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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Matador (or, how I fell in love with a Danish tv series and one of it's stars)

I love tv series. I watch fairly modern ones (30 Rock, Desperate Housewives, Doctor Who, Agatha Christie's Poirot, Gilmore Girls, Friends, Outnumbered...), and older ones (All Creatures Great and Small, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, Fawlty Towers, Jeeves and Wooster...), and everything in between. One thing I've never watched is a foreign language tv series. So when my friend Sara sent me all 4 series of a Danish tv series called Matador before Christmas, I was very hesitant. I don't mind watching things in foreign languages - as long as those languages are languages that I understand a little. I will happily watch things in Italian, French and German... but, Danish? I don't speak a word of Danish, and I felt that even with the English subs, it would be tedious to sit through 24 episodes - with lengths ranging from 40 to 90 minutes. But, oh, how wrong I was!

Last Saturday night I decided to watch the first episode to see if I liked it. For me, just watching the first episode of something usually isn't enough to make me really love it, but from the very beginning I was hooked on this fascinating and wonderful series. I'm currently up to the beginning of Series 3, and every episode just seems gets better and better! Even though I'm rushing through it, I'm also trying to savour every moment because I don't want to miss a single thing - and I believe that watching something for the first time is always the most magical and memorable!

Well, I suppose I should give you a (very) rough synopsis of the series in question seeing as I'm raving on and on about it.

Matador (1978 - 1981) is set in the fictional Danish town of Korsbæk between the years 1929 and 1947, and follows the lives, and the rivalry, of the town's two most prominent businessmen: Mads Skjern, who arrives in Korsbæk in the first episode and starts to build up a highly successful business, and Hans Christian Varnæs, a long-established banker from one of the town's old families. Skjern is not welcomed into the town, or helped in his business enterprises, by the old families of Korsbæk, and this sets into motion the rivalry on which much of the storyline pivots.

The beautiful theme tune

There are so many reasons I'm in love with this series. I'm a hopeless cause when it comes to well made tv series/films set around the time that Matador is, but mostly I can't help but fall in love with a tv series which has such wonderful, believable characters - it's jam-packed with 'em!

I would be lying if I said I couldn't pick a favourite character from the series as from the moment I saw her in the first episode, Elisabeth Friis, the older unmarried sister of Hans Christian Varnæs' nervous wife Maude, absolutely captivated me. She lives quietly in the shadow of her sister, taking care of both her and her children, Ulrik and Regitze, and running the household. A halting romance blossoms and fades between her and a member of Mads Skjern's family - Korsbæk becoming Verona, and the two parties in love, Romeo and Juliet. Her story is the one that intrigues me most in the series, and I can't wait to see if everything turns out OK in the end!

I'm quite tentative about stating, in a serious manner, that something I've just discovered, be it a film, an actor/actress, a song etc. etc., is now one of my "favourites". But I feel that it's a fairly safe assumption to say that Elisabeth Friis is going to be one of my favourite characters from anything for a rather long time. I asked Sara how she would describe Elisabeth (as well as having basically ALL of the same favourite actresses, we also share Elisabeth as our favourite Matador character :D ) and she said, "IT ISN'T POSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN ELISABETH FRIIS." Yep, when talking about Elisabeth, it is necessary to shout it because she really is so exceptionally fabulous. (I'm not joking!) Basically, she's everything I wish I was - quiet and calm, yet unyieldingly strong and determined, utterly charming, unselfish, and absolutely wonderful.

Elisabeth is played by the Danish actress Helle Virkner (15 September, 1925 - 10 June, 2009), and she's kind of put me under her spell. I think it's a testament to her brilliant acting (and abounding charm) that, despite not understanding a word of Danish, I am determined to watch as many of her films as possible - and a lovely fellow Old Hollywood/Helle Virkner fan has provided me with a few to start me off! I think I may have to get a "Teach Yourself Danish" book...

Well, I could sit here and ramble about Matador for days, but I'll leave you all in peace now. I can't recommend this series to you enough - if you decide to watch it, you will NOT be disappointed!

(You can purchase the box set (Region 0, with English subtitles) from both amazon.co.uk and amazon.com)


  1. Agreed, Matador is one of the best things that I have watched in a while and I was desperately sad that it had to end. My husband is from Denmark and he gave the set to me for Christmas to help me with my Danish. Interestingly enough, the series still ranks as the most watched show in Denmark's history...something like 3.5 million viewers in a country with 5 million inhabitants.

  2. I know exsactly what you mean!
    After almost 20 years with Matador on VHS and DVD and at least one or two or tree visits to Korsbæk every year,I still love it. And the cast has almost become familymembers. Some you just accept,others are your favorites,but you love them all.And for every rerun you learn something new about them.Here in Norway,Matador is always mentioned when the subject is danish tv-series,at least quality series, even if it's 10-12 years since it last was sent on TV.

  3. Sophie, I just found your blog and you are one of the coolest kids in the universe. I will be returning repeatedly. My wife and I have fallen in love with many of the very same actors/actresses and movies. All Creatures Great and Small, Jeeves and Wooster- mahvelous. We are particularly transfixed upon Louise Brooks. But you've totally piqued my interest in these Danish films. By the way, this Helle Virkner that you've come to adore looks strikingly like yourself in your photo. Oh, and your Grandfather has one of the greatest faces I've ever seen. Thanks for sharing your passion. Stay fabulous.

  4. @Anon 1 - Oh that's great! I'd love to learn Danish :) I read that somewhere and thought how incredible it was! It's just such a shame that it's not generally known in very many countries outside of Denmark.

    @Anon 2 - That's wonderful! I hope in 20 years I still love it enough to keep revisiting it - it's so magical that I'm sure I will though :)

    @The Custodian - Oh my! Thank you so much - I'm glad you like my blog :) All Creatures is pretty much my all time favourite tv series - I can watch it over and over and never get sick of it. I must have seen each episode 100 times! XD Ahh, Lulu! She was so mysterious and wonderful - definitely one of my favourite silent stars. Well, that is a huge compliment - thank you! :) He does, doesn't he? I've sadly only ever known him through stories and photographs. Thanks for your kind message! :)

  5. I'm in love with "Matador" too! It's my favorite Danish TV series and perhaps my favorite of all TV series in the world. It's just soooo good, great actors, great script, very realistic. Me and my mother just finished our third viewing of the whole series, well she has watched it a couple of times on TV before we started to watch it together on DVD (we are Swedish so we can watch it without subtitles).
    Elisabeth is my favorite character too, I love how she is able to stand up for herself and I adore her and Kristen's lovestory. And Helle was of course beautiful. Actually, this last time around, Maude started to grow on me too, I couldn't stand her when I watched the series the first time but now I really appreciate to see how she grows as a person over the years. I also really like Agnes, and Mads' son Daniel.

  6. I'm from Denmark and i LOVE Matador too :) It's just one of the best series ever.. Normally i watch BOnes, NCIS or True Blood.. And Matador, isn't like it at all! But i just love it.. And Elisabeth is my all-time favorite character in it too.. Helle Virkner does it sooo good :) Even though Erik Balling (The instructor) has said, that Helle Virkner actually wanted to play Maude!! And Malene who does it, wanted to play Elisabeth! But he said no, and i think it turned out, pretty well... i mean look at her!! And Elisabeth and Kristen's love story is so good... especially doing world war 2.. :D one of my al time fav episodes of it is also number 4.. where Kristen is presented and they meet... She is just lovely :)


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