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The Bridge – Season 3: A Swedish Perspective

In the first of a series of special articles to coincide with Season 3 of The Bridge (Bron/Broen), Olof Hedling discusses how the introduction of a new character has prompted a debate in Sweden about the use of local dialects in Nordic Noir.

Season three of The Bridge (Bron/Broen 2011-) premiered in Sweden on September 27, the same day as in Denmark. The episode attracted 1.5 million viewers in Sweden – about 1 in 7 of the population.

The size of the audience represents a slight improvement on the two previous season premiers. It is also larger than the amount that saw the season two finale. Judging by these numbers – as well as the enthusiastic reviews of the first episodes – The Bridge seems to have been embraced by both critics and the domestic audience as a contemporary TV classic.

The show’s continued popularity also suggests its essential device of suspending realism still apparently works: the practice of subtitling Danish speech during Swedish broadcasts and vice versa during the Danish equivalents is generally accepted at the same time as the characters in the diegetic universe understand each other quite alright. As evidenced by the subtitles, this is not something which is always true of real life cultural encounters between Swedes and Danes.

Standard Swedish and local dialects

However, another aspect of the third season, similarly linked to questions of verisimilitude and plausibility, and perhaps noticeable to a Danish audience, though possibly not to a British one, has impelled a bit of concern and argument.

The character Linn Björklund, played by Maria Kulle, has prompted discussion in Sweden for speaking in a local dialect.

The character Linn Björklund, played by Maria Kulle, has prompted discussion in Sweden for her use of local dialect.

In the new series, Saga gets a new, rather strict but in the end appreciative female superior. Her new boss, Linn Björklund, is played by Maria Kulle, daughter of famed Swedish thespian Jarl Kulle, who regularly appeared in comic parts in Ingmar Bergman’s 1950’s films while notably being one of the leads in the director’s swan song Fanny and Alexander (1982). Maria Kulle is an experienced stage and screen performer in her own right who has been a resident actress at a regional theatre in southern Sweden for quite some time.

The character Linn stand outs for speaking in the local dialect or vernacular, complete with guttural R’s, of the area where the Swedish parts of the series are set. Virtually all the other Swedish principal characters speak what is very close to the accent spoken in Stockholm, some seven hours by car to the north of the principal location – the town of Malmö and the southernmost region of Skåne (Scania).

This particular way of speech, sometimes termed ‘standard’ or ‘non-dialectal’ Swedish – and perhaps analogous to the German Hochdeutsch or the received pronunciation of the UK – is taught at acting schools and has very much remained the vernacular of Swedish stage, television, popular music and screen through the years. Accordingly, the accent is sometimes jokingly referred to as the Swedish of the Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten), the national stage, since it is seemingly never as commonly used in any part of Swedish society as on the floorboards within this long-lived theatrical institution.

However, this very common practice has not been in contention as it is used in The Bridge even though it can be said to represent an essential break with realism. Plausibly, at least a majority of the police and other people encountered in the slice of life the series represents would be speaking in the local dialect – guttural R’s and all.

Questions of authenticity

Paradoxically, it is rather the supposedly local or at least regional dialect spoken by Kulle that has been interrogated by commentators. The regional newspaper Sydsvenskan, which covers Malmö and the Skåne region, voiced misgivings about Kulle’s take on the regional dialect as being distinctly regional but not really authentic in the sense that it could not connect it to any particular locality, implying it was fake or fabricated.

The paper even contacted a dialect specialist from Uppsala University, who concluded that Kulle’s accent was a variant of ‘central standard Swedish’. The expert had also experienced difficulties in firmly placing Kulle’s accent, but acknowledged that accents could be dependent on social class and that the accent still was distinctly Southern Swedish in its character.

That Kulle was born in one part of Skåne, is the inheritor of and lives on an estate in an area just north of the region, has worked in the second largest town in Skåne for quite some time and, moreover, had a mother from the landowning gentry – a group that tends to speak in distinct ways – was not put forward as a possible explanation for the particular accent in question.

Paying negligible attention to the use of ‘standard Swedish’, while zooming in on the regional accent of one single cast member, reflects the centralized, distinctly non-federal character of the Swedish nation-state and the extent of influence which has still remained with the national capital. Not least its use of the domestic spoken language has thus persisted in spite of the development of migrating regional audio visual production and the localized settings that in many ways have characterized Nordic Noir.

The Bridge – or at least the Swedish parts of it – thus aligns itself with a long-standing domestic tradition. For instance, both of the Swedish actors that personified inspector Wallander, as well as most of the casts in the various Swedish language productions, spoke ‘standard Swedish’, despite the fact that the setting was quite close to that of The Bridge.

Notwithstanding an ever ongoing quest for realism, certain expressions of it are still apparently not welcomed by either producers of audio-visual content, or perhaps by domestic audiences. That is, in Sweden at least.

Dr Olof Hedling is an Associate Professor in Film Studies at the Centre for Language and Literature, Lund University, Sweden.

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