I’m trying not to gush. But is falling in love ever sensible? That’s the dilemma I have in explaining my ongoing crush on the lovely, intriguing, multilayered, and ultimately satisfying Swedish series known in the U.S. as The Restaurant (Vår tid är nu in Swedish, which translates as Our Time Is Now).
Comparisons to Downton Abbey abound, giving a sense of The Restaurant’s compelling story, fascinating characters, and up-and-down, rags-with-riches love story.
Let’s talk first about what a delightful thing it is to watch a drama set in Sweden in the years 1945 to 1968. To say that most Americans are ignorant of Swedish history and culture is obvious. So to be dropped into a spontaneous street celebration in neutral Sweden at the end of World War II is a significant leap in cultural references. Who knew there were so many Swedish songs that “everyone knows”?
With a commercial restaurant at its center, the story features the personal dramas of the owner’s family and staff, all in the context of social change. These episodes echo the same events in U.S. culture, but seeing them through a Swedish lens is both refreshing and illuminating.
The show is not without concerning elements, such as the resistance of the main characters to aging, even though their children grow up and move away. In addition, issues of homosexuality are fraught with shame, but that is simply an accurate portrayal of the times. And characters that you originally think are the good guys mysteriously degrade before your eyes.
It was hard not to make this whole review a paean to lead actress Hedda Stiernstedt. Playing the role of Nina, the restaurant owner’s daughter, Stiernstedt is the most believable cryer in the history of film, convincingly depicting deeply emotional states. If you are not in love with Nina by the end of the series, and even more enamored with the love story, you may need a heart transplant.
Don’t miss it. You’re going to thank me on this one. If you can, watch Season 4 after Season 1 (it’s an extra season, but it interleaves chronologically between 1 and 2).
Available on Amazon Prime, with subtitles
Paul Stokstad is the Alumni Director at MIU and shares writing at Stokstad.com.