Nine o’clock, Saturday night. That’s when the UK’s legion of crime drama addicts switches over to BBC Four for new, subtitled crime shows from around the globe. The latest programme from Scandinavia arrives on Saturday 10 March when Below the Surface will take us underground on the Copenhagen subway system where a terrorist hostage crisis is in progress.
Note: the BBC postponed the Saturday 24 March showing of Below the Surface due to the terrorist attack in France.
Terrorists on the subway
It all starts when three armed men hijack a subway train, taking 15 civilians hostage. In that dark and cramped atmosphere, the button labeled ‘claustrophobia’ is pushed, and the dial saying ‘tension’ is twisted to the right, as the hostages go through various feelings ranging from desperation through to disinterest and on to outright anger and rebellion. Unfortunately for them, the terrorists plan to ramp things up with one-by-one executions.
Understandably, all of Denmark is gripped by the story as a task force is assembled to both negotiate with the hostage takers, and hopefully rescue their captives. Heading the police terror unit are Philip Norgaard played by Johannes Lassen (series one of Follow the Money) and Louise Falck played by Sara Hjort Ditlevsen. Norgaard has served in the Middle East and there are flashbacks to this. As the hostage takers court publicity, they communicate with the press and the police via journalist Naja Toft (Paprika Steen). Fired from her job for running an unauthorised interview, she sets up a campaign to raise ransom money for the hostages.
One day at a time
Though the programme has all the hallmarks of an action thriller, part of its attraction is how it explores, well, below the surface of Danish society. The media and politicians conduct a wide-reaching debate on the hostage situation, whether or not to negotiate, and how much to report as the terrorists feed through details about the lives of the 15 people they are holding underground. The format is interesting too, with each of the eight 44-minute episodes covering one day in the crisis, a little bit like 24.
As part of the research for Below the Surface, writer and director Kasper Barfoed spoke to the Danish photographer Daniel Rye, who was taken hostage by so-called Islamic State in Syria. There is real pedigree in the show’s production team as well, with Adam Price (Borgen) and Soren Sveistrup (The Killing) as executive producers. The program was made by Kanal 5 in Denmark, where its title was Gidseltagningen. It has already been shown in Germany, and is available in Australia through the streaming service SBS and on Hulu in the US.
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