Review of ‘Beck’ episode ‘Buried Alive’ (Levande begravd) on BBC4

Beck solo

Peter Haber as the iconic Swedish detective Martin Beck

Viewers in the UK were treated to the Swedish crime drama Beck for the first time this evening on BBC4. This highly regarded series, starring Peter Haber and Mikael Persbrandt as Inspector Martin Beck and Detective Gunvald Larsson, has been running since 1997 and draws on characters from Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s seminal ‘Martin Beck’ novels. The latter were published between 1965 and 1975 and are recognised as the forerunners to Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ novels and countless other Scandi police procedurals foregrounding social issues.

A total of twenty-six Beck films were made between 1997 and 2010, with a new set of dramas airing in Scandinavia at the beginning of 2015. The episode we saw tonight – ‘Buried Alive’ (Levande begravd– is number 26 from 2010. My review is below. It avoids major spoilers, but if you’d rather watch first then look away now.

Beck_–_Levande_begravd dvd

The first thing to note about Beck is that it’s very different in tone to BBC4’s previous crime drama, the Italian Young Montalbano (sunshine, pasta and the odd murder).

Yes, fasten your seatbelts – this is Scandi Noir with a capital N.

While ‘Buried Alive’ does contain some moments of humour (look out for the guest appearance of a cucumber), the dominant atmosphere is dark, violent and extremely scary. The opening scene sets the tone for the whole episode: public prosecutor Annika Runfelt is shown being abducted late at night; her body is found the following morning in a coffin that has been buried in the sandpit of a children’s playground. The main suspect is the leader of a notorious motorcycle gang, but it soon becomes clear that the solution is going to be far more complicated…

While the plot contained elements I’m not usually keen on (high levels of violence, a borderline sadistic focus on the suffering of the victims and a fair old dollop of melodrama), it was kept grounded by the portrayal of the police team’s methodical investigation and by the level-headed, intelligent presence of Inspector Beck. The dynamic between him and his police colleagues Gunvald Larsson (tough guy), Lena Klingström (experienced and practical) and Oskar Bergman (nervous rookie) was very well-drawn, and it’s this that will bring me back next week rather than the plot, which wore its original ‘season finale thriller’ status rather too obviously for my liking. I’m hoping that the next episode will be a little calmer and closer to the police procedural roots of the Beck novels.

Nonetheless, a promising start, not least because one of the key bits of investigation was carried out in a bookshop. I also found myself rooting strongly for Beck after less than an hour and a half of his company, which is a very good sign, given that we are joining the series such a long way in.

Next week’s episode is called ‘Room 302’ (Rum 302). In it, Beck’s team is called to investigate the murder of a teenage girl in Room 302 of Hotel Stureplan in Stockholm. This episode is the first of the Beck dramas that aired at the beginning of 2015 (number 27 overall).

UPDATE: I’ve just watched the ‘Room 302’ and it was excellent. Made five years after ‘Buried Alive’, it feels like a reboot that properly honours the police procedural roots of the novels. The storyline is plausible and nuanced, and both Beck and Larsson get a real chance to shine – great acting all round. Good to see and I look forward to the other episodes very much.

Beck rum 302

For those interested in the original ‘Martin Beck’ novels, there are further details over at Crime Fiction Lover. Radio 4 also dramatised the series a little while back (hopefully these will be repeated soon). You can hear short clips over on the BBC Radio 4 website.

Please be aware that there are a few (minor) spoilers in the comments below 🙂

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31 thoughts on “Review of ‘Beck’ episode ‘Buried Alive’ (Levande begravd) on BBC4

  1. Pingback: Stop Press! BBC Four announces autumn Scandi dramas: Beck, The Bridge and Arne Dahl | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

  2. Promising start is a good description, thought they got the two main characters from the books right, Larsson has always been my favorite. It’s a pity we can’t see some of the earlier episodes.
    will certainly be watching next week.

    • Hi Margot – I read somewhere that the series has been shown on American TV in the past, but I’m guessing not necessarily on a mainstream channel. It will be interesting to see next week’s episode – hopefully it’ll not be quite as scary/gory and have a bit more sleuthing up front.

  3. I’ve read several of the Martin Beck books including ‘Roseanna’ and ‘The Laughing Policeman’, and I’m really glad to see the stories made for TV. I was on the edge of my seat with last nights episode. I (like Beck) am rather claustrophobic, and get jittery when I have to close a loo door, let alone be nailed down in a coffin. I’ve seen Peter Haber before, I think possibly in one of the Wallander’s, and I agree he makes an excellent Martin Beck. If the rest are as good as ‘Buried Alive’, I’ll be really pleased. I also would like to see the earlier episodes too. It’s a pity BBC4 couldn’t have shown them right from the beginning, but then what do we know!

    • I wasn’t expecting it to be so relentlessly scary, Kathy! It’s a running gag in our house that I’m rubbish at watching ‘mild peril’, let alone ‘extreme peril’, so there was a far bit of hiding behind a cushion.

      In relation to the earlier episodes – I wouldn’t be surprised if some do get shown in the future (and I wonder if the very first ones were based on the plotlines in the original novels). But yes, it would be better to see them in order if possible. They are out on DVD (though I need to check if they are subtitled in English).

  4. I really enjoyed last night’s episode too. Wasn’t sure at first but by a third of the way in i was hooked. I love the dynamics of the team and am glad Oskar found his bottle when he needed it 😉 (and that what was going to happen wasn’t too heavily signposted.) Overall, very welcome and wish too they had started at the beginning. Will now pop over to Crime Fiction Lover to check out the books 🙂

  5. PS: Anyone? How did the killer get into Beck’s flat? Are we supposed to assume he just did because they’d taken away the police protection? Oh yes, and was his tall neighbour looking for the spanner just a red herring – a sort of device to build tension? Did I simply miss some things or am i looking for answers were they are none? Cheers. Great review, by the way , MrsP, and glad you liked it too 🙂

    • I’ve just run through the recording again Marianne, and saw Beck’s lounge room curtains open and flapping away in the breeze. So he could have come in over the balcony but that appears to be a bit shonky. I did notice, that when Beck’s neighbour comes into his flat, he doesn’t shut the front door. Also Beck’s leaves his neighbour in the lounge room alone, whilst he fetches his tool box. So the killer could’ve sneaked in behind them both. Now whether his neighbour is in cahoots with the killer (wouldn’t have thought so), or it was pure chance that he was there just at the right moment is something we’ll have to ponder on I think……. Why do the front doors in Scandinavia always open outwards I wonder. Anybody any idea?

      • Of course, that make sense, Kathy P! Thanks! Yes, i wondered that about the doors too. Have sent a message to my daughter-in-law-to-be (who is Swedish) to see if she can enlighten us. Watch this space ;o)

  6. OMG! That’s what you call a thriller! Thank goodness for pause TV as needed to put the kettle on and didn’t want to leave the room! You and me are in the same wavelength Mrs P! Bring it on!!👍

  7. Great review Mrs P. – I haven’t shouted at my T.V in quite a while (I stopped watching XFactor back in 07!) – This ‘opener’ had everything I expect of Nordic drama. Wow! I was hooked and the time sadly flew past. So much was put into it and I loved every minute, even letting out a little ‘Whoa!” (sort of a jump). Next time Mrs P. I shall klaxxon you 30mins prior to start!

    • Glad you enjoyed, Glenn. Yes, there were an unbelievable amount of jump-scares – gets the circulation going at least! Will stand by for the klaxon next week…

  8. I missed this screening, to my great annoyance – I had;t realised though that these were the later episodes – so none are taken from the original books, then? Thanks as ever Mrs. P

    • Hi Cavershamragu – yes, these are very much the latest episodes. I’ve checked out the earlier ones in the series and it doesn’t look to me like any of them are based on the plots of the original novels. However, there are some earlier film adaptations that tried to be more faithful (e.g. some with Gösta Ekman in the 1990s).

      Hope you get the chance to catch up. Will be interested to hear what you think!

  9. A quick update regards doors opening outwards in Sweden: my Swedish daughter-in-law-to-be says she hasn’t ever thought about it before – ha ha ha! BUT she says it could be because of the huge amounts of snow they get in winter ie: an outward opening door means snow is pushed away from the door rather than an inward door which would let the snow melt/fall into the house. And/or outward opening door also mean more room inside a small hall space. If anyone has any other reasons love to hear them 🙂

    • Hello Eddie – I don’t think that makes you dim: there were a lot of suspects and quite a few red herrings along the way! I don’t want to say who I think the perpetrator was, as I don’t want to risk blog readers seeing a big spoiler! If you want to email me directly, I’m happy to let you know my thoughts (mrspeabody68[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk)…

  10. I am always interested to read your reviews, but often a bit glum to see what I am missing by living over here in Canada. I usually hope they will eventually come out on dvd, but alas, by the time they do, I’ve forgotten them and am wishing for the latest book or show you are talking about…not your fault of course. I did enjoy the original Martin Beck series of books 🙂

    • Alas, Quimper Hitty! Sorry to hear about the glumness… Perhaps a little search of the archives to see if some earlier gems are now out on DVD?

      The TV Beck is quite a long way from the original books in any case. Quite fancy digging out an earlier adaptation at some point…

  11. (Bit of a spoiler) Anyone know why PL (who was not the killer) was filmed in the background of crime scenes? About the only clue they had, apart from the black van, which they were slow to investigate. Still great fun to watch – and v scary

  12. Could the Swedes design their doors to open outwards for safety reasons? If there were to be a fire and you have a party of 30 in your flat, it is very hard to open a door inwards so you can all escape if there is a panic-stricken horde pushing to escape the smoke and flames. Just a thought. Most (all?) public buildings in UK open outward, presumably for that reason. Also, harder for 5am door smashes by polis trying to get you!

  13. Pingback: Beck – ‘On the Box’ – Dead Pixel Test

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