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‘Fallen’ Star Sofia Helin on Swapping Clothes With Her Director, Reuniting With Scribe Camilla Ahlgren and Creating a Lighter Noir Than ‘The Bridge’

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One of Banijay’s scripted centrepieces at the London TV Screenings, the Swedish crime drama “Fallen” (“Sanningen”), sees the first reunion of star actor Sofia Helin, writer Camilla Ahlgren, and Stockholm-based Filmlance International since the multi-season hit crime show “The Bridge” (2011-2018).

Their collaboration has paid off again as “Fallen” has wooed a first batch of global sellers – including MHz Choice for the U.S. and Canal+’s Polar+ for France – and more than 1.1 million combined viewers watched the first episode on Swedish commercial broadcaster TV4 last Christmas.

“This is 1/10of the Swedish population, which is astonishing these days, considering the series is based on an original idea,” said producer Anna Wallmark of Banijay-owned Filmlance.

Created by Ahlgren, who serves as head-writer, next to co-writers Martin Asphaug (“The Sandhamn Murders,” “Gåsmamman”) and Alex Haridi (“Blue Eyes,” “Quicksand”), the six-part series is, however, a very different type of noir to the cross-border iconic “The Bridge,” Lighter, more emotional. “And of course, I was inspired by the British show “Happy Valley”– I love that series,” Ahlgren admits.

From the opening episode, we see Helin as the vulnerable Iris Broman, a police officer struck by a sudden personal tragedy – the killing of her husband. The widowed Iris is soon riding on a train from Stockholm to picturesque Ystad in southern Sweden, on her way to the peaceful secondary home by the seaside, owned by her half-sister Kattis (Hedda Stiernstedt from “The Restaurant”). 

As the new head of the cold case unit ‘Kalla Fall’ in Malmö, Iris is faced with the discovery of a body, linked to an unsolved murder that happened over a decade earlier. The investigation gradually intertwines the lives of several characters, while Iris tries to cope with her personal trauma and complex relationship with her younger sibling.

“After “The Bridge” [co-written with Hans Rosenfeldt], I was thinking of doing a new and different crime drama,” Alhgren tells Variety. “Back in 2017, I had read an article in a local newspaper about a cold case team in Malmö who started to post cold cases on their website, hoping to get tips from the general public. I asked myself: How does it feel for people involved-the family, the friends, even the perpetrator?

When it’s a cold case that happened 15 years ago, everyone has moved on and has a completely different life. That triggered my imagination, and I started thinking of the people’s lives then, how their present lives could have been shaped by the events, and what could happen once the truth was finally revealed.”

Ahlgren got in touch with police inspector Bo Lundkvist, the head of the cold case team in Malmö who had helped her years earlier with fact-checking while she was writing “The Bridge”. “I started researching some cases, visiting his team,” said the writer who had clear ideas about Iris. “I had in mind that I wanted a female lead in her fifties, with a complicated sibling relationship. I myself have two brothers and two sisters,” she notes. 

Drawing from her own experience for other traits of the half-sisters, Ahlgren, who was a French teacher in her youth, gave Kattis a French husband and bilingual kids. Playing on the siblings’ opposite personalities, she also created a heroin who fully embraces her childlessness, like herself. “I do not have children myself, and people find it strange. I found it interesting therefore to challenge people’s prejudice and create a female lead who doesn’t dream of having a family.”

Fallen
Credit: Carolina Romare

For Ahlgren, distancing herself from the dark tone of “The Bridge” and renewing Nordic Noir, with the help of her writing partner and husband Asphaug, and their colleague Haridi, was a quintessential part the screenwriting process.

“Of course, the whodunnit is there, but with ‘Fallen,’ we’ve focused on the psychological aspects, the characters’ relationships and shared history,” she insists.

Expanding on the tone, the seasoned writer says it is “definitely lighter [than ‘The Bridge’], more poetic.” The setting of the lush rural surrounding of Skåne where Ahlgren and Asphaug are fully established, was another key inspiration, contrasting with the cityscape of Malmö, the second main location for the show. “We had tried many times in the past to create something locally and we were thrilled to finally succeed,” she says.

Asked whether she had written the part of Irish with Helin in mind, Ahlgren said that wasn’t the case, as she had been working on the script for several years before Helin came on board. “The show was initially with another channel which didn’t want to continue. But we loved our characters and pitched our project to TV4,” explains Ahlgren. “It was key to have a big actress; Sofia’s name came up in our conversations, and we said it would be brilliant to have her. I was delighted that Sofia liked the script and her character.”

For Helin, the prospect of teaming up again with Ahlgren, Filmlance International and the quality of the script were strong draws.

Although Irish Broman shares with the iconic character of Saga Norén in “The Bridge” a unique flair as a cop, family secrets and a complex personality, Helin sees them as very distinct characters.

“Saga couldn’t cope with social interactions and was unable to read other people, whereas Iris knows exactly how to do this. This is her expertise and why she’s a good cop. But because of her sudden personal tragedy, her inner self is broken, and she becomes her own enemy,” states Helin before adding, teasingly: “If they would meet, Iris would say – ‘Oh, she [Saga] is this kind of person, so I need to talk to her in this way. Whereas Saga would be her usual self – very abrupt, without any filter.”

To nail down Iris and her look on screen, Helin bounced back ideas with concept director Linnea Roxeheim. She even borrowed her clothes!

“I went to the first fitting and the team had taken out nice shoes, typical police boss clothes. I tried them on and felt this is soooo wrong. So I asked the director – who is a gorgeous working mother, wearing very relaxed clothes, if I could have her shoes and clothes. That’s how I started to look like Iris, wearing a big sweater that could have been her husband’s. I suddenly felt like a scared child, trying to be normal. That was a helpful process to get into character and together with Linnea, we had a lot of fun along the way.”

Helin who had watched the director’s earlier Swedish show “Portkod” and loved it, praised her ability to use lightness and humour to help actors unwind while working on dark material.

But the humor was always there, in the script, says Helin, to counterbalance the core of the story “about humans, parents who are failing their children.”

A second season of “Fallen” is in the works, waiting for a greenlit from the financing partners including TV4, Germany’s ZDF and Film i Skåne. “It depends on many things, but we are prepared and very happy in the meantime, that the Swedish audience have embraced it and that the show is starting to travel around the world,” comments Ahlgren. 

Quizzed about the impact of “The Bridge”’s and the state of Nordic drama, Helin said she feels “grateful and very proud” of it and its trailblazing success. “I see a lot of inspiration from that show around the world, and in the Nordics, we’re constantly inspiring each other, seeing each other’s shows.”

Alhgren, who was hired for Netflix’s first Scandi original “Quicksand” off the back of “The Bridge”’s triumph, says she enjoyed working on its multi-plot structure, while sticking to the Scandinavian tradition of double storytelling, with a societal commentary beyond the whodunnit. “This is also what we’ve done with “Fallen.” This is key in any story I write,” says the Swede who contributed to the Malaysian adaptation of “The Bridge,”and is currently working on a new project with Rosenfeldt.

As for Helin, she is busy fine-tuning a slate of film and TV projects for Nordic Drama Queens, backed by Fifth Season.