One constantly fascinating aspect of the Scandi dramas currently taking SBS On Demand by storm is the beautifully defined characters. From The Killing’s sweater wearing sleuth Sarah Lund to The Bridge’s oddball detective Saga Norén who may or may not have Asberger’s, the Scandinavian television world is littered with brilliantly watchable figures who have helped to define one of the most exciting modern trends in television.
No character more so than Anno 1790’s medic turned investigator Johan Gustav Dåådh, played by Borgen’s Peter Eggers. After serving on the frontline as a physician during the Russo-Swedish War he stumbles upon a new role as a criminal inspector in the Swedish capital. Like an eighteenth century Dirty Harry, Dåådh sticks it to the man as he battles bourgeoisie figures of authority, who desperately hold on to archaic values. He is a progressive visionary using the enlightened writings of French philosopher Voltaire to fight crime. Take that Wallander!
Not that it’s all high-brow pontificating manifestos, historical crime drama Anno 1790 is a riveting whodunit set in a gritty world that clogs the screen with dust, grime and dirt. The scuzzy environs are so authentically captured by award-winning cinematographer Geir Hartly Andreassen (Kon Tiki, The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones) that you’ll need to jump in the shower after watching, the clean clinical aesthetic of the shows at the forefront of the Nordic Noir invasion a million miles from Anno 1790’s visual palette.
The uncleanliness makes the medical side of Dåådh’s work even more unpalatable. When he performs an autopsy on a dignitary who has died in the throws of illicit pleasure with a prostitute, it’s a delightfully gruesome affair, much to the consternation of his well-coiffured audience. Dåådh pushes the limits of his profession. His then futurist concepts, as he gets his CSI on, are the show’s drawcard. Fusing modern day forensic cop show tropes with a period costume drama is a brilliant, and intriguing idea. The newly branded criminal inspector’s ideas are revolutionary. His searing intellect and stubborn disregard for the chain of command may lose him friends, but they help him catch the eye of Magdalena Wahlstedt (Linda Zilliacus), the wife of his superior officer. Their mutual socially progressive views turning to unbridled passion.
Bickering like a Scandi Sherlock Sherlock and Dr. Watson, Dåådh is kept down to earth by an assistant often at odds with his forward-looking worldview. Simon Freund, played by Joseph Spira (Thicker Than Water). Freund is constantly feuding with his partner. Where Dåådh is an atheist, his professional other half reads the good book and has more conservative morals. It adds an intellectual frisson to a show already brimming with high concepts.
Despite the heady theories on display, as a traditional costume drama Anno 1790 follows many of the traditions laid down by its predecessors. The class divide is all too present but where the juxtaposition of opulent wealth and the servitude of the working masses, as shown in classic costume dramas like Downton Abbey, was all stiff upper lip and cheeky Northerners, in post French Revolution Stockholm, the pampered and privileged look on aghast as they are forced to share the streets with beggars, whores and undesirables. This clash enthralls and posits Anno 1790 at an important juncture in the development of modern day society. It’s the dawn of a new era. Visionaries like Dåådh sharing their egalitarian views and fighting for a more democratic system against the tyrannical wealthy. Equality for all may have been a dream in eighteenth century. History, however, shows that we are still fighting.
Who would have thought a show set in AD 1790 would have its grubby finger on the pulse?
Anno 1790 is streaming now on SBS On Demand: