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April 1940. Norway has been invaded by Germany and the royal family and government have fled into the interior. The German envoy to Norway tries to negotiate a peace. Ultimately, the decision on Norway's future will rest with the King.
Anders Baasmo Christiansen,
Set in Cornwall, Detective Superintendent Charles Wycliffe, who works along with his colleagues DI Doug Kersey and DI Lucy Lane, investigates murder cases with his trademark determination and clinical accuracy.
This is a full and frank review, with spoilers, discussing the story and the ending.
I am lucky to have seen Maelstrom recently, and it rekindled so many childhood memories. I remembered the sinister theme music and the dolls, but soon found that trying to sing along with the theme music would give me a sore throat.
Some reviews are very harsh on the lead actress, Tusse Silberg. I had no problem with her, and rather liked the Catherine character. Nicely intrepid and unwimpy. The only other place I have (knowingly) seen Tusse Silberg is in the late, lamented 90s soap Eldorado, where she plays a Swedish mother-in-law for a few episodes. She's quite good in Maelstrom, especially in comparison to hopeless blonde, Ingrid.
Ingrid is my biggest problem with Maelstrom, as Edita Brychta's performance is completely unconvincing and wooden. I spent the first two episodes thinking that Ingrid was obviously the culprit, and then realised I was only thinking this because of Ms Brychta's unnatural and bonkers performance. Saying "shall not" instead of "shan't" is writer's shorthand for madness, and Ingrid does this throughout. She was too obviously mad to be a real mad person, and I twigged on that it was going to be Anna Marie shortly before the real giveaway. The tension could have been ramped up much higher if there was not a shot of Anna Marie looking mad and wild-eyed in approx ep 3, as Catherine is walking away from her.
The scenery is gorgeous, but I believe all of Michael J Bird's writing deals with nice locations like this. Norway doesn't seem especially foreign, though. It could have been a pretty bit of Britain. Not much language barrier and not much cultural difference. In fact, in the scene where Catherine swims ashore after being shipwrecked, she flags down a car and much is made of her not being able to communicate with the driver. This is completely blown away when he tells her to "hop in"!
It's an odd choice to have a non-English actress playing Catherine, and Scandinavian Anna Marie played by an Englishwoman. I liked Susan Gilmore's Anna Marie a lot, and it's odd that the star of boat-soap Howard's Way is the only one never seen on a boat! David Beames is very much the square jawed hero, and there's nothing special about the character. Ann Todd as Miss Linderman is very convincing, completely caught up in the past. It was surely obvious that she would do herself in at the end of it.
The end was relatively clearly signposted. A few years ago, the BBC started a drama called Sea of Souls. I watched the first episode, but no more. The first episode was nicely eerie until the last twenty minutes, which turned into lead goodie and lead baddie chasing each other about with knives and burning the house down. It was as if the writer was happily writing away to himself, and then thought "bugger, I've got to finish this in ten pages time and I have no idea what to do". Maelstrom had a similar ending but without the desperation. As soon as people started talking about bonfires on Midsummer Eve, it was clear that the haunted house was going to go up in smoke. I saw it coming from about 3 episodes away. Nevertheless, it was very effective when it happened. Anna Marie's wonderful comment about "time to light bonfires", turning away from a pile of wood and moving towards the house, raised a chuckle. Also, her clouting Catherine over the head. A bit daft of Catherine to go to the house alone, though!
The fire was brilliantly done. Anna Marie's scorching and blackening before the roof came down, and the ghost of Freya and melting dolls, were all believably nasty. Typical of bonkers Ingrid to say her sister should be left in the burning building, though.
I occasionally found it a bit tricky to work out which house was which, and also got a bit confused by the geography of the island. Is there a jetty in front of the haunted house? It seemed so, in some shots, as people were able to drive a boat across the fjord and park in front. In other scenes, people seemed to approach the haunted house from behind and come down a slope to it, as if they had taken a boat all the way round the back of the house/island and then walked down to the front. Also, the two pictures next to Catherine's bed also confused me. One was her adoptive mother, and who was the other? Freya? It wasn't helped by Miss Linderman flicking though her photo albums and implying that the second photo was of one of her students. (Also, why did Miss L put her photo albums on such a high shelf when she has such obvious mobility problems?).
I enjoyed Maelstrom a lot. Very creepy. Great cliffhanger to episode five, with Catherine spotting someone behind the door. It didn't lose any pace of storytelling, and I was very surprised to find it was 6x45mins. Nowadays, it would probably be 3x60mins. It was nice to see so many old British actors in it, too. Shelagh Wilcocks is so good in Tenko. John Abineri, Paul Darrow and his Blake's 7 colleague Peter Tuddenham, Thomasine Heiner and Trevor Baxter.
All-in-all, wonderful stuff. Very atmospheric and moody; occasionally even scary. Some brilliant images that linger in the mind for a while, and a very doomy atmosphere. After all these years, I am delighted to find that the memory does not cheat, and that the series that was discussed in the school playground still lives up to 21st century scrutiny.
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