Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Johanne Louise Schmidt, Pal Sverre Hagen
Watch A Conspiracy of Faith online in the UK: BBC iPlayer
Say the words “Department Q” to most people and they may look at you in confusion. But in Denmark, it’s the name of a hugely successful series of books – and we’ve been lucky enough to have film adaptations of them drip-fed to us over the past few years. Now, the third in what is currently a trilogy, has arrived on our screens, thanks to BBC iPlayer.
The set-up will be familiar to Nordic noir fans: Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is a morose, antisocial, determined detective, stuffed out of the way in the titular cold case department because nobody really likes him. He’s joined in this venture by Assad (Fares Fares), a likeable, upbeat, enthusiastic young cop. Together, their double act was enough to make the first two films – The Keeper of Lost Causes and The Absent Ones (both also available on BBC iPlayer) – stand out from the Scandi crime crowd, bringing an affectionately brash chemistry to the typically nasty subject matter.
Playing out like feature-length TV specials, part of the series’ appeal has been watching that friendship develop – particularly in the second instalment, which brought new depths to the sadness of Lie Kass’ melancholic lead. Nikolaj’s performance is wonderfully counterintuitive, managing to turn that introspection into something oddly charismatic, while Fares Fares’ comic timing remains an ideal counterpoint.
With two outings under their belts, their relationship only becomes more engagingly complex, as they find themselves tracing an eight-year-old message in a bottle to a string of child abductions from religious communities – a case that sparks discussions of religion and belief between the grumpy skeptic and good-natured Muslim. Having established their dynamic twice over, it’s these moments that writer Nikolaj Arcel, adapting Adler-Olsen’s original novel, uses to really flesh out his characters. The introduction of ever-useful assistant Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt) in The Absent Ones provided more opportunity for the cast to interact and she’s an even firmer part of the ensemble here, teasing out more sides to both men, as well adding a lighter shade to events.
That’s certainly needed, thanks to the murders under scrutiny: this third entry in the Department Q series is the darkest yet, and it more than pays off. Pal Sverre Hagen, who was excellent as Thor Heyerdahl in 2012’s Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki, dives into the disturbing part of a fanatical preacher, who seems to take pleasure in the suffering of parents, as a way of testing their faith. Hagen is as handsome as he is unsettling – even the sight of him offering a lift to two young kids in his car feels creepy.
While all of this makes for Department Q’s most absorbing character drama yet, though, A Conspiracy of Faith’s real success lies in marrying that complexity with a cracking pace. Ancel’s scripts have never been so gripping, as he steps up the speed of the narrative to match Morck and Assad’s race across Denmark. That urgency is brought to life with a new cinematic style by director Mikkel Nørgaard, who replaces Hans Petter Moland at the helm. Fresh from the superbly stylish and bleakly funny In Order or Disappearance, Mikkel is a perfect fit for the franchise, and he punctuates the gradual puzzle-solving with the series’ first real bursts of action – one central sequence involving a ransom demand and a high-speed train is genuinely nail-biting stuff. The result is the best Department Q movie yet – and with six novels in total, it leaves you eagerly awaiting another three.
A Conspiracy of Faith is available on BBC iPlayer until 22nd May 2017