Three of my favourite foreign language TV shows

We are now said to be living in a golden age of television. This is also reflected in series which are not in English. The classic example of this is the boom in Nordic Noir of the last few years, with such shows as The Killing, Wallender and The Bridge. There are other European countries getting in on the act with Spiral (France), Inspector Montalbano (Italy) and Salamander (Belgium) all being highly entertaining. Today I want to look at three of the more recent shows; two are Danish and one Italian, none of which resemble Nordic Noir. Here is my selection:

1 – 1864

1864 is a Danish television series which deals with the Second Schleswig War between Denmark and Prussia and Austria which ended in 1864. This year has an iconic status, like 1066 for England or 1940 for France. The war proved to be a great humiliation for Denmark, which ended losing around 25% of its territory and its world-power status and prestige following a disastrous war. The story operates on different levels. You have two brothers and their love triangle, a group of debauched aristocrats, the political machinations in Denmark and of course the battle scenes. There is also parallel story set in 2020 of a young girl who has lost her older brother in the war in Afghanistan.

I have probably seen too many films and series about WWI, WWII or Vietnam. I have to confess that I knew very little of this historical episode. But that is what makes it so interesting. We see how Germany is about to come into being. But we don’t get that all-too familiar trope of the Germans as the baddies. In particular, Otto von Bismarck comes across as a pragmatic and sane leader. He was indeed the politician who gave us realpolitik. The same cannot be said for the Danish leaders, who seem to have been the victims of a collective attack of madness. They just had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. This approach is typified by Ditlev Gothard Monrad, a clergyman, politician, and leader of the mid-19th-century Danish political reform movement, who was Council President between 1863 and 1864, during the early part of Second Schleswig War. Egged on by Johanne Luise Heiberg, one of the greatest Danish actresses of the 19th century, he wilfully refuses to accept reality, leading his country to disaster. Depressed and disillusioned by the failure of the war, Monrad emigrated to New Zealand, 13,000 miles away from the land he professed such a love for.

2 – The Legacy

Instead of being a whodunit The Legacy (in Danish: Arvingerne, The Heirs) is a whogetsit. The story begins with the death of Veronika Grønnegaard, an eccentric, internationally renowned artist. She is not, though, the victim of a sadistic serial killer, but of cancer. Grønnegaard’s four adult children– her gallerist daughter Gro, her estranged son, the repressed lawyer Frederik, slacker and ne’er-do-well, Emil and the secret illegitimate daughter Signe – are thanks to their mother’s will about to have their lives turned upside down. Indeed it is Signe who will inherit the deceased matriarch’s rather dilapidated property. Where there’s a will, there’s a relative. What was meant to be a quick and painless estate division becomes a journey into secrets, lies, greed and, above all, sibling rivalry. In the words of the show’s creator and chief writer Maya Ilsøe: “You don’t know your family until you inherit with them.”

There is a second series is now being shown.

3 – 1992

Set in Rome, Milan and different Italian cities, 1992, which could be described as a cross between Mad Men, House of Cards and The Sopranos, follows the intertwined lives six people against the backdrop of Italy’s rapidly changing political landscape. The show is set in the early 1990s. At the time Italy was in the midst of the Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) investigation into political corruption. I wasn’t living in Italy at this time, but it feels like you have been transported there.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Leonardo Notte a slick, brilliant advertising guru, a la Don Draper, who sees the potential of Silvio Berlusconi and wants to around when Il Cavaliere (The Knight) makes his move into politics. Indeed in 1994, Berlusconi and his Forza Italia did enter politics by storm winning the elections.

A new party, Umberto Bossi’s populist Northern League is also on the rise. The traditional parties are fighting for their lives. We get judicial investigations into corrupt politicians and businessmen, who find themselves behind bars. This leads a number of them to commit suicide.  At the same time anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino are both brutally murdered.  Ultimately Clean Hands would bring down the country’s Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi

The creative time behind the show are currently are said to be working on 1993, the second part of a planned trilogy. I can’t wait.

I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but this will give you a flavour of the series:


Here’s what I’ll be watching over the next few months:

Ballers 1st season

Halt and Catch Fire 2nd season

Jordskott 1st season

Orange is The New Black 3rd season

The Legacy 2nd season



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