Don’t expect more Nordic Noir from Dicte, the Scandi drama featuring a fearless reporter chasing stories, tracking killers and trying to find her lost son. Crime Scene discusses the Danish export with the star and creators.
Nordic Noir with a twist.
Just because it’s Nordic, it doesn’t have to be Noir. That’s the lesson to take from the hit Danish series Dicte – Crime Reporter, featuring a rule-breaking female reporter who muscles in on police cases, much to the chagrin of the lead detective. Amid the investigations there are family crises, comical moments and a strong sense of sisterhood between the recently divorced Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle) and her female friends.
Dicte, which has a second series airing in the UK, may well be the antidote to the bleak Nordic Noir of the Copenhagen-based The Killing. It’s even set in a different part of the country – Aarhus, the second-largest city, located on the east coast of the Jutland peninsula. So if you need a break from relentlessly moody Scandinavian TV drama, Dicte is the show for you.
“It’s a bit lighter, isn’t it?” suggests Hjejle (pronounced “yigh-luh”), who’s previously starred in Danish TV comedy. “It has crime but it’s relationship drama built on children, parents, marriage, relationships at work and all of that. So it’s a bit lighter than all of the Scandi Noir.”
Ten years on from the launch of Forbrydelsen – screened as The Killing in the UK from 2011 – the success of Dicte suggests that Nordic Noir might have peaked. Does Hjejle think viewers want something more colourful? “Yes, I think they’re ready to move on. With Dicte it’s an interesting combination of having the crime element alongside that family drama, so you can sit back and have a laugh and not be terrified.”
For British viewers, the introduction to the go-getting reporter in the first series last year certainly had its comical moments – in fact, you might say Dicte was taking the piss. In the opening episode, the reporter discovers a dead body while she’s having a discreet wee on a secluded street at night, presumably the first case of a journalist
urinating over a crime scene.
“We have to thank the writers for that,” laughs Hjejle. “We gave it a lot of thought – how is this going to go down with the main character accidentally peeing on someone’s dead body? But it suits me really well as an actor having great big emotions, but then at the same time you can laugh because stupid things happen. That appeals to me.”
Chasing the story
It’s perhaps telling that the show’s creators, Dorte W. Hogh and Ida Maria Ryden, didn’t write crime before Dicte, which is based on the novels by Elsebeth Egholm. “We were both divorced and we needed the money,” jokes Hogh when Crime Scene raises the subject of their switch from non-genre drama to a major Danish show featuring a journalist tracking down murderers.
Dicte’s own marriage break-up is actually key to the set-up. She’s taken her teenage daughter and moved away from Copenhagen, back to where she grew up in Aarhus. But while Dicte gets to spend more time with her childhood friends, she remains a driven journalist who can’t help getting in trouble, which is all part of the show’s appeal.
“She’s a little overwhelming and a little too energetic,” says Hogh. “But I think people actually like that. She’s got a temper, and people can probably relate to her in the sense that she’s not perfect. She gets involved with people and wants to save the whole world – and that’s actually something we take further in Season 3.”
Dicte is one of those reporters who relishes getting in the thick of the action. She might even subscribe to that infamous edict from the glory days of Fleet Street: “If it bleeds, it leads”. This old-fashioned journalist pushes for traditional news values despite her editor’s attempts to encourage online clickbait.
“That’s going to be an issue as well in the second and third season – the whole internet news thing,” Hjejle tells Crime Scene. “Now it’s all about viral videos, it’s almost like people make their own news. But, of course, journalists can still be heroes – and Dicte is very much about injustice. Sometimes journalists can put things straight, which is wonderful. We should still fight for the people’s right to have stories reported by journalists.”
However, Dicte does bend the rules from the off, when she fails to inform the lead detective John Wagner (Lars Brygmann) that she’s a reporter, following her discovery of a dead Bosnian girl who’s recently had a baby by caesarean section. The pair soon clash over her intrusive reporting style. But Wagner also realises that journalistic subterfuge can sometimes come in handy.
“They never really get along very well,” Hogh admits. “In Season 2 they don’t argue as much as they do in Season 1. But they still do everything differently – they have different takes on everything and different opinions.”
This unlikely crime-fighting duo soon join forces on cases that are at times harrowing and genuinely threatening. Even within the first few episodes, Dicte is punched in the face by a pimp, receives a blow to the head when she tries to prevent a girl from eastern Europe getting abducted, and is deliberately run off the road with her teenage daughter, Rose (Emilie Kruse).
“It’s been very tough,” admits Hjejle. “I’ve always been very proud of being that sort of actress who does all of her own
They never really get along. They have different takes on everything
stunts. But this time I told the stunt coordinator we’re going to have to find a double, we’re going to have to find someone to take some of these beatings, because I’m not going to be able to do it.”
The role was still physical enough for Hjejle to be “black and blue for days” after certain scenes. But at least the stunt double freed up the leading lady to focus on the character’s emotional side. There are highs and lows for Dicte, for whom parenthood and a professional calling can’t compensate for the loss she feels for the baby she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. Twenty-four years later, she’s still searching for her son.
Dicte’s pain is compounded by the breakdown in her relationship with her parents, because she rejected their faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses. “She is obsessed with the truth and justice, because she’s been lied to so much and she was forced to give away her baby son just after he was born,” explains Hjejle. “So she’s a very emotional person and she’s very driven by her own traumas.”
The first season reflects Dicte’s personal sense of loss with crimes involving children, though there’s a shift in tone for the second. “There are not as many dead children in Series 2,” confirms a deadpan Ryden. The cases have been broadened to include diamond smuggling, voodoo and match-fixing, as well as a hit-and-run that’s close to home for Dicte.
In this second series, the reporter is on typically forthright form – she even jumps (fully clothed) into a hot tub to quiz a sleazy businessman. Meanwhile, an increasingly lonely Wagner is drawn to an English-speaking immigrant, Grace Tolou Aboka (Tanya Moodie), who’s connected to a case. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognise Moodie from Sherlock, in which she plays the therapist to both Watson and Holmes, as well as episodes of Lewis, Prime Suspect and Silent Witness.
It feels like appropriate casting for a Danish crime series that’s actually closer in style to the winning mix of humour and high drama employed in much British crime TV. Hjejle is particularly happy that Dicte has reached an audience in Britain, where it airs on More4 and is available on-demand at Walter Presents.
“I grew up with all the English crime series, everything from Miss Marple and Poirot to Midsomer Murders, A Touch Of Frost and Taggart,” she reveals. “We’re just brought up with it, so I think that’s why Dicte has appealed to the English viewers, because it has those sort of recognisable features and at the same time it has that Scandi feeling as well. I think it’s a good combination because it works very well.”
As with The Killing, though, the writers have decided to go out on a high by calling time on Dicte after three seasons. So perhaps its leading lady can follow Sofie Grabol (Sarah Lund in The Killing) with major English-language roles – although it’s worth pointing out that Hjejle has previously appeared in High Fidelity and alongside Daniel Craig in Defiance.
“It’s been hard work for five-and-a-half years, so now I’m looking forward to seeing what’s out there,” she says of life after Dicte. “You know, I might come over to Britain and have a meeting with my agent there, and say ‘I’m back’. I’d love to do feature films, that would be wonderful.”
Dicte – Crime Reporter Series 1 is available on DVD. Series 2 is on More4 and walterpresents.com in May.
It might not be your usual Nordic Noir, but there’s plenty of drama in Dicte. Wagner with his cop partner Linda Bendtsen (Ditte Ylva Olsen).
Dicte’s female friends are a significant part of her life.