High in the north Atlantic, nestled between Iceland and Norway, lie the moss-covered basalt cliffs of the Faroe Islands: a fishing archipelago and the perfect setting for Viaplay’s new original series “Trom.” Based on Faroese writer Jógvan Isaksen’s bestselling crime novels, and adapted for screen by creator and head writer Torfinnur Jákupsson and Donna Sharpe, “Trom” is a six-episode Nordic Noir produced and distributed by Denmark’s REinvent Studios in co-production with Faroe Islands-based Kyk Pictures, Iceland’s Truenorth and Germany’s ZDF/Arte.
In what has signalled a breakthrough for many Scandinavian series, the BBC acquired “Trom” in a deal announced just before the series’ premiere at February’s Berlinale Series Market Selects.
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Co-directed by Kasper Barfoed (“The Chestnut Man”), Davið Óskar Ólafsson (“The Valhalla Murders”), and Peter Ahlén, “Trom” follows rogue journalist Hannis Martinsson, played by Ulrich Thomsen (“The New Pope”). When Hannis receives an ominous message from his estranged daughter Sonja, he must return home to the Faroe Islands and wade into the darkened waters of his past to solve the mystery.
The series is the first set in the frigid Faroe Islands, and the setting looms as a stark warning of danger to come. Scored with musical nodding to the history of the Faroes, ‘Trom’ is forward-paced with constant plot hooks and a pulsing electronic score.
Variety sat down with screenwriter Jákupsson to talk about the Faroese series.
How did this project come to be? What led you to want to make “Trom?”
Jákupsson: I think I’ve always been fascinated by the genre of crime because I grew up in a very safe place with very little crime, so that whole world in a sense brought a bit of excitement into my more mundane everyday life in the Faroes. Then came the books by Jógvan Isaksen, which did the unthinkable of introducing murder in my hometown.
I was around 16 when I first sort of manifested the idea of turning the books into a series. I was talking to a friend of mine on a coffee break at the local fish factory, looking up at the mountain top, where the first murder in the first book occurs. But it wasn’t until years later, when I was working in London and about to turn 30 and seeing all these other great shows being made, that I decided to pack my bags to try and turn this old dream into a reality. Our national broadcaster was founded the same year I was born, but no such Faroese series had ever been produced. So I decided to take it upon myself to try and get it off the ground.
Can you speak about the challenge of adaptation and specifically Jógvan Isaksen’s crime novels?
Jákupsson: One of the first things we talked about was that I needed creative freedom to adapt the books as I wanted. The first book is from 1990, so quite a few things had to be updated and tweaked to make it feel like a contemporary show, including combining characters and giving them a background that maybe doesn’t exist in the books and taking a closer look at the relationship between characters. One of the big decisions I made early on was also not to use voiceover whereas, in the books, you’re getting an insight into what Hannis is thinking all the time. So the series is told differently in that sense. Hannis is a much more guarded character, and we leave plenty more good stuff to be revealed.
What drew you to the Faroe Islands as a setting for the events of “Trom?”
Jákupsson: I’ve always liked those stories that have a very strong sense of place, and the Faroes are a big character in both the books and the series. This mysterious, beautiful but also brutal place, isolated from the rest of the world. The small town community and the culture that comes with that. The culture of silence both as a survival mechanism but also something that can slowly kill you. I also wanted the nature and environment of the Faroes itself to form our characters as much as the other way around, which is where the bigger political topics come into the crime story through the characters we put up against each other.
Can you discuss how you approached the music for the show? It seems very important in this series.
Jákupsson: I’m a musician too, so during the writing process, I always think in sound as well as images. I got my brother in on doing the music for the show that also draws on the cultural heritage of the Faroes. For example, the main theme song, where we used “kvæði” as inspiration – a traditional style of ballad singing and chain dancing from the Middle Ages that has only really survived in the Faroes – using rhythms and melodies from there. I wanted to make sure that the original music and the soundtrack set a Faroese tone for the show as much as the visuals. In this sense, to introduce the Faroes to a broader audience in more ways than one.
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