Secrets and Lies: The Legacy

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Over the past decade and more, the UK and Denmark have changed the face of quality TV drama, sharing as they have 10 of the last 12 Best International Drama Emmy awards between them. And it’s from Denmark’s national broadcaster DR, responsible for series such as Borgen, The Killing and The Bridge, that we welcome The Legacy, set to become the most popular Nordic Noir series yet.

With individual episodes achieving 2 million viewers – around a third of Denmark’s population – The Legacy is a very different beast to other Scandinavian shows which have proved so popular here in the UK. Talking at Nordicana earlier this year, Carsten Bjørnlund, who plays Frederik Grønnegaard, was aware that The Legacy is from a different mold. “We knew that we were doing something completely different. It’s not a crime series. It’s not about politics. It’s about humans.”

Arvingerne in the original Danish, The Legacy is a 10-part series examining what it means to be a family in a time when traditional patterns of family life have radically changed. We meet the internationally renowned artist and bohemian matriarch Veronika Grønnegaard (Kirsten Olesen) shortly before her death on Christmas Eve, and it is the division of her estate, including the family’s countryside mansion, which starts to uncover years of lies and layers of deceit. The series traces the story of Veronika’s four adult children, whose unconventional upbringing has affected their lives in very different ways. The house is bequeathed – to the shock of the other three children – to Signe (Marie Bach Hansen). Her very existence had been kept from her siblings, and indeed it was only just before Veronika’s death that Signe discovered she was Veronika’s daughter.

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“Signe is provincial, uncorrupted,” says Bjørnlund. “She has a job, and lives in a nice little house, she has good parents. She seems happy. But money does corrupt.”Signe’s sister Gro (Trine Dyrholm), Veronika’s first daughter, was largely responsible for Veronika’s international success, and runs one of the country’s most renowned art museums. She is very much a woman in her mother’s image, an image which Bjørnlund considers very real. “Veronika could be a believable Danish woman and mother. She is representative of the ’68 generation.”

Of the brothers, Frederik is the most divisive. While the series was being broadcast in, Denmark, Bjørnlund remembers the public reaction to his character. “Some people come up to me and say, ‘I hope you get the house!’ And some people come up to me and say, ‘You fucking bastard!’ While we were showing the series to test audiences, it was interesting to see how their reactions changed as Frederik’s character developed.” Bjørnlund describes the last of the siblings, Frederik’s brother Emil (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) as a “careless, free-spirited son – but there might be more to him”.

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The series – season two of which is scheduled for broadcast in Denmark next year – was created and written by Maya Ilsøe, who has worked with DR on productions such as Absalons Hemmelighed (2006) and Pagten (2009). Ils.e has drawn inspiration from the British phenomenon Downton Abbey and Ang Lee’s 1997 film The Ice Storm – both of which revolve around dysfunctional relationships. Directed by Pernilla August (Beyond, Time Bomb), The Legacy is an insight into modern family life, be it against the background of a seemingly progressive, creative home, or in a more traditional environment. Either way, the series highlights the lasting impact that a time of turbulent upheaval can have on a family and its members.

“What we are trying to put across is this,” concludes Bjørnlund. “What have we learned from the ’68 generation? And what are we going to pass on to the next? Greed, of course, is one of these things.”