Interview with ‘The Bridge’ creator Hans Rosenfeldt


Find out how British crime drama Marcella compares to Nordic Noir

Hans Rosenfeldt is best known to the hordes of British Nordic Noir fans as the creator behind one the leading Scandi crime series The Bridge and the beloved idiosyncratic heroine Saga Norén. The BAFTA and Robert award nominee has also penned the police procedural mini-series Sebastian Bergman, starring the original face of Wallander Rolf Lassgård, adapted from a novel crime fiction collaboration with friend Michael Hjorth. Following the return of The Bridge in a compelling third season, which aired on BBC Four screens in November last year, we are introduced to an alternative crime drama set in London…

Watch a clip from the first episode of Marcella here.

Meet Marcella Backland (Anna Friel). In an effort to get over the end of her marriage, Marcella returns to the Metropolitan Police’s Murder Squad to investigate a killing spree: a case she failed to close ten years earlier. Marcella is notably produced by Nicola Larder, who worked as a development executive on the British-French remake The Tunnel (2013- ) and is co-directed by The Bridge (2011- ) filmmaker Henrik Georgsson. Marcella also features an international cast including Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, 2004-2009), Tobias Santelmann (The Saboteurs, 2015), Nicholas Pinnock (Fortitude, 2015), Harry Lloyd (The Theory of Everything, 2014), and Sinéad Cusack.


We met co-creator and writer Rosenfeldt moments before an advanced screening of the first episode of Marcella, with actress Anna Friel, producers Nicola Larder, and Tony Woods all in attendance at BAFTA!

Anna Friel is no stranger to a Nordic series, having starred in the historical miniseries The Saboteurs, dramatising Norway’s “Heavy Water War”. But what is Marcella all about? “Marcella is about Marcella who is, or was, a police officer that chose her family over her career. She thought she wouldn’t go back to work because she wasn’t really happy with that lifestyle,” Rosenfeldt explains. “However, with her kids in boarding school, her husband Jason (Nicholas Pinnock) confesses he wants to leave her. Marcella’s last case, before leaving the police, was investigating a serial killer known as the “Grove Park Killer”. Marcella had a suspect in mind but the murderer was never caught. Now it looks like he is back! To give herself something to do, Marcella goes back to work to see if she can find the killer, whilst sorting out her very messy family life! She gets very personally involved in the crime narrative.”


How does the character of Marcella compare to other Nordic Noir heroines? How different are Saga and Marcella – would they get along? “They’re very different! We did this because, I think especially in England, Saga is very well-known and loved,” Rosenfeldt highlights. “We don’t really want people to sit and compare the two characters in the show. This made us go in the opposite direction with Marcella. Where Saga is logical and not driven by emotion, Marcella is pretty much all about emotions; they are driving her, I would say. Saga works within the law and upholds the rules. Whereas, Marcella doesn’t really care if there are rules in the way of getting what she wants. She is very determined and almost has a tunnel vision. If Marcella has decided on something she goes there, very little stops her. Saga’s response would be “We can’t do this because it says it’s not allowed!” That’s not Marcella, she doesn’t care!”

Despite there being a distinction in the characters between Marcella and Saga, there appears to be a reference to Sarah Lund’s Faroese jumpers from The Killing in Marcella’s costume, which will make fans smile. “Does she wear a sweater? She tends to be dressed in a big parka. Marcella is definitely not dressed as Saga either. Marcella is a bit more down-dressed, I would say!” muses Rosenfelt. “She’s not driving a Porsche or even a sports car. No leather trousers, nothing like that! They are very different. Shows like The Bridge didn’t have 15 million viewers. It’s a talked about show but not very many people saw it so hopefully more will see Marcella. I don’t think the vast amount of viewers will be able to compare Marcella to Saga because of this. For those who have seen The Bridge, I think we want them to say “Oh no, there is no use comparing them. Let’s just watch the show.”


As Anna Friel is physically and mentally a fresh new heroine to command the series, how did the casting for such an antithesis to the Nordic Noir anti-hero come about? “She wasn’t in mind when we discussed it and she wasn’t in mind when we started writing Marcella. Anna Friel was the first actress we met for the role. It was quite a long meeting but we were pretty sure that Marcella was going to be her,” reflects Rosenfeldt. “She had such a good take on it; she really understood the character and she didn’t want to change her. Sometimes when you meet directors, actors, or other writers they might say “Oh, this is really good but shouldn’t it be more like…?”, and “Shouldn’t we take it a little more this way?” Anna just loved what we were trying to do and was on-board with what we wanted. She said, “I will do anything in this show” and that something great to hear from an actor. We didn’t look for anyone else.”

There are shows such as The Saboteurs, Fortitude, and River which have started to blend the Nordic Noir influence with English-language series. Marcella being written and set in the UK can be considered as effectively bridging the gap between Scandinavia and UK crime shows. “Marcella was always a London-based show. The original idea for the series came from the co-creator and executive producer Nicola Larder,” says Rosenfeldt. “We met in Turin on one of The Bridge seminars. She approached me with a pitch about a female detective, her family leaving her, her life in ruins, chasing a serial killer, and wondered if I was interested in developing that. I said yes and we took the concept to Tony Woods at Buccaneer Media, who then took it to ITV. This was never a Swedish show at all. It was always meant to be set in London and presented in English. Then we had to work around that – how would I write in English? Basically, I didn’t! I wrote in Swedish and it was translated.” Rosenfeldt shares his UK perspective: “Marcella was also a chance to work outside of Scandinavia. As a tourist, the image of London we see is that everything is always under construction. You can go away and come back and suddenly a new skyscraper will have appeared! This was also reflected in the idea to have Jason work for a lucrative construction company.”


Drawing on from the cultural differences, there were very few challenges in regards to the writing from an English perspective to give the characters the right tone of voice. This emphasises how in tune the UK and Scandinavia are with producing crime dramas. “The trouble is – I’m not from England! My colleagues, Nicola, Tony and the script editor all chipped in with ideas to say, “We would probably do it like this”, and “We would probably say it like that”,” confesses Rosenfeldt. “Of course, director Charles Martin and cinematographer Urszula Pontikos came up with the visuals of the show, which is very different from The Bridge. Extremely different. Almost like the contrast between Marcella and Saga. Marcella is very bright, colourful, and vibrant with a much higher temperature than The Bridge.” Rosenfeldt further compares the cultural styles: “In Nordic Noir, there is a lot happening but it unravels in a slow-burning tempo, with a moody undertone. This doesn’t really have that. Marcella is more fast-paced because London is a much bigger city than Malmö is; it mimics the tempo and how fast things move. The pace of the city and its size are another clear contrast. Geographically, in terms of where I placed people in the show, I just pointed to a map! Then, once again, I’d be told “Yeah, I don’t think they would live there. They would live here.” – “Oh, OK!” This made the story more British!”

The opening sequence of Marcella got critics attention, showing a naked and abused Anna Friel at the very start, which may be in keeping with representing a hard-hitting and gritty style to mimic classic British shows, like Cracker or Prime Suspect. “It begins with a question mark for the audience because it is a flash-forward. The first and the last scene is the same in the first episode. We start there, it is a mystery, and then by the end we understand. It’s more to create curiosity; you want to know why this woman is in the bathtub all bloody. You get a hint of what is to come.” To keep us wanting more! “Yes, that’s the whole idea – cliff-hangers, cliff-hangers, cliff-hangers!”


Rosenfeldt reveals his favourite kind of scenes, including one that has stood so far in Marcella.“My favourite scenes are usually the very emotional or very violent ones! These scenes are when I usually think the show is working really well,” relishes Rosenfeldt. “In one specific scene with Cara (Florence Pugh), who sells her services online, is threatened through a message on her computer screen. It is actually just her alone in a room with a knife in front of a computer and that just works really well! There is really no threat, other than what is written on the screen and the knife but that scene is quite haunting. I like scenes like that. [LAUGHS] Does that say more about me than I wanted to? I think it did. There are so many scenes I like. The end of episode one and episode two will be quite a surprise – for viewers, hopefully!”

With such an impressive presence on paper, we probed the writer to discover how involved he was during the filming process and the differences with working on a British production. “I think I was only on set two or three times during the quick shooting turnaround for Marcella,” Rosenfeldt advises. “In The Bridge as well, I write the first block of episodes and when they are being filmed I write the second block of scripts so I don’t really have the time to be on set. The work is pretty much the same as I found with the writing process. I thought it would be different with another culture and a different method. The production is bigger in the UK. There are physically more people, more trailers, and base units, etc. It’s on a bigger scale than it is in Sweden. I talked with Henrik Georgsson, who directs the last two episodes of Marcella and has worked on The Bridge, and we discussed how it didn’t seem all that different. He said: “Not the shooting process either!””

Read our interview with The Bridge director Henrik Georgsson here.


Hans Rosenfeldt has also collaborated on writing crime fiction, including The Man Who Watched Women, in a contrasting complement to screenwriting. “The biggest difference, which may seem obvious, is that there are so many more words in a book than in a script!” Rosenfeldt exemplifies. “A script is basically a blueprint with some stage directions and dialogue – the rest is acting, directing, set designers, lighting, costume, etc. In a book, you have to do all of that yourself. There’s no-one helping you to understand how a scene looks or how something smells. You don’t have an actor to help you to show how they think and feel. However, you do have more control over the material because fewer people are involved in it! What you write is what it becomes. Here, it can be slightly different and usually it’s better! Sometimes you think “Oh, I didn’t really see it like that but OK!” The Man Who Watched Women is our second novel. In Sweden, we have had three more released. Our sixth book is out next summer. Its Swedish title, The Mountain Grave, will be out in June in the UK.”

Nordic Noir series are also being broadcast in their own original, subtitled format for US audiences which shows it is translating well beyond remakes in the English-language. “Our version of The Bridge is being shown in the US in Hulu, while the US remake of The Bridge (2013-2014) was doing really well on FX. What speaks for Marcella, other than being a really good show, is that it is filmed in English. We automatically reach a bigger audience in the UK, USA, and other parts of the world as well, just because the characters don’t speak in a strange language [LAUGHS].”


With the change of location, we wondered what reaction this would stir in a Nordic audience and if British crime series travel as well from the UK to Scandinavia as they do vice-versa. “In Sweden, for decades we have looked to Britain and thought, “No-one does drama as good as the UK!” praises Rosenfeldt. “This has been going on since the 1960s and 1970s, with The Onedin Line (1971-1980), Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-1975), and A Family at War (1970-1972) as examples. We saw all of these shows and felt we were not even close to that! That has lingered on and still does. There is a lot on cable television with series from the US. But when you want to see something really well done, like Wolf Hall (2015) – the big dramas – they’re always British for us. Marcella will probably be a hit in Sweden because it’s from England now! [LAUGHS] I think it’s a contemporary, well-played, well-executed crime show so I think it will find an audience around the world, actually. I hope!”

Words and interview by Antony Smith


Marcella continues on Monday at 9pm on ITV