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Aurelio Zen: Michael Dibdin's Italian detective on TV

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Andy Harries Andy Harries | 09:47 UK time, Friday, 7 January 2011

Years ago my Dad gave me a Michael Dibdin book and told me to read it. What I most enjoyed about it was the loving detail and description of life in Italy - it's almost as if Italy is a huge character in the novels. I tucked it away in my memory.

The success of the first series of Wallander, made by my independent production company, Left Bank Pictures, made me think about what other 'foreign' detectives there might be around that we could develop.

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I liked the form of the 90 minute TV film - it feels special - and I liked the idea of developing a second upmarket detective franchise for the BBC that would sell potentially around the world.

There were a few existing Italian detective franchises that we could have picked on but it was the Michael Dibdin books which most intrigued me.

Dibdin died a few years ago and though he was not Italian, he lived there for years and clearly adored it.

All his stories are loosely based on real stories and he captures remarkable qualities of its culture and customs. We've tried to ensure that our series has similar insights and reflects the reality of life in Italy.

And since the British love Italy for the food, the beautiful scenery, the sense of style, the history of the country and its stories, I checked on the rights to the books.

They were available although there was another company - an Italian one - chasing the agents for them.

We made a quick decision and went for it. But it wasn't a slam dunk. I knew that the books had been 'optioned' several times before - that's when production companies buy the exclusive rights for a specific time period - usually 12-24 months.

If and when the series is successfully made there's a further payment to the author or, in this case, the author's estate. Despite quite a bit of investment in scripts Aurelio Zen had never made it to the screen.

Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen

So there was the challenge: to boldly go where others had tried unsuccessfully before. We had to get it right and we had to ensure that we could raise the money to get it right. They were going to be expensive films to make.

It is an ambitious series and it's my job to help create the series, pull the team together and help lay out the blueprint with the main writer.

But perhaps the most important part (along with Marigo Kehoe, Left Bank's managing director) is to raise the money.

We started with the BBC who loved the idea. After they had committed to about 40% of the potential budget, we set out to find the rest.

After several recces in Italy to work out where and how to make the series, we were able to convince three more media companies from Italy, Germany and the US (Mediaset, ZDF and WGBH respectively) to join us in making the programme.

Around the time I was thinking about this show, I went to see the Tom Stoppard play Rock'n'Roll. As soon as I saw Rufus Sewell on stage I knew he was the one to play the lead, Aurelio.

I didn't know him personally but I've always loved his work. He's very handsome, and rather hip, and has great range as an actor.

He also has tremendous warmth and humour and brings these great qualities to the role of Aurelio. He just seemed perfect in every way and his time is now.

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Caterina Murino

was our first choice as the female lead Tania and luckily she loved the project and was free to do it. The first director John Alexander, Rufus and I flew to Milan to meet her.

I felt very strongly that we should cast an Italian actress in the role of Tania if we could find the right one. She was it. She is hugely talented, very funny and gorgeous. So that was the casting.

It's always a huge move to decide on a writer for a series and I spent several weeks thinking about this at the start of 2009.

A friend had recommended Simon Burke to me and I knew he was a great adapter of books. What I didn't know was that he had abandoned his life in south London and moved to Umbria with his family.

So Simon shot to the top of my wish list. I rang him and told him of my ambitions. Brilliantly, he saw the same mix of drama and comedy in the books that had excited me.

As soon as I read his first draft of his first script I knew he was the right choice. I loved it and so did Rufus. We were all seeing the same show.

As with the Wallander novels, we've updated them to make a contemporary series. I think there is a real similarity between the writing of Henning Mankell and that of Michael Dibdin.

Just as Mankell's novels tell you a huge amount about life in Sweden, Dibdin's do the same for Italy.

Everyone who reads Dibdin will have an idea of how Zen is - how he looks, reacts etc.

Novels and TV films are very different forms of entertainment and we can't please everyone but I do think that Michael would have been very pleased with the choice of Rufus Sewell as the detective.

Some of the stories have been changed of course, but that's inevitable. Michael Dibdin's wife (novelist K K Beck) was very keen that we keep to the spirit of Michael's work and we have been very keen to do this. I think we've pulled this off.

I met his daughter recently, who is a journalist. She liked the first film very much and I was delighted.

Andy Harries is the executive producer of Zen.

Zen is on BBC One and BBC One HD on Sundays at 9pm. The first episode is available on iPlayer until Sunday, 23 January.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Funnily, just before this series was advertised and show, I was thinking what a good mini-series the David Hewson books about the Italian copy Nic Costa would make. I still think they would be now the BBC has gone with Zen I doubt they'd want something so similar.

    As for Zen, I thought it was interesting and well shot. However the accents annoyed me. No attempt was made to "Italianise" the accents and whilst this might have been perfectly acceptable if standard across all the actors, some were obviously local hires and did have heavy Italians accents. As a result I found this disparity in how people were speaking really distracting. If no one spoke with an accent or everyone did then fine, that's the way the creative team decided to go. But to have some with and some without... annoying!

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of Zen and am looking forward to the rest of the series. I take a contrary view to the one expressed on 'Italianising accents." I feel it would be a great mistake for the actors including Rufus Sewell to produce a faux accent. Shades of "Hello Hello.!" For me it works perfectly and the casting is excellent. The backdrop of Rome and other parts of Italy conveys a real flavour of the country and adds an authentic feel. The positioning of the programme on Sunday evening is also very good.

  • Comment number 4.

    A great fan of Michael Dibdin's Zen books, so was very excited to see that three were being dramatised. Rufus Sewell is one wonderful Aurelio.

    But there is one thing I don't understand, Mr Harries is why is 'Ratking' the last one to be shown, surely it would have made more sense to do them in the order Dibdin wrote them i.e. 'Ratking', Vendetta, then Cabal?

  • Comment number 5.

    Am struggling to see the point of this terrible programme. Why on earth is it in Italy (apart from the books being based there)? With all the odd Yorkshire turning to Scottish and back accents! We are finding it cringe worthy and frankly embarrassing. Will not be watching any further episodes and am hoping that the author's estate aren't offended.

  • Comment number 6.

    Have to say also found the multiple accents strange at the start, but then just accepted it as part of the style of this production.

    Really enjoyed this first one and Rufus Sewell is outstanding in this role and well done to the costume team for the divine looking suits.
    Looking forward to the next ones and hope all of the books get dramatised and not over a 5 year period!

  • Comment number 7.

    The first episode was very enjoyable. The city views and scenic countryside enhanced the story and I thought there was a "Wallenderesque" feel about the production so it has come as no surprise to read that the same production company is behind the series.

    Different accents? Have you listened to the variations found in conversations in London or any large city - get over it and don't let it spoil the entertainment.

    Job well done, looking forward to the next one!

  • Comment number 8.

    I watched and enjoyed this first episode - loosely based on "Vendetta" which I happened to be reading at the time. Over the past 5 years or so I got to know Michael's father, John Dibdin, in West Sussex. A lovely man of great intelligence who died a few months ago at about 86 of cancer. He mentioned to me once that his son was a writer living in the USA but I never looked into it further until he John died. I would have liked to meet the son he outlived who clearly was a bit special. Some of his metaphors/similes are quite striking beyond the level which detective novels usually contain.
    As for the accent thing under discussion: should the actors all speak Italian with superimposed sub-titles for authenticity's sake? We are dealing with a novel written in English by-and-large for the consumption of, at least, the English-speaking world. A little imagination on the part of the viewer/reader is all that is required.

  • Comment number 9.

    extremely good first series, almost like Lovejoy has changed from being an an antiques dealer to a policeman, if the remaining episodes are as good, hopefully there will another series

  • Comment number 10.

    Yes a very promising series, and beautiful locations. Why were we not told in advance that the superb actor Greg Wise was in this episode?

  • Comment number 11.

    I love detective fiction where the setting is a much a character as the people. Donna Leon writes about Commisario Brunetti of the Venice police, who likes Prosecco. Stephen Booth sets his novels in Derbyshire. Reginald Hill, who seems to get better and better makes Yorkshire come to life on the page. And of course the great Ian Rankin and Edinburgh. I haven't seen Zen yet but I've read some of Dibdin's novels - great pity he died. I am looking forward to seeing Rufus Sewell in the role. He's a quirky actor, just right to play a rather quirky character.

  • Comment number 12.

    Sometimes the BBC can do no wrong. I love film making and seeing the program last week sold me on the spot and just transported me back to last summer. Viewers will be amazed to know that after a short break in Abruzzo looking for a site for our European dogs home [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator], we came across the tiny mountain village of St Bueno, in which a French man, a mutual friend of one of our volunteers, had just bought an apartment on his credit card... Yes, on his credit card, for £6000. It was small and stark and buried among the maze of small granite terraces, but had the most amazing view over the mountains. More remarkably, we came across exactly the same complex feudal mentality, so well portrayed in the film, when we visited a semi set in eleven acres of beautiful mountain scenery and flanked by a seven acre terrace of olive groves. It looked a steal at 35000 euros, but it came complete with a neighbour, the brother of the man that was trying to sell his share and who had assured us his brother was an animal lover. It was ideal, but on visiting the site alone, we came across this second brother. The shock - he was a demiurge, a phenomenon, and like the mountain girl in the program, he looked as if he had grown from the very soil on which his half of the inherited farm stood. Eyes ablaze, nostrils flaring, an unkempt flowing mane and beard, massive squat body - to all the world, he was a human troll. The hatred in the eyes spoke before the man, in the story of the terrible division between the brothers. They had been very close, then love had intervened and now this. Even the great stone house had a split in the wall as if to denote, in some mystical way, the irreconcilable and growing schizm. So thank you BBC, for a perfect portrayal, the equivocal charm of Zen and the complex web of life, that undoubtedly runs from top to bottom of Italian life.

  • Comment number 13.

    Just wondering how the mole on the Lady Prosecutors face switched from left to right during the apartment scene with Zen??
    Good series though entertaining for a change.

  • Comment number 14.

    regarding accents; people working for the state police (polizia di stato) in Italy would be recruited from all regions, particularly those with less employment such as Calabria, but would still be working in the Roman headquarters; hence the variety of accents, albeit English/ Italianish etc is actually an accurate portrayal of the range of accents spoken. Don't forget Zen himself is Venetian and would have a distinct accent from his Roman counterparts. As this series was not originally written by an Italian, it is appropriate that it stays in English.

  • Comment number 15.

    I have read all the Zen books and was very sad when Michael Dibdin died. I felt like something secret and special was no longer available.

    I was very pleased when I read about the TV series and have liked the first two episodes. However my wife and I agreed that the accents were a it odd. The BBC Wallander was done purely in English accents, and the same could have been done in Zen or alternatively have all the parts played by Italians except for Aurelio himself. Rufus Sewell is very good and almost as I imagined Zen to be.

  • Comment number 16.

    Rufus Sewell is great. He's so laid back in "Zen" and a pleasure to watch. I used to live in Rome and know it very well so really enjoy the whole environment. It doesn't matter about the different accents. I find it very entertaining - but then I thoroughly enjoyed Wallander too.

  • Comment number 17.

    Wonderful Zen. You have renewed my confidence that BBC could produce a new really gripping detective series.
    I lived in Italy and this mini series captures the atmosphere and excitement of Rome perfectly.
    The accents only add to the character, for some reason it reall really works.
    Fantastico, please make a full series.................

  • Comment number 18.

    As the blog and a poster have mentioned, you really do get a sense of the Italian way in 'Zen', I can personally vouch for that. I'm loving this serial and hope the BBC see the sense in making another. It's perfect. Well done to all involved.

  • Comment number 19.

    Just what is the matter with your sound engineers, or is it the actors?

    We all know actors are not trained to use their voice these days. They are all too lazy, relying on sound engineers. But if the sound engineers are no good, all you get is muffled dialogue. All quite pathetic, plus the music, of course.
    I quite like the scenery and the photography.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great series, although I did find the first 20 minutes rather odd without Italian accents in Rome. I soon got use to it and it does make me want to visit Italy again. As it is a co- production is there an Italian version? I would so like to hear it in Italian.
    It might even help my very limited linguistic skills.
    Looking forward to more.

  • Comment number 21.

    Parrot@13: her hair parting swapped too. Perhaps she was filmed in a mirror?

    It's a great series. Really enjoying it for all the (good) reasons mentioned above. Sewell is brilliant, perfect as Zen and the female lead is stunning. The accents are much better as they are rather than the aforementioned 'Allo 'Allo' effect that would be created otherwise. Looking forward to next Sunday evening already.

    Well done all concerned!

  • Comment number 22.

    I have enjoyed the plots and settings but the programme has been spoilt by the poor sound quality. Often the actors are difficult to understand particularly Zen and his girlfriend. You then get a scene where you have to turn down the sound. Has anyone else had this difficulty?

  • Comment number 23.

    I loved Wallander, it was amazingly well made, clever and tense, but I went to bed each Sunday feeling bleak and empty and ever so slightly depressed with the world in general, which perhaps is an insight into just how good it was. I think. Anyway, with Zen, I now go to bed on a high - it's the antithesis to Wallander - there are tense parts and complicated lives, just like in Sweden, but it's also funny and warm and very enjoyable. Rufus is perfect for Zen, as is Caterina for Tania. I love the Italian everything - in fact I might have to go and have an expresso just thinking about it - and I hope the other Zen books are made.... and all those people worrying about accents - I would say: What's wrong with a Yorkshire accent anyway? 'Eh? Nowt! Hurrah for everyong involved - and thank you for starting my week on a positive! x

  • Comment number 24.

    I was really looking forward to this series, but was extremely disappointed by the quality of the sound. So much of the dialogue was rendered almost incomprehensible by the way the volume was allowed to diminish, especially at the end of sentences and for the words to be swallowed up by background noise. This may be a feature of my age (63) but I have no problem hearing the vast majority of similar programmes (not just the most excellent original Wallander!). I can only assume it is a deliberate production style, but it is a shame to incense and disappoint viewers in this way as I do not see that it lends anything to the production, other than to make me give up after half an hour.

  • Comment number 25.

    The strange mix of Italian background and English dialogue works surprisingly well and some details are very good, particularly the interiors, which I presume are shot on location to be so convincing. However, some details are frustrating. Zen keeps leaning on walls - something any self-repsecting Italian would never do in a suit. Last night he carried his espresso from the bar to a table in the cafe - another thing just not done in Italy. Either you buy at the bar and stay there or you sit at a table and have waiter service. Details apart, it's perfect winter Sunday-evening escapism. The occasionally poor dialogue quality must go with the territory - remember moments in Spiral?

  • Comment number 26.

    I have watched the first 2 episodes, and have managed to ignore the accent issue almost from the beginning. Relax and take delight in the wonderful location shots and the characters and subtle humour of this series. It is great fun.

  • Comment number 27.

    What a great series and how clever the accents have been included.

    It is very laid back which is a bit odd as if anyone has been the Rome will know that it is mad but good for selling Rome for the future.

    Wow cant take my eyes of the female lead ... stunning.

  • Comment number 28.

    Enyoyed Zen but I agree with Nigel and I Claudius about the varying sound. The mannerism of Sewell's stumbling delivery doesn't help - when we heard others doing it too, we wondered if this was a directorial conceit. Using the subtitles helped us not just to get the words but distracted slightly from the English accents; oddly enough it felt marginally more like watching in Italian. Incidentally I like the mixing in of Italian accent. Cabal was much better than Vendetta which suddenly and incredibly endowed Zen with Kryptonite powers. I've loved the 2 Swedish Wallanders, Montalbano, Spiral etc. More euro action please, instead of repetitive English procedurals.

  • Comment number 29.

    Did anyone else have problems with the sound?
    I am not talking about the acted mumbling - that's Chris (i just cut across the line) Menaul's decision)
    BUT the levels were all over the place. I tried watching on HD and switched to SD in the hope that it would improve the sound quality .
    It didn't. So having turned up to "11" - I was flattened against the wall by the Presentation announcements at the end.
    BBC prez gets worse and worse.

  • Comment number 30.

    Only got round to watching the first episode today, but knew immediately I was going to be engrossed. Wonderful atmosphere, photography, scenery and acting. Great on-screen chemistry between the leads. Already looking forward to the next episode and really hope there will be another series. A worthy follow-up to Wallander. Well done BBC.

  • Comment number 31.

    As an Italian I thought Zen was ludicrous. A bunch of Brits pretending to be Italian, on the backdrop of a Rome that looks like a car advert. It's just a sequel of cultural sterotypes. The book was brilliant, but the BBC has managed to produce a glam version for British tourists... And have you noticed how all the background artists speak Italian while the leads speak English? It's so funny, "prostitute in the distance" shouts in Italian whilst Zen has a dialogue in English - and they're both supposed to be speaking the same language! Nothing makes sense in this series, the acting is good (ex Bond's girls excepted) but if that is a realistic picture of Italy and its police force I'm a meerkat.

  • Comment number 32.

    Very much enjoying this series so far...Rufus Sewell is very good value but I do keep thinking he sounds a little hoarse at times and is in need of a throat pastille or two (mind you, the character does smoke a lot...) I liked the "zip me up"/ "unzip me" sequence in episode 2 and the sinister "Cabal" seems to promise a bit of Da Vinci Code style mischief etc. However, we were surprised that an Italian cop wouldn't bother to check the contents of Massimo's rather bulky gladstone bag straightaway...Then he just leaves it on his desk and forgets about it (ok, his boss was having a heart attack at the time...) Also when the presumed assassins knock at M's door, and M asks if it is Aurelio, he does not wait for an answer and just opens it...(Ahem, wouldn't it be sensible for him to stay in a hotel room that has a "judas" (spyhole) in the door...if he is supposed to be in fear of being rubbed out etc?) Anyway, nice glimpses of Rome (and the Vittorio Emanuel "typewriter")...
    I look forward to the final episode. No doubt C. Murino (Tania) will be wearing yet another slinky, satin/ unbuttoned-ish blouse to work again...(no wonder her husband is suspicious/jealous type..!) Oh, and that picturesque rent-free apartment in the heart of Rome must have been part of a dream-sequence (lol)
    (PS: I watched some of episode one on iplayer, btw, and with headphones the sound quality is much improved...)

  • Comment number 33.

    I have to agree with Nick P. Wallander worked really well with the consistency of all the characters speaking with English accents. The mixture of English and Italian accents (and I swear I heard people in some scenes speaking in Italian in the background) a bit off-putting. I appreciate that some of the actors may be Italian and an English accent might be tricky.

    On the positive side it all looks beautiful and I'm warming to Aurelio.

  • Comment number 34.

    I never bother to comment on TV programes but I must say how much my familly enjoy Zen. The characters are believable, plots interesting and the chemistry between the two main characters is delightful. I am a big fan of the books and I think Sewell catches the simplicity but cleveness, if pushed, nature of the character beautifully. And Ms Murino acts as well as she looks. The production standards are great and having been to Rome often I just feel at home when I watch. Three is too few, do the rest, please!

  • Comment number 35.

    Zen is very classy stuff, a real breath of fresh air from the plodding British detective series with there back drop of dull, depressing uk cities with persistant rain ! The stories are intelligent and intricate but totally believable. I am so very glad that the accents are British it would have made the programme a comedic farce, it reall does work as it is. Starting to read the books now, i do hope the BBC make all the episodes. Rufus Sewell is completely convincing in the role. Love it.
    I also enjoy that other Italian detective series, Inspector Montalbano, only 2 episodes were shown on BBC4 a while ago, so i have had to buy the series from Australia. This series has a backdrop of Sicily and is in Italian but with English subtitles, but the series is such quality you just go with it...even picked up a bit of Italian this way. The series is based on the books by Andrea Camilleri and i have read the whole series, highly recommended.

  • Comment number 36.

    I have to say that having been to Rome myself and staying in a good Pensione near the Spanish Steps, I recognized quite a few of the Rome views, which I photographed myself from similar viewpoints. So I not only recognised these scenes in the film , but also saw myself some street scenes, such as the one where Aurelio and friend are held up in a street by the arguing couple over a minor car problem , I think. so typical of roman life.
    as for the story line, like any murder film (
    Murder on the Orient Express comes to mind) one expects the plot to be rather convoluted. Yes the accents by the largely British actors are sometimes at odds with the character portrayed, but the action is carried forward with Bravissimo by the cast, and yes I do like Rome Cafe life with all the intrigue in Sotto Voce,(Dialect) that mere Brits are not supposed to understand ! I am so glad that Rufus and Tania eventually got to share a passionate kiss, it looked very real to me
    Robert in Sussex

  • Comment number 37.

    The sound IS very murky, dialogues sometimes incomprehensible because of it.
    I liked the first episode but Cabal was very, very far from the novel - I understand it's impossible to film in St. Peter's but too little of the original story remained.
    Rufus Sewell is great although I have to say, in my "mind's eye", Zen is about 10 yrs. older.
    I have no problem with the languages. Dialogues going on in the background in Italian contribute to the authentic feel, the atmosphere.

  • Comment number 38.

    It's funny, all the comments posted keep confirming what I've already written...
    You say, "It looks so beautiful!" Yes, and THIS is the problem. It looks fake. It IS fake. From the postcard views, to the police offices,to the fact that everyone spends more time drinking capuccino than working, not to mention Murino's clothes (I suppose it distracts from her one-expression acting)... Why can't the British audience be showed the REAL Italy for once? It makes me want to pull my hair. But perhaps to understand exactly what I mean, we need an experiment. Just close your eyes... And imagine a bunch of Italian actors in London, acting the roles of London cops and cockney thugs - in Italian -, calling each other Michael and Sean - with Italian accents -, drinking tea and strolling along Bond Street (because that's what the English do), on the backdrop of a beautiful sunset along the Thames. At some point Sienna Miller pops up - in the role of a police woman - wearing skimpy clothes and speaking Italian with an English accent... Wouldn't such a heap of absurdities make you CRINGE?
    Well, this is Zen.

  • Comment number 39.

    It's a pity that Andy Harries hasn't popped back to answer my question in post 4. Would really love to know how the final episode can link in, when Ratking is book 1 by Dibdin!!

  • Comment number 40.

    ZEN and the art of TV drama enjoyment-mare please
    The UK Wallander is not as good as both Swedish versions, but it is good - ZEN is superb

  • Comment number 41.

    I too found the sound "odd". However the series is compulsive viewing. As I found the plot in Cabal rather difficult to follow, partly due to the sound problem, I have now read the book. I was astonished to find it completely different! This is my first encounter with Zen so I shall now be reading all the books.

  • Comment number 42.

    In general I've enjoyed the first two episodes. Sound quiet, yes, but turning up the TV helps. Mixed accents a bit odd but you get used to them - actually it's the northern English accents that jar for me rather than the Italian ones. Rufus Sewell is brilliant in this part - understated to perfection. And most of the regular support cast are good too... but some of the other acting I felt was a bit like amateur dramatics - the lawyer, for example, in episode 2. Very poor. Episode 1 was far superior - it flowed well; episode 2 was a bit of a let-down by comparison, with some very odd sequences, some mentioned in previous posts. Was the director different? Or the writer? Haven't found out yet... I'll watch the third episode, but am not looking forward to it quite as much as I was to episode 2. Very promising, but could do better!

  • Comment number 43.

    I'm with others on the low volume sound - combined with the Italian female lead's slightly tortured English it necessitates subtitles on and off throughout, which is really not conducive to relaxed viewing. The low-volume problem is too frequently present on BBC programmes these days, particularly on the HD channels.

    I'm also with our Italian poster 'lvp' - this is yet another missed opportunity, BBC.

    Incidentally, does the anyone at the BBC read our responses? Or is there simply an automated remover of potentially interesting links?

  • Comment number 44.

    I've really enjoyed the Zen series! I can't think of anything I don't like about it - Rufus Sewell is brilliant in it, I like the way English accents have been used, and the series has been beautifully shot (thank goodness the director didn't use jerky camera shots which I absoutely hate). Congratulations to all involved. Are we only going to get the 3 episodes?

  • Comment number 45.

    thurs 13 jan. Zen is absolutley brillaint . Hope we are going to see more of it. Rufas Sewell is brilliant nobody could have done it better.

  • Comment number 46.

    Really good TV and 90 minutes is spot on. So far two really well spun tales which nicely reflect our prejudices about corruption in Italy. I had no problem with the accents but two of the four with whom I watched Zen, found this distracting. The casting of Aurelio and Tania is excellent, particularly the very different personalities they appear to portray; I can't predict the twist or irony that will inevitably arise in episode 3. The weakness, the stereotypical baddies on motorbikes or at cafe tables, all bearded! C'mon you can do better!

  • Comment number 47.

    I think its a very well made, beautifully shot series. Great Locations and scenery. The writing and acting is great. I think the casting of Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino is excellent. But like whats been said many times before on here...the accents are just distracting. Because Caterina has an accent it feels like she's almost in another programme. Rufus Sewell, though not attempting an italian accent is good because his english accent doesn't have anything regional about it. A vast majority of the actors do have british regional accents and it doesn't really work. Zen cant question an Italian man with east anglian accent. Wallander seems to work because the actors within that tend not to have such broad accents which can be pin-pointed to a part of the uk. May seem like nit picking, but the best scenes in Zen are when their is more of an italian aspect to the characters

  • Comment number 48.

    Being a Wallander fanatic, I was looking forward to seeing Zen.
    Was I the tiniest bit disappointed? NO, I am hugely excited about it.
    I find myself unable to move from my seat from start to finish and I think it would have cheapened the whole thing if mock accents had been used.
    I adore Rufus Sewell and all the cast. Love it, love it, love it!

  • Comment number 49.

    Great new show for bbc , love the format of 90minutes always leaving me wanting more ...!
    look forward to part 3 and rest of the series , lots to see , lots to look at , lots of places i love to go and see ..., makes me want to take a trip to rome , hope you have huge success with the program look forward to many new story lines with zen and his funny sense of humour ...

  • Comment number 50.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the Italian reader who described this as LUDICROUS, which is being charitable. The acting is terrible -more wooden than the horse at Troy and so full of stereotypes that I didn't know whether this was a comedy or supposed to be serious drama. Clearly rooted in a very middle-class view of Italy as sex, dubious morals and machiavellian intrigue complete with a cardinal. Please.

    Why doesn't the BBC do the right thing and buy in Montalbano or La Squadra or any one of the other excellent Italian produced police dramas? Oh I forgot, decent dubbing is too foreign and most English people can't handle sub-titles.


  • Comment number 51.

    Have enjoyed Zen. Rufus Sewell is a very good actor. The accents were a bit off putting at first.

    Why only three episodes. Just getting into the series, then it disappears. Is there another series to be made.

    Hope you have another Drama to put in it's place.

  • Comment number 52.

    Regarding the surname Zen being Venetian, it is. You have the chapel Zen in venice dedicated to Cardinal Zen. I am often asked about the origins of my Venetian surname as it is quite distint and different. As to Zen, I love the series but was a bit dilllusioned by the various accents. Now at the third episode, the accents do not bother me as the story outstrips anything and has me glued to the seat. With regards to Wallander, I never liked the English version, the original Swedish version with both Krister Henriksson & Fredrik Gunnarsson were far superior. Perhaps the BBC should take a look at the work of David Hewson. Hope Zen continues from strength to strength

  • Comment number 53.

    The lack of any attempt to introduce any Italian accents has really ruined this for me. When Dangerous Liasions was filmed with New York accents, it had the same effect. I want to like Zen - superb cast including the glorious Rufus Sewell (Pillars of the Earth was wonderful, but I can't get past this missing ingredient. Is it really too much to ask (hugely well-paid and much lauded) actors to aspire to an accent?

  • Comment number 54.

    really enjoying Zen. Rufus Sewell is excellent and the pace of the plot unfolding is good. Well done to all!

  • Comment number 55.

    We have really enjoyed Zen, the characterization and the location, the writing and acting - absolutely great. Please can we have more. Rufus Sewell played a great part, gently, quirky and engaging. More, More, More.

  • Comment number 56.

    I think Zen was excellent and I would like to see another series made.

  • Comment number 57.

    This is so bad, just so bad. Having watched tonights episode (15 Jan) I think Rufus Sewell realised this early on and decided to play it for laughs, clever move, it's the only way to go.

  • Comment number 58.

    Love, love, love this series Zen, I have no problems with the accents, better than fake Italian ones and Rufus Sewell was excellent as was the whole cast, I hope there will be more???? My family also enjoy the Wallander series, loving both Scandanavian actors playing the title role, enjoyed the English version but not quite as good as the originals, praying there are more of this show also!!

  • Comment number 59.

    Very clever how this episode (based on book 1) linked in to the other two...very clever, all is forgiven!!! So Mr Harries, the next three books at least please, as soon as possible!

    Cannot understand all this whinging about the accents, the series has been excellent it doesn't matter one jot.

  • Comment number 60.

    I loved every episode and hope to see more of Zen soon! Let's hope the BBC commissions another series. The acting, the setting and the stories were utterly enjoyable.

  • Comment number 61.

    Loved it, including the humour, do hope there is another series.

  • Comment number 62.

    An excellent production. I enjoyed the storyline and the Italian backdrops. A wonderfully refreshing new detective... Lets have more.
    Well done BBC !!!

  • Comment number 63.

    For me Zen has illuminated a bleak January in the north of Scotland. It's escapism of the classiest kind and Rufus Sewell is sublime. Perfectly pitched. Please make another series soon or I'll have to emigrate. Why has this programme had such a low profile? Can't understand why the BBC haven't given it more hype - it's the best thing on TV at the moment.

  • Comment number 64.

    I have viewed all three episodes of Zen, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The scripts and plots are first class. I sincerely hope that there will be a longer series made of this entertaing show... please do not let it die after three shows. I rarely write in to report my views on TV programmes, so this is a special programme to induce me to make a report. I agree with #63 above, RachelMercy. More please!!

  • Comment number 65.

    Are there any plans for more Zen? It seems it's a bit like marmite - people love it or hate it. I love it - it's light and fun. I must admit though I don't get the comparison with Henning Mankell's Wallander. Wallander is of a totally different calibre and complexity. Zen is light-hearted and the beautiful filming and scenery is very uplifting in the middle of winter.

  • Comment number 66.

    At first I was unsure about the un-authentic language/accents and thought it doesn't fit with the surroundings. But within about 5mins I got to the flow of the story and loved it. Well done to the producers and well done to the BBC for believing in the project. Hope there will be more to come.

  • Comment number 67.

    Great Work BBC Zen is the best thing i have seen on t.v. for a long time. All of the three episodes were absolutley brilliant. Rufas Sewell was also absolutley brilliant. Please put us out of our misery and tell us there is going to be another series. Well done to all the cast and the BBC. I just cant wait to see Zen back on our screens with all the original cast of course. Sunday night will not be the same againt. Loved it loved it loved it .

  • Comment number 68.

    just wanted to say that I have thourghly enjoyed the three Zen detective films, Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino are just brilliant, in fact the whole cast were extremly impressive in each of their roles, I was hooked with the very clever plots from start to finish. I really hope that they will make more and do it very quickly.

  • Comment number 69.

    I think it was a fabulous new series and I loved all the episodes. The accents didn't bother me at all and I found they just added to the 'continental' feel of the series. The acting was great and Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino worked well together. I am hoping very much that more episodes will follow as it's so rare to find stylishly filmed TV series with clever plots and convincing acting nowadays.

  • Comment number 70.

    I'm sure that the plot lines were very good, and possibly authentic. But were the story-lines and characterisations helped by the most appalling post production sound I have ever experienced? As an ex sound supervisor, I would have been ashamed to have my name attached to this production. Was it dubbed in a foreign facility by a mixer who didn't understand the language? Or did the production run out of money and the whole thing mixed on an office desktop computer? The results were the same on several receivers. I would have enjoyed the series if only for the pictures, but was forced to turn off episodes 1 & 2 half way through in frustration at the awful sound quality. Look to it Andy Harries - if you're allowed loose on another batch of programmes.

  • Comment number 71.

    Zen made Sunday nights something to look forward to. Thought the series was amazingly good, with good storylines, acting and humour. Very classy and thought Rufus Sewell is perfect for the part. Really hope there is going to be another series soon.

  • Comment number 72.

    Earlier (28) I thought I could get keen on this series despite the appalling sound, but the third episode took the biscuit with its disservice to the genre - and I suspect the books. Totally unconvincing and melodramatic story, little character development, enormous plot holes and mistakes, stereotyped direction, wooden acting, especially from the supporting cast (e.g. the kidnap family). I now hope there are no more. More Montalbano though please - at least with Italian productions it's harder to spot the errors and it has subtitles anyway.

  • Comment number 73.

    Boy, did the Beeb get it right!! I thought it was quite wonderful - are you going to do some more? - I sure hope so.

  • Comment number 74.

    Whole series - absolutely brilliant. More please!!!

  • Comment number 75.

    I really enjoyed Zen, I have not read the books but will do now, the buzz about the accents I find strange, this is a european production and for the actors to try "Dick van Dyke" type Italian would have been worse, all the actors played thier parts well and I am looking forward to more episodes.

  • Comment number 76.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the series, would have been good to here some italian in the background, but love the fact that accents weren't used with the actors. Is there going to be more? I loved the originality and think it will be missed if it does not return. Something new and fresh was what was needed, for someone who does NOT watch soaps and is a little tired of American programmes taking over a touch, although good; it was good to see some european edge getting in the gap.

  • Comment number 77.

    Thank you BBC for this series. Italy is my favourite country, Rufus Sewell who is new to me was gorgeous, and the story lines were very good. I am glad no attempt was made to make the English accents Italian. It would not have been right. Why do some people have a problem with hearing an Italian actress speaking with a heavy accent and then switching to an English accent. After all we are used to hearing different British accents together, and some of them are just as thick as the Italian accents on Zen. I am just sorry it only lasted for 3 episodes. More of Zen, and more of Rufus Sewell please.

  • Comment number 78.

    Good stories, acting, costumes and locations with an excellent blend of drama and humour. I enjoyed seeing a favourite actor, Rufus Sewell, as Zen (and now have a growing appreciation of Ben Miles) in all 3 episodes and look forward to more. Regarding the accents, I was happy with Brannagh, et al, not "doing" Swedish accents in the English Wallander so did not expect cod Italian accents in Zen. Those who want Italian accents, look for Montalbano (2 episodes show on BBC about 2 years ago) an excellent Italian cop series. More Zen and Montalbano please.

  • Comment number 79.

    Zen was a joy to watch. Like many, I am hoping for another perhaps longer series of episodes. We can only hope those in charge at the BBC are listening as Zen gives them a product to rival the best detective drama i.e. Poirot, Joan Hickson's Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders, Morse, Lewis etc to name but a few.

  • Comment number 80.

    I am gutted it's over already so soon - - fantastic. Last night's was a corker. Well done on producing such a great show.

  • Comment number 81.

    Really enjoyed this.

    Not bothered at all about the mix of accents. It seems to me that the accents generally suit the personalities of the characters so I think it's fine as it is.

    To be honest, I'm surprised to see myself write that though as usually accents in films/tv can really annoy me if they don't sound 'right'. E.g. the bloke that played Perseus in that awful Clash of the Titans remake or the Irish accents in Oliver Stone's Alexander (P.S. I do know why they were given Irish accents - but it still sounded awful!)

    Really liked the style of the show and just thought I'd drop in and say I hope there will be more (if it is possible).

  • Comment number 82.

    This was a terrific start to what I hope will be a long-runner. The three programme got better and better, the third was great. Loved AZ as a king of heightened cop superhero, taking the money then leaving it for the nuns as he walks away in shades lighting a cigarette. Ironic, good hearted, sumptuous to look at - and Sewell seemed to find the key' to the character in the third - not too much eyebrow work, just subtle ironic reactions.

    VERY MUCH hoping for more!!!

  • Comment number 83.

    Whoops, no edit facility here. I meant:

    * a kind of heightened 'cop superhero'

  • Comment number 84.

    Having read every book that Michael Dibdin wote, I developed in my mind a personal Zen and was quite anxious that the televised version of these superb stories would present a 'stranger' in this role. Rufus Sewell however is perfect. Italianised English would have been unfortunate and I'm getting used to the slightly higher pitched voice than seemed right. I hope this series is only the beginning

  • Comment number 85.

    Wonderful - I hope we can see more than three programmes

  • Comment number 86.

    As an ex-pat watching this in Italy with my wife (who is Italian) we were curious about this italian set drama. We enjoyed it quite alot. It was strange at first hearing the characters speaking in a native english tongue apart from the beautiful and sexy Murino. We hope more are commissioned.

    Some italians I see have complained about the stereotyping. All I can say is:
    @giudili: Italians do lean against walls even with suits on!

    A lot of Italians smoke so I wasn't suprised to see smoking in abundance.
    Corruption and a favours system is very present in all walks of italian life, it always true that its not what you know but who you know.
    I know a few people in Rome that work in government and they all live in a strange parallel world much like that of the goverment minister and his aid.
    The cabal epsiode did remind me of Umberto Eco, and yes they do exist. Google P2 and even P3.

    @LVP: Italians do spend a lot of time on coffee breaks, lunch instead of working.

    @chemokine: La Squadra? Please, no. Nearly as bad a La Piovra. Italian TV is the pits. If ever there was a nation that can't handle subtitles its the italian public. When did you ever see an foreign film at the cinema on general release or on prime time tv in Italy with subtitles? There is a whole industry in Italy that dubs films.

  • Comment number 87.

    Zen has been a great series, such alaid back character, brilliantly acted, best detective series in a long while. Loved the location.

  • Comment number 88.

    Really enjoyed the show! Hope a new series comes soon.

  • Comment number 89.

    Am watching this again on iPlayer right now...and what a delight it is!
    This is the most engaging yet witty drama we have seen in such a long time.
    Thank you for bringing this to reality and please, please commission more!

  • Comment number 90.

    I am distraught that only 3 episodes have been made. Fortunately had the good sense to record them on my vision box and have now got them running on a loop. No problem with the sound, but getting it through a sound system rather than the tv. Got used to the multi-accent approach after 10 mins of first episode and haven't looked back. It is such a joy and priviledge to see Rufus Sewell working his magic on either stage or screen and his casting as Zen was inspired - thank you Mr. Harries (and thank god for Tom Stoppard!). This short, but brilliant series has brighten what has been, so far, a pretty horrid winter, both in terms of the weather and the quality of tv on offer. The heady mix of Rufus Sewell, Caterina Murino, Italian style and Rome has made my head spin. Please let us have some more Zen before I have to go into rehab for withdrawal symptoms.

  • Comment number 91.

    Brilliant! Really enjoyed this show, was gutted when i found out there was only three episodes. Rufus Sewell brilliant as Zen! Hope to see some more soon.

  • Comment number 92.

    Thanks for a great show. As a jaded old hack I really enjoyed it!
    We've been discussing it at work, and all agree a great production. We all thought the sound quality was a bit iffy though? Would love to see more, would pay double the license fee to see them.

  • Comment number 93.

    Having read all of the wonderful Zen books - except the last one, am saving that - since the first one was published and re-read some of them with joy - just want to say as a real fan, I also love the TV version. Rufus Sewell is not as raddled as the Zen I imagine but is just great as an re-interpretation of the character. This forty something just wants more please.

  • Comment number 94.

    I found the Zen series very entertaining while being very paired down versions of the first three novels. I noted that several reviewers commented on the ravishing Roman backdrop and wonder if Mr Harries had been influenced by Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Conformist. There are to my mind at least two very direct references. Am I right ?

  • Comment number 95.

    I am a great fan of the Italian detective of which Zen is only one. There is the bumbling Marshal Guarnaccia of Florence by Magdalen Nabb, the sophisticated Commissario Guido Brunetti of beautiful Venice by Donna Leon and the very funny Inspector Salvo Montalbano of Sicily by Andrea Camilleri.
    I would like to see the TV version keep a little closer to the books. Rufus Sewell was excellent as Zen but there was no Aldo Moro back story which would have set the scene and the books could have been done in order.
    Let’s hope Zen is just the beginning of the BBC’s involvement in this genre.

  • Comment number 96.

    I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of pleas for more of these excellent dramas - how clever of you to leave us begging for more. I have just watched the last of the current trio on i player, and was bitterly disappointed to see there were no more coming up. The casting of Rufus Sewell was a surprising choice for those of us who thought we knew Zen from the books, but a stroke of genius - I thought his quirky, slightly deadpan humorous take on the character was brilliant, and the accents were delightful - not a problem at all. More please - at least by next winter. The Roman setting means these are perfect winter evening escapism. And thank you for the three we've already got!

  • Comment number 97.

    I sat down to watch Zen, what do I find, Terry Wogan. What a disappointment. Bring back Zen.

  • Comment number 98.

    Just one more vote of congratulations and thanks. Wonderful series... More please!

  • Comment number 99.

    I find these bloggs very impersonal, does the blogger ever return to read the comments?

  • Comment number 100.

    Reading all the comments so far has given me ( mostly) a real glow of pride and satisfaction that so many of you have enjoyed the shows. Its always tricky trying to get all the elements right in the first series and its great to get such a strong and positive reaction. Thank you for all your kind comments. They are much appreciated.

    But - as the executive producer of the show - let me try and anwser some of the questions that have arisen.

    Why for example did we start with Vendetta and end the trilogy with Ratking when Ratking was the first book in the Michael Dibdin series to be published.

    The anwser is this. The books are actually set in many different parts of italy but its impossible to film a TV series like this ( way too expensive and unmanageable) so you have to have find a base where the majority of filming can take place. Rome made sense and the adapter Simon Burke - who lives in Italy by the way - and myself felt that Vendetta was a stronger story than Ratking and better suited to establishing not just the key locations in Rome ( such as the police HQ ,Zen's apartment etc ) but also better suited to introduce all the regular characters that we had agreed on.

    The accents is obviously a bit of talking point and deserves some explanation. Wallander of course was a simple premise - when we embarked on this as a series we set out to make a TV version of a translated novel. We decided that in this "world " - everyone speaks english and they do so - as much as possible - without strong accents. But all local signage,TV/radio reporting, newspapers etc would be in Swedish. But Zen was a more complex premise to work through. The books were written in english - they were not translated. Michael Dibdin loved italy - lived mostly in italy - truely understood the place and wrote with deep passion and understanding about its people and culture BUT he is English! So the dialogue for Zen was always going to be english and we did not want our actors to do "faux ' italian accents . Frankly I think this is silly and patronising and is a throwback to movies and TV from a bygone era - mostly bad second world war movies !

    However we did need to find some roles for some major Italian actors as part of the funding of the show and I was very keen to use Italian actors in the lead female roles. It seemed an interesting and exciting proposition to cast the leading ladies from Italy. I am sure many of you would agree that Caterina is not just a great actress but also that she is distinctly mediterranean I genuinely felt it would add to the show - add to its authenticity - add to its flavour and add to its contemporary european flavour. The BBC were very supportive in this even though the logic is unusual. Why do british actors play italians and speak in perfect rp english yet the leading female roles are spoken by italian actors speaking english with strong accents. There is no real anwser to this - it is as it is. Its an odd world its true BUT i think it works - and most of you agree that after a few minutes of watching the programme you accept this world and you enjoy it accordingly. It is bold and it does break new ground having a prime time BBC 1 show with european actors in lead positions. Trust me no one wants to make a euro pudding - but we do need to embrace other european countries television ambitions and their stars if we want to push the production values and create english speaking international TV with large budgets .Its part of the modern world.

    There have been some comments about the sound of the show. i am really disappointed if you felt the music mix was too high and the voices mixed too low.I am very conscious of this and i do prefer less music and more clear sound . i am sorry if you felt this to be the case in one or two of the films - i think it did vary a little bit.

    The future ? Well your support is great and the reviews have been equally good and we are all very keen to shoot a new series. We are already developing the scripts and planning to make it in the sumer. Thanks very much for your interest and all your comments.

    If theres more I will return and do my best to respond to them.


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