Right back through the decades there have been occasional classics from around the world that have captured our imaginations, from the 1960s when The Adventures of Robin Hood and it’s enigmatic theme tune caught our fancy to the Danish drama Borgen that has recently become a firm favourite with every fan of intelligent TV.
The one difference we can pick these days though is that now we can handle subtitles! Yes it’s only really with shows like Borgen and The Killing that our international dramas haven’t been dubbed into English – sometimes though it’s the dubbing that has made the show even better. Take Monkey for example, the English language translations were almost completely freestyled into something very special by English adaptor David Weir.
Below we take a look at our top ten favourite international shows.
10. The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (France 1964)
Robert Hoffman starred as Crusoe in this fondly remembered black and white series but it was the theme tune we loved more.
9. Heimat (Germany 1992)
Heimat was an epic drama series that focused on life for the residents of one German village between the years 1919 and 1982. It was the kind of stuff that we hadn’t seen before from a foreign show and we loved it.
8. The Flashing Blade (France 1967)
Despite being made in the 1960’s every schoolkid of the 1980’s will remember the Flashing Blade (another show with an epic theme tune) as it was a regular part of many a Saturday Morning TV line up. It was a Musketeers style mish-mash of derring-do, sword fights and romance.
7. White Horses (Yugoslavia – Germany 1968)
The English theme tune On White Horses by Jackie lives long in many peoples memories but the series itself, which followed the adventures of a young girl and her amazing white Lippizaners, was extremely popular.
6. The Boat (Germany 1984)
Before Denmark took over the top spot it was Germany who could be relied upon for tense international drama and The Boat (which was directed by future Hollywood helmer Wolfgang Petersen) was a superb tale of a German Submarine crew during World War II.
5. The Water Margin (Japan 1975)
Before Monkey there was The Water Margin, a truly epic tale of 13th century knights fighting evil and corruption. David Weir of Monkey fame was also responsible for the English scripts for this.
4. Belle And Sebastian (France 1967)
This charming children’s series told stories of a boy and his dog in a small French village. Cult indie band Belle and Sebastian naturally enough took their name from this series.
3. Monkey (Japan 1979)
A brilliant theme tune, in fact two brilliant theme tunes – like The Sweeney Monkey had a high octane opening song (“born from an egg on a mountaintop”) and a melancholic closing theme (“In Gandhara, Gandhara”), incredible stories of buddhist monks, monkey gods able to summon clouds to fly on, epic fights against demons and more. Incredible!
2. The Killing (2007 Denmark)
This is the series that started things off in the modern era, the very definition of Nordic Noir, it’s a dark detective series known as Forbrydelsen in it’s native Denmark and following Detective Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) investigating various murders. A massive hit around the world and also gave rise to a well received US remake.
1. Borgen (2010 Denmark)
Another Danish smash hit, Borgen may well have taken its cue from shows like West Wing but surely an influencer of its own on the likes of House Of cards and it’s fabulous. A political drama that manages to keep it’s human heart, Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Birgitte Nyborg Christensen who becomes Prime Minister (or should we say Stats Minister) of the country following a surprise election. Around her is spin doctor Kapser Juul (Pilou Asbæk) whose ex-girlfriend Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) works for investigative TV show TV1 News. Borgen is the nickname of Christiansborg Palace where all of Denmark’s political activity takes place. The show was created by Danish celebrity chef Adam Price!
And remember this is our top ten, yours might be entirely different, although we can guarantee you will now be singing some of these theme tunes for the rest of the day!
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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