Anno 1790: Season 1

Anno 1790

★★★★

(Sveriges Television, 2011)

I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages and, if I don’t do so now, I will completely forget to mention it; and that would be a shame, because this really is rather good. You’ll be aware by now that I don’t really do crime fiction. It’s not that I have a problem with it per se, but I prefer historical fiction and fantasy, and there are plenty of those books to keep me amused for now. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, of course, but the Millennium Trilogy is about as far as I ever got into the Scandi-crime field. However, I recently stumbled across Anno 1790, an excellent 2011 TV series from SVT (the Swedish national broadcaster). It combines crime investigation, historical drama and just a hint of illicit romance. It’s full of gorgeously bleak, brooding views of 18th-century Stockholm and features a sensitive, educated and equally brooding hero.

Plus, the poster design reminded me inescapably of A Royal Affair, which must be intentional, because there are some similar themes: love triangles, Enlightenment versus tradition, handsome doctors, and so forth. Obviously I was totally hooked.

Johan Gustav Dåådh (Peter Eggers) is an army doctor serving at the bitter end of the Swedish war against Russia in 1790. As a principled and humane man, he is sickened by the death and misery he sees around him and, when the fighting is done he decides to make his way home and set up as a professional physician. En route he stops off in Stockholm to see that his wounded comrade, Simon Freund (Joel Spira), is safely returned to the house where he works in peacetime as a tutor. Dåådh never quite manages to continue his journey. Freund’s employer Carl Fredrik Wahlstedt (Johan Kjellgren) is the head of the Stockholm police force, such as it is, and when he loses his criminal inspector, he persuades Dåådh to fill the post.

Anno 1790

Dåådh (Peter Eggers) and Freund (Joel Spira) at work © Peter Cederling

Dåådh is uniquely qualified, of course. His skills as a physician allow him to undertake a primitive kind of forensic study which brings him closer than ever before to the truth of a crime. His Enlightened beliefs mean that he always looks for the human motivation in the cases he studies. And his youthful involvement in revolutionary politics make him only too well aware of the dangerous undercurrents broiling beneath Stockholm’s apparently placid surface. But his fitness for the role isn’t the only thing which keeps him in Stockholm. From his first meeting with Wahlstedt’s intelligent, undervalued wife Magdalena (Linda Zilliacus), Dåådh utterly loses his heart to her, even though he knows he can never have her. The scene is set for an exquisitely tormented romance.

The crimes themselves aren’t really the main story here. This is a world on the cusp of change, which is trying to dig in its heels for as long as it can. Young idealists are plotting in the shadows, waiting for their chance to strike at royal power and bring down the oppressive monarchy. They’re also keen to strike at their old comrade, now that Dåådh seems to have gone over to the establishment. In reality, his only crime is trying to exert a more measured, reasoned kind of change from within, rather than pulling down the very fabric of society and starting again. It’s a febrile time. Yet Stockholm’s blinkered social elite, represented by Wahlstedt, cling to their traditions and refuse to learn from the example of their unfortunate French neighbours. There’s a strong sense that if they ignore the new, it’ll all just go away. Dåådh’s old-school colleague Nordin (Richard Turpin) is trying the same tactic with the young upstart who’s suddenly been promoted over him and is making him look bad.

Anno 1790

Dåådh (Peter Eggers) and Magdalena (Linda Zilliacus)

The struggle between tradition and idealism is reflected in the challenge posed by science to religion. An atheist and intellectual, who has studied Voltaire and Descartes, Dåådh is the face of this new generation. He doesn’t just face opposition from the likes of Nordin and Wahlstedt, however. Even Freund, who is now Dåådh’s sidekick, flatmate and close friend, finds it hard to accept the changing sensibilities of the time. Genial, loyal Freund struggles to live up to the standards demanded by his devout faith and all too often ends up drowning his perceived imperfections in alcohol – much to Dåådh’s exasperation. At least Freund can comfort himself that he’s helping Dåådh lay down the law with justice and fairness. You get the feeling, in fact, that Dåådh has saved Freund twice over: once on the battlefield and once by giving his life a sense of purpose beyond the confines of a bottle.

I’m a big fan of subtle dramas in which much is left unsaid, and this is a little gem. Dåådh, Magdalena and Freund each have their own demons and hidden torments, but they struggle against them oh-so-politely. For most of the series, everything is sublimated into lingering glances across crowded rooms, conversations where lips and eyes are saying entirely different things, or, in Freund’s case, just getting absolutely blind drunk. I wish I knew whether a second season was planned. There doesn’t have to be one – this one finishes at a point which would afford a tidy conclusion – but I’d really rather like to spend more time with the characters. If nothing else, it’s made me even more keen to go to Stockholm one day. If you can get hold of this, I heartily recommend it. In fact I may end up buying a copy so I can rewatch it at my own pace and savour the details I missed the first time. I should probably emphasise that it is in Swedish, as you might expect, but there are subtitles of course. Oh, and I’m rather tickled to discover that there’s actually even Anno 1790 fanart: yes, folks, nowadays everything has a fanbase…

Buy the series

6 thoughts on “Anno 1790: Season 1

  1. A.Haukanmaa says:

    Anno 1790! I finally had to stop lurking just to say that (Lymond brought me here originally).

    I watched the series when it was shown in Finland a couple of years ago, and was really delighted by it – and I'm not a huge fan of Scando crime dramas, either. As I understand it, a second season was planned and written – and for some reason the filming never began. A shame; I really could have used a few more scenes of Dåådh in the bath (I gather 18th century Stockholm was a really dirty place… Nowadays, though, it's definitely worth a visit).

  2. The Idle Woman says:

    Wow. Hello! Yes, please don't lurk. If people lurk I assume no one's reading. 😀

    I agree that the bath scenes were obviously profound and there should have been more of them. Or just more of Dåådh looking generally rumpled, which he does very well. Such a shame, though, to hear that we got *that* close to having a second season! And yes, I will definitely have to get to Stockholm at some point – the blend of Anno 1790, vikings, the beauty of the city and a rather good art museum is proving to exert quite a pull…

  3. Bill Reynolds says:

    I am into Scandi (or, more precisely, Nordic) Crime and your blog post was linked to by the Nordic Noir site. Anno 1790 was a terrific series and I wish they'd done more than one season. There's a similar French historical procedural called Nicholas le Floch that's set in the years prior to the Revolution. I think they do 2 90 minute telefilms each year. It started in 2006 and, AFAIK, is still going.

  4. The Idle Woman says:

    Hello Bill – thanks so much for this (and for telling me about the link, which I didn't know about!). I'm interested to hear about the French programme. I do love French historical dramas – they do them very well, although admittedly I've only ever seen films rather than TV series. But that sounds like it could be fun, and at least I'll know there's plenty of episodes lined up if I do get into it. 🙂 I wonder if I can get it through LoveFilm?

    And maybe it's not too late to give up all hope on Anno 1790? It seems to have been such a critical success, it's funny that they didn't make more. But perhaps the actors had other commitments? It certainly wouldn't be the same with a different cast.

  5. sinycalone says:

    Believe it or not, I just found this blog! Just finished the 10th episode of the show….and stifl find it so difficult to believe they never went ahead with another season, or even a follow-up two-hour movie. I'm trying to locate a region DVD set (English Sub.) that's not abridged in some way.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Swede here. A second season was planned but never filmed, it was simply too expensive. The market for these types of historical dramas in Sweden is just too small and the production was, as I understand it, one of the more expensive SVT has done. A shame because I really loved the series.

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