Slow-burning, Swedish style

Slow-burning, Swedish style

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Slow-burning, Swedish style
Christian Fandango Sundgren as Christoffer Olsen. (Photos: Netflix)

Stories emerging from the enigmatic Scandinavian landscape have often spoken somewhat to my interests. Swedish contributions to the screen include the haunting vampire film Let The Right One In (2008) and the gripping Millennium Trilogy which includes The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009).

The latest addition to this Nordic lineage is the crime/drama mini-series on Netflix A Nearly Normal Family, adapted from the bestselling book by M.T. Edvardsson and directed by Per Hanefjord. While the series successfully encapsulates the slow-burning tension and atmospheric storytelling characteristic of its Swedish predecessors, it falters in maintaining momentum, particularly in the realms of suspense and dysfunctional family drama.

The narrative orbits around the seemingly ordinary Sandell family -- the priest father Adam Sandell (Björn Bengtsson), the lawyer mother Ulrika (Lo Kauppi) and their 19-year-old daughter Stella (Alexandra Karlsson Tyrefors).

Nestled in a picturesque Polish residential suburb outside London, their idyllic existence is shattered when Stella is accused of murder. As her devastated parents grapple with the situation, the series probes deeper into the family's dynamics, unveiling layers of complexity and unearthing hidden secrets.

A central theme revolves around a young woman accused of a crime, the details of which are deliberately kept ambiguous, fostering an air of mystery that permeates each episode. Adding complexity, the parents become entwined in the unfolding drama, creating a web of potential complications. Across six, hour-long episodes, the series endeavours to dissect the intricacies of the crime, family relationships, and the blurred lines between morality and legality.

Alexandra Karlsson Tyrefors as Stella Sandell in A Nearly Normal Family. 

Despite the promising premise, the series suffers from pacing issues with sequences often stretching longer than necessary, hindering the buildup of intrigue. While slow reveals and nuanced details can enhance a narrative, A Nearly Normal Family struggles to balance this with maintaining audience engagement.

The familial dynamic, an unconventional pairing of a priest and a lawyer, contributes to the story's richness. Yet, the occupational dissonance, while intriguing, occasionally feels forced.

The series excels in exploring the characters' motivations, particularly the parents' unwavering determination to protect Stella, driven by past negligence. However, the prolonged exploration of the family's cracks, coupled with Stella's legal struggles, could benefit from a more expeditious narrative pace.

The plot meanders between these elements, aiming for scandalous revelations but frequently undermining its potential impact. In terms of the mystery aspect, the series introduces elements of doubt, withholding crucial details to create suspense and some mystery, but it's really only the details that are held from us, not the actual events, and I enjoyed the ride this takes us on. However, it takes too long to get to the point. However, I do give credit to all the performers here -- especially Kauppi as Ulrika -- who infuse the series with commitment and drive. Kauppi's portrayal elevates the narrative whenever the focus shifts to her character, injecting moments of much-needed intensity.

While the series shows quite a few promising moments, there are so many sub-plots that drag out and don't do the story much justice, which begs the question that maybe the show doesn't need to have six episodes.

The courtroom drama in the final episode, while attempting to convey the complexities of victim vilification versus belief, falls short of a satisfying buildup.

A Nearly Normal Family offers glimpses of promise but is hindered by pacing issues and unresolved sub-plots. Overall, if you're looking for a new drama, it's okay to give this series a try, but if you don't watch this show, you won't miss much.

  • A Nearly Normal Family
  • Starring Alexandra Karlsson Tyrefors, Christian Fandango Sundgren, Lo Kauppi
  • Directed by Per Hanefjord
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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