December 11, 2023

DR Sales has been racking up sales for Danish drama series “Prisoner.”

Starring Sofie Gråbøl, David Dencik, Youssef Wayne Hvidtfeldt and Charlotte Fich, it has been picked up by BBC (UK and Ireland), Canal+ Group’s channel Polar+ (France), MHz Networks (U.S.), SBS (Australia), NPO (Netherlands) and BeTV (French-speaking Belgium).

Revolving around four desperate prison guards, forced to deal with everything from rampant drug trade to their personal problems and imminent closure of the prison, the show was created by Kim Fupz Aakeson

“‘Prisoner’ is an authentic, complex and compelling portrait of the harsh realities of life in prison, where it isn’t only the inmates who are trapped,” said Sue Deeks, head of program acquisitions at BBC, with NPO’s Evelien Bloemena adding: 

“It’s about people with good intentions forced into difficult situations. A series with a great cast and a good fit for us as a public broadcaster.” 

Produced by Rikke Tørholm Kofoed for DR Drama, it was made in collaboration with NRK, SVT, Yle and RUV, as part of the drama partnership Nordic 12. 

“It was all about being inspired by real prisons, real guards and real inmates,” noted Michael Noer, who co-created and co-directed the show with Frederik Louis Hviid. 

“It’s a portrait of a certain system where ‘the house always wins,’ but also of human beings inside of it.”

“We did extensive research, listening to their stories. You could tell that sometimes, they felt embarrassed admitting to certain things, but they had to give in to the prison order to make sure the place didn’t erupt,” added Hviid. 

“It also adds this socio-political aspect because, as Michael always says, you can judge a country by how they treat their elderly and their criminals.” 

Keeping things plausible – also by shooting in a recently vacated prison – was a priority for both. 

“I would always ask myself: ‘Could this really happen in a Danish prison?’ That was our guideline. I have no problem with walking into cliches if they ring true to the environment you are portraying,” said Hviid. 

“We were always led by reality,” noted his co-director, who recently brought “Birthday Girl” to Zurich.   

“Once you bring in local nuances, once you make it more specific and real, there is a sense of urgency to it. Everything in this show could have happened, has happened or will happen. That’s for sure.” 

“Prisoner” already provoked discussions in its native Denmark, with Minister of Justice Peter Hummelgaard commenting on it as well.

“He wrote an article about the show! It’s good, because these are the things we should be talking about. I was so happy it stirred this debate,” noted Noer, with Hviid weighting in: 

“It’s one of the reasons why I like genre films or shows. They can appeal to a wider audience but also say something relevant about our society. People don’t want to be lectured; they want to be entertained. But that entertainment can still make you think afterwards.” 

With the help of their actors, they wanted to show complex characters who simply cannot escape. Regardless of where they are. 

“One in three prison guards in Denmark suffers from PTSD. One of them told us that even though you work in a place filled with murderers, arsonists and rapists, sometimes you feel safer there than outside. These criminal gangs are well organized, they have contacts outside. So what is prison, exactly? Is it a jail cell or a state of mind?,” wondered Hviid.

“Finding characters that are as bad as they are good is what I enjoyed the most. These people, corrupted by the system, didn’t ‘choose’ to be bad. We wanted to see if we could defend their actions.” 

Noer added: “I have a background in documentaries and it’s very unhealthy to film someone you don’t actually like. But you can do it in fiction, also because you don’t need to have lunch with them afterwards.” 

Despite the success, they are not thinking about other seasons just yet. 

“We never thought about it being able to travel. We thought about making the kind of show we would like to see. When you watch TV shows these days, it often feels like there are too many cooks in the kitchen. This time, the restaurant was well-balanced,” said Noer.  

“We live in a country where it’s dark 80% of the time, so when you turn on the TV, are you really looking for more darkness? Apparently, you do,” laughed Hviid, pleased with the reception. 

“We were attracted to the idea of making something short, sweet, done. It feels like we told this story. But there are plenty of others.”

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