Ever since shows such as The Bridge and The Killing first hit our screens, the Nordics have enjoyed a stellar reputation for quality television and gripping dramas.

Nordic Noir was a huge sensation that swept the globe and it was quickly followed by a broad range of successful shows and films – from the political intrigue of Borgen to the feel-good teen drama of Skam – cementing Scandinavia’s reputation as a powerhouse of audiovisual content.

2022 looks set to be another fantastic year for Nordic TV as online streaming platforms increasingly offer up the cold and cosy settings of the northern nations to international viewers.

As lovers of all things Scandi we are naturally excited, and as language nerds we are also curious to see how the subtitlers work their magic and make these shows accessible to the wider world.

So for today’s edition of the blog, we thought we’d take a quick look at some of the shows due for release this year and what challenges they might pose to subtitlers.

Borgen returns

Popular political drama Borgen will return for a fourth season on Netflix this year after it disappeared from our screens at the end of the third season back in 2013 – almost ten years ago. The show follows the career of a minor centrist politician, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, who becomes Denmark’s first female prime minister against all the odds.

The initial three seasons gained renown for their deft treatment of complicated coalition politics and its subtitling was lauded for not watering down the complex political context for viewers outside of Denmark.

Alice Bruggen from the BBC has previously discussed the challenges of subtitling a show like Borgen. She notes that the characters in Borgen speak in a very verbose way with copious amounts of dialogue being delivered in short periods of time.

The challenge for the subtitler is therefore to cram everything that is being said into the small amount of space available, and to rephrase the dialogue in a way that is easy to read at pace. And all without detracting too much from the “flavour” of the original.

With English-speaking viewers now much more used to reading subtitles compared with when the show first came out, expectations will be sky-high and Netflix will be under a lot of pressure to maintain the same high standard so that the show may continue to intrigue and elucidate viewers on the ins and outs of Danish politics.

Nordic Noir comes to the Faroe Islands

2022 will also see the first ever Nordic Noir drama to be set in the Faroe Islands. Trom is an upcoming drama about a missing animal rights activist who turns up amid a local whale hunt on the windswept North Atlantic islands which are a part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

The six-part series is based on the crime novels of Jógvan Isaksen and will be broadcast on BBC Four in the UK and ZDF in Germany.

The show is hotly anticipated and although little is known about the twists and turns it might take, or how it might use its unique setting for dramatic effect, one likely challenge facing subtitlers and international viewers might be the dual use of Faroese and Danish.

Both languages are spoken on the islands with Faroese typically being used more often at home and Danish when in contact with visitors from elsewhere in the Nordic world.

The language that certain characters speak or choose to speak in particular moments might be something which adds texture to the dramatic intrigue of the show, and this is something which the subtitlers may wish to consider when deciding how to formulate their subtitles.

For example, they might choose to make certain word choices in order to trigger a response from the viewer and get them to wonder which language is being spoken at a particular moment.

In this sense the show might have a similar effect to The Bridge, which taught international viewers to distinguish between the sounds of Swedish and Danish.

Anxiously translating humour

One new show which is already available on Netflix is the Swedish comedy-drama series Anxious People . This quirky and heartfelt mini-series tells the story of an attempted bank robbery that leads to an unexpected hostage situation at an open house.

It is the latest in a string of popular Swedish shows on Netflix after Love and Anarchy and Young Royals which were both released last year and helped to drum up anticipation and expectations for this latest release.

No doubt the greatest challenge faced by the subtitlers on this show was translating its sense of humour. Comedy is notoriously difficult to subtitle because it often relies on timing, delivery and intonation. Quite often it can also be based on word play.

In ordinary translation this is not such a problem as translators can take a little bit more liberty and rewrite the context to a certain extent in order to make the joke work, but subtitlers cannot change what is visible on screen. This can make the task very difficult but with a bit of ingenuity and some scope for creativity the results can be magnificent.

What makes Anxious People particularly challenging, however, is that its particular brand of humour is very Swedish. It plays upon a number of social and cultural traits which are specific to Sweden and bases its humour around Swedish sensibilities and cultural anxieties.

So this means the subtitlers not only need to take account of physical and verbal cues but also translate the subtleties of the culture – by no means an easy task!

Experts in the art of subtitling

So there you have it – three new shows coming out over the course of 2022 and some of the challenges their subtitlers may face.

We hope you are looking forward to them and that you will watch them with a new-found appreciation for the art of subtitling when they make it to your screens.

In the meantime, if you have any videos or content which needs subtitling, feel free to get in touch with us and we will be happy to advise you on the best way to proceed. Happy viewing!