Tyskungen (2013)

Sweden, Germany / 101 minutes / color / tre vänner, Sveriges Television, Nordisk, Film i Väst, ZDF och ZDF Dir: Per Hanefjord Pr: Pontus Sjöman, Helena Danielsson Scr: Maria Karlsson Story: Tyskungen (2007; vt The Hidden Child) by Camilla Läckberg Cine: Marek Septimus Wieser Cast: Claudia Galli Concha, Richard Ulfsäter, Jan Malmsjö, Amanda Ooms, Lennart Jähkel, Per Myrberg, Inga Landgré, Jakob Oftebro, Edvin Endre, Amalia Holm Bjelke, Charlie Gustafsson, Lena Carlsson, Fanny Klefelt, Axel Myrberg, Kim Solfeldt, Gunvor Pontén, Fridtjov Såheim, Espen Skjnberg, Björn Andersson.

I’ve read a couple of Läckberg’s novels about novelist/detective Erica Falck and her cop husband Patrik Hedström, and to be honest haven’t enjoyed them much. (The oft-repeated claim that Läckberg is “the Swedish Agatha Christie” is just plumb baloney, making as much sense as would a claim she was “the Swedish Terry Pratchett” or “the Swedish A.A. Milne.” This isn’t a value judgment: it’s simply that Christie didn’t write the kind of crime fiction that Läckberg does.)

Claudia Galli Concha as Erica Falck.

However, my lack of appreciation for her novels was, in a curious way, what drew me to Fjällbackamorden, the series of TV movies based on the characters at the heart of her series of novels, Erica and Patrik. What I like about the novels, while I dislike the execution, are those two characters and the setups: the novel Isprinsessan (2003; vt The Ice Princess), for example, has a fabulous setup; it’s just that, after that, things not so much go downhill as plummet that way.

I’ve said Fjällbackamorden (“Fjällbacka Murders”) is a series of TV movies, but I was shorthanding. More correctly, the series comprises five TV movies and a theatrical one, Tyskungen, our subject here. This is also the odd one out in another respect: it’s the only one (so far as I can discern) that’s based on one of Läckberg’s novels rather than being a new story using her characters and the setting of Fjällbacka, a seaside town where Erica and Patrik come to live.

Per Myrberg as Frans Ringholm.

The movie has all the usual Läckberg tropes, notably the one whereby the investigation of modern crimes unearths the truth about ancient ones.

After the death in a car accident of her parents, bestselling novelist Erica Falck (Concha) and her cop husband Patrik Hedström (Ulfsäter) come to live with newborn daughter Maja in the old family home in Fjällbacka. They’re still unpacking when a seemingly eccentric older man, Göran Berger (Andersson), introduces himself to Erica as the half-brother she never knew he had. Assuming he’s just a crank, Erica repulses him; by the time she tries to get back in touch with him, he’s been murdered with a fatal dose of Warfarin.

Jan Malmsjö as Axel Frankel.

Her further investigations lead her to the group of friends her mother Elsy Moström (Pontén) had in her teens, during World War II. They were, aside from Elsy (played by Bjelke in her younger incarnation), Britta Johansson (Klefelt), Frans Ringholm (Solfeldt) and the brothers Erik (Axel Myrberg) and Axel Frankel (Endre). The illegitimate child whom Elsy never acknowledged, Göran, was fathered by Hans Olavsen (Oftebro), a Norwegian who came to Fjällbacka claiming to be a fugitive of the Nazis but was soon unmasked as a Nazi spy.

Inga Landgré as Britta Johansson.

Or so the orthodox version has it.

Soon Erik Frankel too is murdered. Then the Alzheimer’s-affected Britta Johansson (Landgré). Frans Ringholm (Per Myrberg), who seemingly became a neo-Nazi—a member of the “Friends of Sweden” movement, a sort of Make Sweden Great Again group—dies of a heart attack in prison before he can reveal to Erica some important truths. Could war hero Axel Frankel (Malmsjö) be next? And what about Axel’s daughter Alva (Ooms)—is she safe from the stealthy killer?

Amalia Holm Bjelke as young Elsy.

The movie’s superbly well staged. I was held entirely in its hand as the plot measuredly unfolded. Concha is quite wonderful in the role of Erica: blessedly, the role was given to a fairly ordinary-looking woman who happens to be a very fine actress rather than, as one might expect would happen in any Hollywood remake, to some hot babe. Ulfsäter gets second billing as Patrik but the character is so backgrounded that anyone who didn’t know the novels might be slightly puzzled as to who he is. The actor who really stands out is Jan Malmsjö as the elderly national hero Axel Frankel; special mention, too, for Charlie Gustafsson as Frans’s grandson Per, another “Friends of Sweden” member but one who’s genuinely interested in digging out the truth—especially after he’s been accused of murdering Erik Frankel. One of the more enduring images of the movie is Per being harshly arrested by Patrik and his Norwegian colleagues.

Edvin Endre as young Axel.

So much for the good stuff.

I haven’t read Läckberg’s original novel so I don’t know if this is a problem brought over from the source, but the plotting here seems flabby. It’s pretty obvious from the outset—or from somewhere near the outset—who the culprit is and what’s motivating the culprit. Of course, people who read too much crime fiction and watch too many crime movies have something of an advantage over people in real life; even so, it seems odd that Erica and Patrik (and everyone else!) didn’t cotton on fairly quickly to the truth.

Jakob Oftebro as Hans Olavsen.

I’m hoping to watch more movies in the Fjällbackamorden series fairly soon. I was in many ways impressed by this first outing (it’s the first in terms of internal chronology, it seems, even if perhaps not the first to be released; the details are muddled), and certainly enough to try further entries.

The Fjällbackamorden series was supposed to be directed by Daniel Lind Lagerlöf. However, on October 6 2011 he went missing, presumed drowned.

2 thoughts on “Tyskungen (2013)

  1. I read one of her books and was suitably underwhelmed. I think I have another stashed, but I’m not exactly rushing towards reading it any time soon. This film seems interesting – the good bits sound good and the not so good bits make me think – hmm, maybe not.

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