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Monday 6 July 2020

The Restaurant (Vår tid är nu), Swedish TV Series (2017-2019), starring Hedda Stiernsted 7.5* out of 10

What makes the nordic telenovela The Restaurant special, is that next to some 30 years of family drama it treats us to a post-World War II social history of Sweden. The mix of melodrama and Swedish modern history makes for surprisingly compelling viewing. 

The Restaurant is a popular Swedish Telenovela that charts the path of the bourgeois Löwander family which owns and runs a traditional restaurant in the centre of Stockholm and their members of staff. The series spans the time period from the last days of WWII to the early 1970s. It serves up a rich smorgasbord of family intrigue. Brothers Peter (Adam Lundgren) and Gustaf (Matias Nordqvist) and their sister Nina (Hedda Stiernsted) are vying for their mother Helga’s (Suzanne Reuter) preference and inheritance. 

What makes The Restaurant special, is that next to almost 30 years of family drama we are treated to a post-World War II social history of Sweden. It is largely a sympathetic view of the creation of the Swedish welfare state by the country’s Social Democratic Party. Its reforms enable the restaurant’s assistant-waitresses to become political bigwigs; Swedish working-class boys who look like Jamie Oliver can become Swedish television chefs who look like Jamie Oliver, and once penniless Italian immigrants may rise from washing the restaurant’s dirty plates to introducing sceptical Nordic bankers to the joys of the pizza-oven. Pizza, after all, is an affordable and tasty food which can ease the hard-working unionized Scandinavian meatball-eater into the ever more multicultural society their country is about to host.

Meanwhile, upper-class and bourgeois Swedes learn to love Rock’n’Roll, Jimi Hendrix, and glittering disco balls imported from the USA via London. They also adapt to understand that immigration and social democracy are acceptable and perhaps even advantageous to the upper-middle class too. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the figure of Gustaf a reluctantly homosexual Nazi sympathiser not only in the closet and fighting with alcoholism but also on a stony path towards born again Christendom and missionary service in Africa. For him, the arc of history is long but bends towards potential happiness with a male Palestinian nurse who has looked after his ailing wife. 

By the time the iconic Olof Palme becomes prime minister and leads Swedish Social Democracy, which has briefly lost touch with Stockholm’s tree-loving, anti-Vietnam-War protesting inhabitants, back towards its more daringly leftish reformist path, he can even risk nominating a card-carrying lesbian former assistant-waitress to his cabinet.

Much credit for the success of The Restaurant goes to the writers, principally Ulf Kvensler, Malin Nevander and Johan Rosenlin. Hedda Stiernsted is a quite charismatic Nina and Charlie Gustaffson a successfully understated Calle. Josefien Neldén gives a strong performance as the modest yet upwardly mobile assistant-waitress Maggan.

Almost reluctantly, I found The Restaurant’s mix of telenovela and social history compelling viewing and binged on its three seasons of 10 episodes each. The acting is sometimes a bit hammy but not distractingly so. One does root for the potential love story between the bourgeois Nina working-class Calle (Charlie Gustafsson) who meet in May 1945 with an uncharacteristically spontaneous kiss. Will they get together? And where will each of them be 32 years, and an equal number of episodes, later? 

I watched this series that was apparently very popular on its first showing in Sweden (2017 to 2020) with my subscription to Sundance Now, which I purchased in order to still my hunger for the new 5th season of Le Bureau des Legendes, one of the best espionage-thriller series bar none.

The Restaurant

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