Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Danish Vampire Drama - Heartless. Teenage angst with an 18 certificate.


If you have known me for more than say five years, you will know that I have been a bit of a vampire junkie. Starting with an obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer for years Angel and Spike Glowered down at me from my bedroom wall.  Then through the devouring of the Stackhouse books, I Succumbed to  and survived the twilight years ( books so much better than the film despite the Edward effect) and then the Kim Harrison Hollows series which to me are a hidden gem of the genre ... You could say I have been a bit of a fang fan. These are all jolly good fun and great for geeky fandom discussion boards and the like but, and there is one...

There is however an undisputed truth, that if you want vampires with the right kind of symbolism and sheer eeriness you have to look North, to the lands of the Nords. I defy anyone not to have been effected by either the book or the first Swedish adaptation of "Let The Right One in" and so it was with great joy that I discovered the Danish show "Heartless" in their the  current Foreign Drama Box Set series from Channel Four.

Sebastian and Sofie are attractive young things, Sebastian, has indisputably great hair and has been on a year long fast, Sofie is a no nonsense brunette looking out for her brother and so when her attempt to help,ends in the death of an innocent man by spontaneous Human Combustion, Sebastian is understandably upset. He asks her to help him find out why they are,what they are, which is basically vampires.



Often the issue of how to keep a Lore fresh is what allows a Vampire story to sink or swim and here at least the simplicity of the transaction is good.  To show they are not entirely Homo Sapien the eyes turn entirely black and a kind of wide mouthed suck, extracts life force. Take too much and your victim becomes a human torch.

The first place they go to is the "Happy Home Orphanage" which is a Marvellous name in any language! They lived there from a few months old until they ran away at age Twelve. There they learn their mother arrived with them as very young children, claimed she had something to do and all being well she would come and collect them. The lady at the Orphanage is unable to offer much more other than the bag she left with them and the fact she had a heart tattoo on her wrist. The repeated attempts to sketch this are light relief.





The bag reveals their mother went to a boarding school after dropping them off. The twins enrol. Immediately they are incongruous in a world of strict uniform, Latin mottos and Fencing lessons. Sophie looks the sullen teen from the outset. She is roomed with a mousy girl who explains that even the underwear girls wear is uniform, bearing the school crest.


Sebastian fares much the same, his room  is split down the middle by cold  roommate Pieter who is one of the school prefects. His suppressed violence is clear from the start. The beady eyed among you will recognise those chiselled features as Godric from the poorly realised television Version of the Sookie  Stackhouse books,True Blood.

The manor where the school is based was once a home and a well placed flashback reveals a beautiful lady returning home to find her husband in a sexual transgression.

 



The Headmaster is a descendant it seems and the school has stood for two hundred and seventy years. Students have mysteriously died over the summer break. The Headmaster's three Daughters are kept separate from the rest of the students, so far, so cliquey. The fact that girls are only a recent addition to the hallowed halls seems important.

               


The Head Prefect Ditlev takes quite the liking to Sofie, although heaven knows why,as she looks always on the cusp of a massive rage and about to pounce; like a well made up Wolf, which I suppose is to accentuate her role as a predator.

 
In a bid to stop her draining her innocent little roommate the twins go on a road trip where she promptly syphons the local convenience store cashier. Sebastian is at least attempting to assimilate, trying not to antagonise anyone and eating and drinking in front of classmates. He is still hungry though and forcibly takes some of whatever the feed on from her. This is a very complex relationship where the meek brother just for a spit second becomes aggressive and selfish.




On returning to the school, they realise the stained glass window features a pregnant woman with a heart emblem like their Mother's tattoo. Caught by the prefects they proceed to beat up Sebastian in a scene which I am sure mirrors that in many private schools of learning and privilege worldwide. The ferocity of the attack by  Ditlev and his lackeys is not helped by Sofie calling Ditlev a closet homosexual and he bring more violence on poor Seb and gives her a blooming good clout too. Sofie wants revenge, but Sebastian wants answers which means keeping as low profile as possible.




I was happily surprised by this pilot episode. First shown in Denmark in 2013 it has plenty to recommend it. The cast are pleasant on the eye and the Young man who plays Sebastian had a expressiveness that suggests depths to come. 

The titles sequence hints at Witches so I think the umbrella term of "teen vampire" show is doing "Heartless " a disservice. Yes the cast is predominantly in their early twenties and yes the  setting is a boarding school, but already in this first hour the tone has been darker and richer than any YA adaptation or tv series I have seen.

The historical flashback will inevitably have repercussions in the present and the school itself obviously holds some deep dark secrets of it's own. A solid mythology is a must for these kinds of shows and Nordic traditions will always provide a rich source of mystical legends from which to draw with elements and weather being integral to that. More than a sum of it's parts this show is very promising.

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