Few titles which will have been presented at this Friday’s MipDrama look as ingenious in their invention as “Agatha Christie’s Hjerson.”
Anyone looking for a series of novels in the Poirot or Marple vein will look in vain. Sven Hjerson appears in multiple Christie works, but always via (often disparaging) comments made by his creator, fictional crime novelist Ariadne Oliver, a friend of Poirot’s whom Christie invented to let off steam about the travails of crime writing.
Despite being her most popular detective, Oliver would like to kill him off, she says. That’s because she’s made him a foreigner and receives letters from readers complaining about the inaccuracy of her descriptions of him: a fate suffered by Christie with Poirot.
Many decades later, Oliver must be rolling in her grave. Her master sleuth Sven Hjerson has now become the protagonist of an eight-part TV series which takes the little known facts about the detective – debonair, a winter swimmer, a man who didn’t care for women – and creates a fully-blown character living in modern-day Stockholm. Luckily, this time round the creators, led by Sweden’s BR•F (“Midsommar”), will be much more knowing about local detail.
Created by Patrik Gyllström, the series packs a powerful Swedish-German production punch: Sweden’s BR•F and TV4/CMore (“Agent Hamilton”, and Germany’s Nadcon (“Springfloden”) and ZDF. Patrik Andersson and Ulf Synnerholm, BR•F’s head of development and head of TV drama and both producers on the show, chatted to Variety about the newest and most novel of Agatha Christie shows.
I believe that the idea for making “Agatha Christie’s Hjerson” arose in part, as many things do, quite by chance.
Andersson: Yes. With a cab ride back to Nice Airport from a rainy Mipcom shared by Josefine Tengblad, head of drama at TV4/C More, and Alison Rayson at Raydar Media which represents the Agatha Christie estate. Josefine talked to Alison about an Agatha Christie character, Sven Hjerson, with connections to the Nordic region. A series built around the character was a bit of a long-shot but given the quality of shows coming out of the Nordic region, it was well worth making.
Sven Hjerson’s an unusual character in many ways…
Andersson: A meta character. A master detective who’s the fictional invention of a fictional character, Ariadne Oliver, a murder mystery novelist who’s a friend of Hercule Poirot.
He’s also unusual for the times when Christie invented him…..
Andersson: Yes, a bi-sexual vegetarian who’s of course phenomenal at cracking mysteries. When TV4 asked some Swedish production companies to pitch a series, we realized that we had these elements of ID and the chance to make the first official Agatha Christie character spin-off with original scripts.
One crux decision was the contemporary setting…
Andersson: Yes, the series’ biggest challenge and largest source of fun was is to bring the whodunnit into the modern age. We aimed to continue the legacy of quality Nordic crime fiction but make something which is different to Nordic Noir, lighter, more playful, an Anglophile Swedish show playing in contemporary terms with the whodunit set-up.
So what remains from Agatha Christie?
Andersson: The series will take set-ups, character traits, trades and names and red herrings from Agatha Christie classics, these are inserted like little easter eggs. The scripts and cases, one every two episodes, are originals, written specifically for the show. No case is a total adaptation from a book.
How far is Hjerson’s bisexuality made explicit in the series?
Andersson: It’s a definite character trait but what we’re really playing up is how he uses his sexuality in ways that are beneficial to him. So it’s a transition, not a departure, from the original but we are doing something that truly works in a modern day and in the character construction.
One would imagine that, in the final analysis, “Agatha Christie’s Hjerson” remains family entertainment so you might not be pushing this angle too much…
Andersson: Well, define “too much.” This is definitely going to be a contemporary in terms of thematics and the way we play with characters. So we are quite bold.
Well, define “quite bold!” But the fact the series is backed in Scandinavia by both TV4, a free-to-air network, and CMore, a Nordic region SVOD service, suggests range.
Andersson: Exactly, it’s a primetime show. Yet Hjerson will be looking for love. In the most wonderfully peculiar places. And the show is also featuring a complete genital Scandinavian stand-off. A battle of the sexes that would make Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage” look like a soap.
Another source or originality to the series is its setting, I think. Could you drill down on that?
Synnerholm: In order to stay true to the original characters’ origins from Finland, we developed Sven so that he’s fromthe islands of Åland. An archipelago in the Baltic Sea, which is Finnish, yet Swedish-speaking. We have been shooting a lot of the show on these islands, as the Government of Åland are among the show’s co-producers and financiers. The beauty of these islands will be an essential part of the heart of our show.
And what state is the series’ production in?
Synnerholm: We are at the very end of principal photography and have two more weeks of shooting scheduled. Parallel, we are in the edit and will deliver for broadcast in the fall of 2021.
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