Van der Valk

1972 - United Kingdom

British made detective series starring Barry Foster in the title role as Dutch detective Commissaris Piet Van der Valk. The series was based on the novels of Nicolas Freeling (the first of which was published in 1962) but this was not the detective's first screen outing, having first appeared in a 1968 British made b-movie entitled Amsterdam Affair featuring German actor Wolfgang Kieling in the main role.

Following the TV series debut in 1972 a Dutch language version was made by Filmking in 1973, Because of the Cats was a Dutch/Belgian co-production starring British actor Bryan Marshall and there was also a Franco-German series of made-for-TV movies starring Frank Finlay: Van der Valk und das Madchen (1972), Van der Valk und die Reichen (1973), and Pas de frontieres pour l'inspecteur: Le bouc emissaire (1975). But it is Barry Foster's portrayal which is best remembered as the moody blond, curly haired detective who works for the local CID.

Frank Finlay as Van der Valk

Also memorable was the beautifully filmed extensive Amsterdam location shots which acted as a backdrop for the investigation of such gritty cases of drugs, prostitution and murder. The characters and atmosphere were taken from the original novels, but not the exact plots. After an initial two-year run (6 episodes in 1972 and 7 episodes in 1973) the series disappeared from our screens for four years returning in 1977 in a longer, twelve-episode, third series made by Thames Television's subsidiary, Euston Films.

The format was revived once again towards the end of Thames' life as a part of the ITV network, with four two-hour episodes of the fourth series in January and February 1991, and the fifth series three two-hour episodes in February 1992 in a longer two-hour format.

In the first two series, Van der Valk worked with his naïve assistant, Inspecteur Johnny Kroon (played by Michael Latimer), and his superior, Hoofd-commissaris Samson. As the show progressed, the fourth and fifth series portrayed a more senior Van der Valk and introduced his son, Wim, who was also an Amsterdam detective. Different actors portrayed key characters. Samson was played by three actors: Martin Wyldeck (two episodes in 1972), Nigel Stock (12 episodes in 1977), and Ronald Hines (during the revival in 1991–92). Van der Valk’s French wife, Arlette, was also portrayed by three actresses: Susan Travers initially, Joanna Dunham for the third series, and finally Meg Davies during the revival. Other notable actors included Sydney Tafler as Hoofd-commissaris Halsbeek, and Alan Haines and Dave Carter, who played uniformed officers Mertens and Stribos. In the revival, Richard Huw took on the role of Van der Valk’s son, Wim, and Natasha Pyne played his secretary, Janet.

The series signature tune, Eye Level, played by the Simon Park Orchestra, reached number one in the UK singles charts in 1973.

Van der Valk

In 2020, a new adaptation reached our screens. The reboot, produced by Company Pictures, NL Film, ARD Degeto, and PBS, with All3Media as international distributor, was created and written by Chris Murray, with Marc Warren (Hustle) as a more streetwise detective, in the lead role. Murray reflected on the original 70s series which he remembered (he’s old enough to remember it) as being very much 'of its time', but also as being quite an edgy series. "It was not long after The Sweeney had come out, and it [Van der Valk] was the first international UK detective.” But he needed to bring it up to date. “For a 21st century audience, we’re quite familiar with Amsterdam, we needed to modernize the stories and find things that resonated with a contemporary audience." In this series Van der Valk and his team are immersed in the worlds of art, politics, addiction, mysticism and the fashion industry.

Continuity with the original series is not preserved in the remake, which introduces revised and new characters as well as new storylines. Van der Valk investigates challenging cases with his fiercely competent right-hand woman Lucienne Hassell (Maimie McCoy The Musketeers and All Creatures Great and Small (replacing Inspector Johnny Kroon)) and colleagues in the National Police Force's major crimes division. The cast also includes Emma Fielding (Sanditon) as Julia Dahlman, Van der Valk’s incorruptible but indulgent boss, Darrell D’Silva, (Game of Thrones) takes on the character of the team’s hard-living, virtuoso pathologist, Hendrik Davie. Luke Allen-Gale (Dominion) is scruffy sergeant Brad de Vries, Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Jericho) is the brainy Job Cloovers, Azan Ahmed (Hope Street) is impulsive Eddie Suleman and Django Chan-Reeves (The End of the F***ing World) is tech whiz Citra Li.

Van der Valk

In this remake, Piet is unmarried. Chris Murray explained in interview; "We knew what we wanted to achieve in series one, in terms of the set up - a little bit of a backstory with Van der Valk, establishing that he was carrying a burden, the weight of the world on his shoulders. By the end of Series 1, we revealed that he lost the love of his life previously – in Series 2, we wanted to pick up from that, we wanted to learn from that."

Van der Valk’s appeal lies in his unapologetic nature, comfort in his own skin, and instinctive approach to solving crimes. He embodies the spirit of Amsterdam, making him relatable and intriguing for viewers. Whether you prefer the classic or the reboot, both versions offer a captivating glimpse into the Dutch detective’s world.

Published on May 16th, 2024. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.

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