Trom is a six part crime serial currently scheduled on BBC4 in the UK but with all six episodes available on BBC iPlayer. Unusually, I opted to watch the whole serial over consecutive nights. I enjoyed the show very much and I’m prompted to write about it in response to the Guardian‘s listing which described it as OK but ‘formulaic’. That term reminds me that when I started my engagement with film studies in the 1970s most Hollywood films were generally dismissed by British critics as ‘formulaic’. I think it came from traditional Eng Lit graduates who had never been taught about genre. Fortunately we now have a more educated audience but we do still get the occasional usage.
A formula is a means of guaranteeing that a process will be capable of being re-produced to enable exactly the same output each time. The whole point of a genre repertoire is to enable filmmakers to select elements to ensure both repetition and difference. Genres are constantly evolving in cycles. All the elements in a narrative may be familiar but the precise mix will be different. Yes, Trom uses familiar elements but certain factors make this particular narrative unique. I’ve never seen a film or TV drama set in the Faroes before. It’s a unique and fascinating setting. Perhaps the most unusual element here is the tiny population size of this ‘autonomous community’ – only 53,000 people, less than most small towns in the UK. I thought that Iceland was relatively small but there are seven times as many people in Iceland. In narrative terms it means that it is quite feasible to create a story in which one character, seemingly an outsider, can investigate a crime, partly by having a connection to many of the people involved the story and also that a single person can have business holdings that seem to have an element of control over every form of activity in the community. It also means that this particular ‘Nordic Noir’ has no difficulty developing ideas about family melodrama narratives since it is quite likely that the children of the principal characters will all attend the same school or college and may become involved in the central narrative.
Early in the serial we see two men board a plane and sit on the same row of seats but on opposite sides of the aisle. Eventually we will realise that Hannis Martinsson (Ulrich Thomsen) is originally Faroese but has been working internationally as an investigative journalist. Ragnar í Rong (Olaf Johannessen) is the man who owns several companies in the Faroes. I’m not going to spoil the thriller plot but I will point out that the investigation will involve the suspicious death of an activist concerned about the ecological and ethical issue surrounding the main Faroese economic activity of fishing in the North-East Atlantic, including whaling. This is another unique element. Very few countries still consider whaling as legitimate and few are as dependent on whaling and fishing as an economic necessity.
Trom is part ‘police procedural’ and again the unique status of the Faroes becomes important. It is an autonomous territory still officially part of the Kingdom of Denmark. In terms of resources, certain actions such as sending for a forensic pathologist or requesting specialist laboratory work require extra time for material to be sent to Denmark or for specialists to travel to the Faroes. This in turn offers the writers small extra windows of time in the narrative when evidence is vulnerable or police investigation is stalled. This is well exploited in the serial. This element has appeared in other contexts. For instance, the South Korean film Memories of Murder (SK 2003), set in the 1980s requires samples to be sent to the US for testing because local experise and technology have not been developed. The situation in the two autonomous territories of Denmark is interesting from a UK perspective. There were three such territories but Iceland became independent after 1944 (both Iceland and the Faroes were occupied by the British during the Second World War). Greenland is the other territory which still has some ties to Denmark. The Faroes are not actually part of the EU even if Denmark is. This means that relations with the UK are different than they might be for Denmark itself. The Faroes are actually closer to Scotland and to Norway than to Denmark. Logically, the extra facilities the Faroese police might need could be obtained in Aberdeen or Bergen, half the distance away.
The serial is based on books by the Faroese writer, Jógvan Isaksen and it is the first TV drama serial/series made on the Faroes. It is certainly a ‘Nordic Noir’, closest perhaps to the Danish TV serials of the The Killing (Denmark 2007-12) – the famous knitted jumpers in that serial were Faroese and they are also a featured in the promotion of Trom. The Killing was a co-production venture which saw Norwegian, Swedish and German support. This is the case with many Nordic film and TV productions. Trom has Icelandic input in funding and crew and there is also Danish and Norwegian involvement. One of the two main writers is Donna Sharpe, a Brit based in Germany. The British interest, in the form of BBC4, is emphasised in the promotional material. The two leading cast members, Ulrich Thomsen and Maria Rich are well-known Danish actors whereas Olaf Johannessen was born on the Faroes. I think others in the cast are Faroese and the dialogue is both Danish and Faroese with a few lines of English. All the performances seem strong to me.
The ending of the serial leaves the prospect of a second part, but at the moment there seems to be a problem in the partnership of the various agencies involved in the production. I hope it is resolved. I enjoyed the show and would appreciate the chance to watch a second serial.
Here is a brief promo clip from an Australian streamer: