who becomes a wealthy smuggler by providing South American cartels a gateway to Europe.

Mipcom’s huge Russian contingent is linked, in part, to the fact 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Titles that tackle this subject include Demon of Revolution, Road to Calvary and Trotsky – the latter two of which will be screened at the market. Trotsky, produced by Sreda Production for Channel One Russia, is an eight-part series that tells the story of the flamboyant and controversial Leon Trotsky, an architect of the Russian Revolution and Red Army who was assassinated in exile.

Russian drama Road to Calvary

Other high-profile Russian projects include TV3’s Gogol, a series of film-length dramas that reimagine the famous mystery writer as an amateur detective. Already a Russian box-office hit, the films will be screened to TV buyers at Mipcom.

Japanese drama has found a new international outlet recently following Nippon TV’s format deal for Mother in Turkey (a successful adaptation that has resulted in more interest in Japanese content among international buyers). The company is now back with a drama format called My Son. NHK, meanwhile, is screening Kurara: The Dazzling Life of Hokusai’s Daughter, a 4K production about Japan’s most famous artist.

Brazil’s Globo, meanwhile, is moving beyond the telenovelas for which it is so famous. After international recognition for dramas like Above Justice and Jailers, it will be in Cannes with Under Pressure, a coproduction with Conspiração that recorded an average daily reach of 40.2 million viewers when it aired in Brazil.

Nippont TV format My Son

From mainland Europe, there’s a range of high-profile titles at Mipcom including Bad Banks, distributed by Federation Entertainment, which looks at corruption within the global banking world. From the Nordic region there is StudioCanal’s The Lawyer, which includes Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge) as one of its creators, and season two of FremantleMedia International’s Modus. The latter is particularly interesting for starring Kim Cattrall, signalling a shift towards a more hybrid Anglo-Swedish project.

While non-English-language drama will have a high profile at the market, there are compelling projects from the UK, Canada and Australia. UK’s offerings include Sky Vision’s epic period piece Britannia and All3Media International’s book adaptation The Miniaturist – both with screenings. There’s also BBC Worldwide’s McMafia (pictured top), sold to Amazon on the eve of the market, and ITV Studios Global Entertainment’s The City & The City, produced by Mammoth Screen and written by Tony Grisoni.

All3Media International drama The Miniaturist

From Canada, there is Kew Media-distributed Frankie Drake Mysteries, from the same stable as the Murdoch Mysteries, while Banijay Rights is offering season two of Australian hit Wolf Creek. There’s also a screening for Pulse, a medical drama from ABC Commercial and Screen Australia.

Of course, it would be wrong to neglect the US entirely,since leading studios will be in town with some strong content. A+E Networks, for example, will bring actor Catherine Zeta-Jones to promote Cocaine Godmother, a TV movie about 1970s Miami drug dealer Griselda Blanco, aka The Black Widow.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, meanwhile, is screening Counterpart, in which JK Simmons (Whiplash, La La Land) plays Howard Silk, a lowly employee in a Berlin-based UN spy agency. When Silk discovers that his organisation safeguards the secret of a crossing into a parallel dimension, he is thrust into a world of intrigue and danger where the only man he can trust is his near-identical counterpart from this parallel world.

If you’re in Cannes, don’t forget to pick up the fall 2017 issue of Drama Quarterly, which features Icelandic thriller Stella Blómkvist, McMafia, Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Child in Time, Australian period drama Picnic at Hanging Rock and much more.

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Preparing a feast

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.’

Harald Hamrell

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.

Chef Stig ‘Stickan’ Backe (Peter Dalle)

“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.

The Restaurant is set across a 25-year period

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.”

The drama also tracks the love story involving Hedda Stiernstedt’s Nina

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.”

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Off with a Bang

Hinterland gave Welsh-language drama recognition on the international stage. Now, writer Roger Williams hopes to repeat that show’s success with Bang, a taut bilingual thriller set and filmed in the town of Port Talbot.

When it first aired in 2013, Y Gwyll (Hinterland) marked a watershed moment for Welsh drama. Capitalising on the moody visuals also seen in Nordic noir hits, the series was filmed simultaneously in Welsh and English as part of a deal between broadcasters S4C and BBC Wales.

Distributor All3Media International subsquently sold the crime series, which ran for three seasons, to Netflix, ARD (Germany), KRO (Netherlands), NRK (Norway), YLE (Finland), VRT (Belgium), RTV (Slovenia), Dizale (France) and DR (Denmark).

S4C and BBC Wales have now ordered two follow-ups, Un Bore Mercher (Keeping Faith) and Craith (Hidden), both of which will be filmed back-to-back in Welsh and English.

Roger Williams

But before those programmes air on S4C in November this year and January 2018 respectively, the Welsh-language broadcaster is going solo on another original series that aims to follow in Hinterland’s successful footsteps.

Bang, created and written by Roger Williams, is the story of loner Sam (Cuffs star Jacob Ifans), whose life is transformed when he comes into possession of a gun and starts to break the law. Meanwhile, his ambitious police officer sister, Gina (Stella’s Catrin Stewart), is on a mission to find the owner of the weapon, against the backdrop of the shooting of a local man that raises questions for Sam and Gina about their father’s murder.

From the opening episode, which debuts this Sunday, Bang is a gripping thriller that slowly unwraps Sam’s decent into a life of crime, reflecting his own hope for a better life with that of Gina, who is constantly seeking a higher role in the local police force.

“For a long time, I have felt like a lot of Welsh drama doesn’t really tackle story. It has been about the aesthetic of the show and tends to be very slow in that Nordic way,” creator and writer Williams says, admitting he hadn’t aspired to write a crime drama when he first started Bang. “But one of the things that made this project attractive was the idea that we’ve got a gun that comes in and changes people’s lives in a very human and hopefully real way.”

Eyeing the new status Welsh drama enjoys in international circles, Williams was keen make the series accessible to non-Welsh speakers. From the outset, however, his company Joio and production partner Artists Studio (The Fall) knew they didn’t want to follow the Hinterland model, which involved essentially making the show twice on the same budget.

That meant Williams wrote his bilingual script in a naturalistic way, mirroring the blend of Welsh and English that is used in day-to-day life in Port Talbot, the South Wales town where the series was filmed and set.

Bang stars Jacob Ifan and Catrin Stewart as siblings Sam and Gina

The production took over a disused building beside the town’s railway station and turned it into a production office with room for edit suites and the make-up, hair and art departments, firmly rooting the series within the community that would form the backdrop of the eight-episode drama.

“We didn’t do that thing where we went down there for a couple of weeks and only shot certain scenes,” explains Williams. “We decided we were going to establish ourselves in the town, so we moved in in March and just finished in August. We very much wanted to root ourselves in the town because, for me, Port Talbot is a very important character within the series.

“This is a town that, for the majority of people, the only relationship they have with it is when they travel on the M4 motorway over the town. They don’t really go into the town or visit the seafront. It was very important to us that we saw the area and the town and found those places that people haven’t necessarily seen on TV before. That becomes important then when you’re trying to give it an identity for an international audience.”

When Williams first began developing the show, it was set in an unspecified location. But the writer’s connection to Port Talbot – he has lived there for 12 years – meant it became a natural setting for the drama that plays out.

Describing the decision to place the series in Port Talbot, Williams echoes some of the sentiments made by UK journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow during his MacTaggart lecture at last month’s Edinburgh International TV Festival, where he spoke about the media’s responsibility to reflect a greater level of diversity.

“I was down on the beach one day with the dog, looked up and thought, ‘I haven’t seen this place on TV. I haven’t seen this environment on TV,’ and I saw an opportunity to be the first to reimagine the town in a TV drama,” says Williams. “One of the things I learned very quickly was if we had any hope of [Bang] being an international success, it needed that visual identity, and that sense of place then becomes very important.

Williams already has plans for a second season

“What people generally think about when they think of Welsh TV is Hinterland and these wonderful vistas and views and landscapes. The challenge for us, then, was going in a different direction. For people who live in South Wales generally, Port Talbot is a place they don’t know about, and that certainly fed into this idea that it’s a place of secrets, a place where, under that motorway, there are things going on that you don’t know about.”

Williams speaks of a creative harmony on set that is central to the founding principle of Joio, which takes its name from the Welsh word that roughly translates to ‘enjoyment.’ “One of the things that drove us to set up the company was that we wanted to allow creative people to get on with what they do well. Certainly from the feedback I’ve had from the people who worked on the show for us, it was a very pleasant change from the way other companies operate,” he says.

“We very much brought on people we knew were capable, talented and creative and then gave them permission to create in a way they wanted to, and that’s something we’ve done with every single project.”

A former chairman of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Williams is already developing a second season of Bang, which would continue to follow the “unfinished business” between Sam and Gina while still set in Port Talbot. In fact, he says he has imagined what happens to the siblings over three seasons – and believes writers should spend more time future-gazing when it comes to bringing a new drama to television.

“Often writers do that trick of not knowing where it’s going to go, creating uncertainty and an opportunity to go somewhere surprising in the second or third season, but they haven’t actually worked out where they’re going to go,” he says. “So when they get to it, it’s never going to be that satisfactory because you don’t have the same plan that you did for the first season. I spent two-and-a-half years on this project and I know the second season, if it happens, won’t have the same gestation. So a lot of people chuck a curveball in at the end and it becomes a bit of a curse as they move forward and have to write the second or third season.”

Series in the US, however, have a better sense of momentum, as writers are often challenged to map out where the show will head in later seasons.

“We don’t generally do that in the UK,” Williams continues. “There’s that thing of development hell that a lot of writers find themselves in because it takes two, three or four years to get that commission. You get it and the show’s successful, and then the commissioner is like, ‘Right, let’s have another one.’ The writer is often so exhausted having produced that amount of work under that much scrutiny.”

For now, at least, Williams is hopeful Bang can become the next international hit series to come out of Wales and continue Hinterland’s legacy, with Banijay Rights on board as the international distributor.

“Hinterland was a bit of a game-changer,” Williams adds. “There are three shows being made for S4C at the moment and they’ve all got distributors attached, so there’s a definite change in the way people are looking at the work that’s coming out of Wales.”

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