While we are in the middle of the Novel Destinations Reading Game, I’d like to share a few recommendations for your viewing pleasure that will allow you to travel and discover (or re-discover) foreign destinations. Though the series and movies below are all fictional, the filming locations are all genuine and help set the tone of the stories, as well as often providing gorgeous visuals.
Outlander is a TV series that allows viewers to be transported not only to a new geographical location, but through time as well. While on her second honeymoon, ex-World War II nurse Claire Randall is sent back to the 1740s, in the middle of the Jacobite Uprising pitting Scottish clans against the British army. Forced to adapt to an unfamiliar world and caught between two hostile factions, Claire must learn to survive in harsh conditions, all while growing close to a young Highlander whose wounds she treated, and unwittingly becoming his clan’s healer. The Scottish locations are beautiful, as well as the historical pageantry. Recommended for fans of romance and action/adventure tales.
In Henning Mankell’s Wallender, Sweden is almost a character in itself and helps shape a unique atmosphere, with many panoramic shots of summertime seaside coasts, urban landscapes and cold wintery forests. In the town of Ystad, veteran Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team take on cases that reflect dark themes. The series portrays its characters as human beings, not perfect superheroes, doing their best in tough situations that leave no one involved unscathed – least of all Kurt himself, who takes most cases he works on quite personally. The pacing is slower and more contemplative than most North American TV series, but this also adds to the realism. The series and the novels they are based on have created a small tourist industry in Ystad, where locations and streets mentioned in the stories are promoted to visitors.
Death in Paradise is another detective series which sees uptight, by-the-book but quite competent London detective Richard Poole move to the Caribbean island of Saint-Marie to investigate the death of his predecessor. This is a fish-out-of-water tale where the protagonist has to learn how to work in a police department with a fraction of the resources he once had at his disposal but aided by resourceful colleagues. There is very much a mystery-of-the-week formula with an emphasis on seemingly impossible crimes being resolved though deductive skills, but there is a good mix of humor, sunny settings and interesting characters. Richard’s yin is contrasted with local detective Camille Bordey’s yang, as they learn to play to each other’s strengths while often clashing due to their very different personalities.
Melbourne is showcased prominently in the Australian series Jack Irish, whose titular protagonist’s life as an upscale defense lawyer was shattered by the murder of his wife. Years later, fighting his demons with gambling and alcohol, he now earns a living as a private detective and debt collector. Jack is forced to return to his former life when a former client is found dead, and while a loner, he will have to learn to rely on new friends, many of them with shady sides but not lacking humanity or even heroic qualities, to solve the case and try to rebuild his life.
Abouna (meaning “our father”) is a French dramatic comedy taking place in the city of N’Djamena in the African Republic of Chad, about two brothers, Amine and Tahir, who discover one day that their father has disappeared. While most villagers, including their mother, believe he just abandoned them, they set out to try to find him, even going as far as stealing film reels they believe he appeared in, until their mischief leads them to being sent to a Koranic school. Will they be able to escape? This coming-of-age story is very much from the point of view of the children, their hopes and illusions, and about learning responsibility to themselves and the people around them. This is a film for those interested in discovering realities as the film avoids easy answers or sentimental contrivances.
Present-day Moscow and Paris are the destinations of the French film The Concert and provide a bittersweet portrayal of post-Soviet Russian society as well as scenes of great musical beauty. Andrei Filipov used to be an acclaimed conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra until he was purged for refusing to fire his Jewish musicians during the 1980s. Thirty years later, he stumbles on an opportunity to play in Paris, if he can reform his orchestra (all its members having moved in their lives as best as they could) and gain the participation of a French violin virtuoso, Anne-Marie Jacquet, with whom he shares a mysterious connection. Overall the movie is a light comedy, but it also deals with serious topics like living with regrets and misfortune, and trying to heal old wounds by correcting past mistakes. Those who are fans of classical music (particularly Tchaikovsky) or just curious about present day Russia should have a look.
Even if you are staying put this summer, it doesn’t mean you can’t do a bit of travelling!