Thirty years ago, long before the current wave of slow burning Scandinavian detective dramas became fashionable, Michael J. Bird abandoned the Mediterranean-set productions he‘d been writing for the BBC (most famously The Lotus Eaters) and finished his career at the corporation with this Norwegian thriller.
Catherine Durrell (a slightly wooden Tusse Silberg) discovers she’s been left a small business and family home in the will of a mysterious entrepreneur, and travels to Norway to try and uncover the reason for the puzzling bequest. Warmly welcomed by the man’s two daughters, there is at first little clue as to why Jordahl might have bequeathed her the two houses – separated by a stretch of water – in which his beloved younger wife had lived before dying in an accident some years earlier. Durrell temporarily moves into one of the houses ahead of selling the business, and the arrival of journalist Anders Bjornson (an equally quite stilted Beames) confirms that there’s more to this family than meets the eye.
The word maelstrom, derived from the Dutch, was originally used by Edgar Allan Poe to describe a powerful whirlpool off the Norwegian coast; no doubt the word was too persuasive not to use as the series’ title, but although the Jordahls’ family affairs are rather convoluted and water is a constant presence throughout the six episodes, the story untangles so slowly that the name is something of a misdirection – the resolution takes place on land during the Midsummer’s Night bonfires rather than mirroring the title sequence in any significant way.
In spite of likeable but somewhat stiff leads (their relationship never convinces), the rest of the mostly UK-based cast hold the attention, even during some especially lengthy longueurs. Trevor Baxter as the family doctor is a particularly welcome and benign presence, while Ann Todd plays the elderly and secluded aunt Astrid with great relish. The two sisters are an interesting mismatch, Czech-born Edita Brychta the indecipherable one, with Susan Gilmore (very much the Face of the 1980s) the ostensibly more forthcoming.
Maelstrom (featuring some distinctive music by Johnny Pearson, and including a cameo by Paul Darrow in its opening scene) wasn’t a great success on broadcast, hence the eight years between its Norwegian and British DVD issue, and much of the blame lies in the way the mystery fails to really catch the attention; come the end it’s hard not to scratch your head and wonder why Astrid didn’t just speak up sooner, and modern TV producers would struggle to keep their audience from guessing how the resolution will unfold. But it’s absorbing enough never to be boring, and the locations (there is a substantial amount of outdoor filming) are certainly pleasant enough to look at.
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MAELSTROM / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: DAVID MALONEY / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL J. BIRD / STARRING: TUSSE SILBERG, DAVID BEAMES, EDITA BRYCHTA, CHRISTOPHER SCOULAR, SUSAN GILMORE, TREVOR BAXTER, ANN TODD / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14TH