Dubbed as "the best Swedish TV series of 2023" (SVT Nyheter), Blackwater is a six-part adaptation of Kerstin Ekman's iconic 1993 novel, a milestone in Swedish crime fiction and one of the most lauded works of the genre in general. The book won several prestigious awards such as Sweden’s August Prize, the Nordic Council Literature Prize and the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award, while also acquiring a notorious reputation for the bottomless darkness oozing from the story and the main characters. I read the book 3 years earlier, and I remember thinking that I've never encountered such a gritty and twisted atmosphere in a crime novel. It was lengthy with heavy descriptions that transported me to the bizarre setting, a small town in northern Sweden where the brutal murder of a foreign couple kick-starts a tale that interconnects the lives of several individuals, spanning 18 years (1973-1991) in time and sealing the fates of the protagonists. The woman responsible for the novel's adaptation, Maren Louise Käehne, remained true to the spirit of the original source both in terms of plot and overall mood, so readers who are familiar with Ekman's classic will definitely feel like they are witnessing a stunning visual interpretation of a truly unconventional text.
In an interview that she gave in Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Käehne said: I read Kerstin Ekman’s novel back in the 1990s and always found it had a cinematic quality that would make for a great film or series. However, it wasn’t until 2017 that I picked up the book and approached Anna Croneman at SVT with the idea to adapt it into a 6-part series. Piv Bernth had just founded Apple Tree and came onboard as producer, and in collaboration we managed to secure the rights from Kerstin Ekman and develop the series to a greenlight with SVT. " Piv Bernth was also involved in the creation of landmark Nordic television shows like Forbrydelsen and her name guarantees the highest level of quality as far as production values are concerned. Apart from Käehne, the screenwriting team consists of Pia Gradvall, Nanna Westh, and Karin Arrhenius. The latter has an additional reason to contribute to this project as she maintains a house in Jämtland in northern Sweden where Kerstin Ekman used to live and is also the setting of Blackwater's story.
The plot unfolds in a split timeline (past-1973 and present-1991), a common trope both in literary and on-screen works of Scandinavian crime fiction, and a progressively accelerating pacing ratchets up the tension until the final episode. In the end, the villain is identified, however the question regarding if justice prevailed and peace was restored for the story's agents remains open-ended. The tone in Blackwater is dismal and doesn't allow for hope to set its roots in the audience's hearts. The small community is depicted as brimming with venomous secrets and bitter acrimonies while the cult experience is also discussed as it pertains to a certain part of the plot and can be viewed as a veiled critique of the phenomenon. The stellar cast features several heavy-hitter names, led by the veteran Rolf Lassgård, while the ensemble also includes Pernilla August, Liv Mjönes, Alma Pöysti, and Magnus Krepper. The director, Mikael Marcimain, has previously showcased his knack for dark stories as he was the man behind the camera in the acclaimed The Hunt for a Killer, a miniseries based on real homicide investigations that took place in the south of Sweden between 1989-2004.
While Ekman hatched a realistic and pragmatic storyline three decades earlier, the sense of the bizarre and the uncanny rears its head many times in the course of both the novel and the show. For example, the relationship between Johan and the eel that he finds in the bottom of a well is just a little sample of the surrealistic tone endorsed by the author, who captures the provincial setting in a distinctive manner, bringing forth the eeriness of the rural landscape that never stops to loom threatening for the mental balance of the protagonists. The latter are deeply flawed human beings, definitely not readily likeable or identifiable, nevertheless, their behavior and interactions never strike us as implausible due to the meticulous, collaborative work of the screenwriting team. The show draws the portrait of a community struggling to remain on the surface during turbulent times, and the vivid portrayal of the small town will remain etched in your memory for a long time, that's for sure. Blackwater is a show that is not for the faint-hearted but those who appreciate a murky spin on the typical Scandi-crime TV series format which, inevitably, has become rather corny and dull. It is hands down the best Nordic crime television series of this year so far, and I doubt if anything will overturn this reality in the months that follow.
Händelser vid vatten