A chilly draught, the faint sound of a crying child and a mounting sense of dread announce the arrival of another Scandinavian import on British TV. Produced by Sweden’s state broadcaster, SVT, and set in the ancient forests that cover more than half the country, 10-part mystery thriller Jordskott premieres on ITV Encore tonight and brings with it the kind of critical acclaim that its Nordic predecessors The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge enjoyed.
Take a look at the premise and you’ll think you already know Jordskott. A child goes missing and a gifted but conflicted cop becomes obsessed with finding her. The cop is Eva Thörnblad and the child is her daughter Josefine, missing for seven years when we join the show. Like Sarah Lund and Saga Noren before her, Eva’s the impulsive type, diving headlong into abandoned buildings and desolate tunnels with no backup, armed only with her smarts and her flashlight. The difference with Jordskott is that it draws heavily on deep, dark Norse mythology to set itself apart from its contemporaries. Creator Henrik Björn explains: “It starts as a normal crime story, but it soon takes a detour … It will end up in a very different place compared to where it started. It’s a genre mashup.”
It’s not the only show demonstrating that myths still have power. British fairy mythology is alive and well on the BBC’s Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, where Marc Warren’s demonic imp trades in mischief, enchantment and abduction in the grand tradition of his kind. Similarly, the fairy race featured in BBC’s Merlin, the Sidhe, were despicable to a fault – replacing a human princess with a changeling.
If you cast your mind back a few decades, some will recall that such legend is not just limited to home-grown folklore. Indian mythology enjoyed a revival in BBC2’s late-80s broadcast of BR Chopra’s Mahabharat, the Sanskrit epic where warring Hindu deities, magical weapons and human sacrifice were served up to an eager audience of 5 million – unprecedented figures for a mid-afternoon, subtitled drama.
More recently, TV shows have worn their mythology on their sleeves. NBC’s Grimm ushers in a modern world where characters are inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales and a Portland homicide detective faces off against Dämonfeuer, Hässlich and the Gedächtnis Esser. Similarly, ABC’s Once Upon a Time breathes new life into Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and Cruella de Vil, the characters transported to modern-day Maine. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear Walt Disney was still alive.
Jordskott’s mythology isn’t as on-the-nose as that. Like all changelings, its true character isn’t detectable at first. But, as the weeks go by and the forest setting becomes a character in its own right, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary murder-mystery weekend. The results are chilling. Ancient myths persist because of their universality and their ability to tap into our primal fears and desires. And Nordic noir creates a modern mythology where heroic loners with terrible social skills do battle with depraved abusers, incompetent policing and a corrupt establishment. No one’s promising a happy ending, but you can’t take your eyes off it.