‘The City and the City’

“Nowhere else works like the cities”. This is the first line of BBC1’s new drama based on the 2009 ‘weird fiction’ novel by British author China Miéville, an exotically named man actually born in Norwich. His book has been adapted for TV by screen writer Tony Grisoni.

The cities in the title are Besźel, which looks like the Eastern Bloc of 30 plus years ago mixed with cafes and people from 1970s Istanbul and Ul Qoma which is glimpsed only briefly in the first episode. These streets look brighter, cleaner, and more advanced. The colour pallets are quite different in each city; dingy yellows for Besźel and clean blues for Ul Qoma. Like the inhabitants, the viewer always knows where they’re looking.

The two cities actually occupy much of the same geographical space, but the inhabitants wilfully ‘unsee’ the areas they’re not allowed to view. Early on Commissar Gadlem (Ron Cook) gets out his overhead projector, and lays two acetate maps on top of each other. That’s a good way to get your head around it.

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‘Shetland’ – On the Box

Back in 2013 the Beeb had a go at capturing the Scandi noir spirit with a drama set slightly closer to home than the usual Sweden/ Denmark heartland. When I say slightly, I mean only very slightly because this dark drama is set in Shetland. They might speak the language and you can fly to Glasgow in 90 minutes, but the place has much more in common with Scandinavia than Scotland. Famously the islands didn’t become part of Scotland until the 15th century and that remoteness lingers in the traditions and the outlook of the people.

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