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

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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.

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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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Stop Press! BBC Four announces autumn Scandi dramas: Beck, The Bridge and Arne Dahl

UPDATES: The first episode of Beck aired on Saturday 12 September at 9pm on BBC4. My review of ‘Buried Alive’ (no major spoilers) is available here.

Beck has now finished. Arne Dahl begins on Saturday, 17. October at 9.00.

The start date for The Bridge 3 is Saturday 21. November (9pm; double episode). Mrs P blog post and trailer available here.

Series 2 of The Young Montalbano starts on Saturday 2. January 2016. More info available here.

                                                                   ************

BBC Four’s Channel Editor Cassian Harrison made some exciting crime drama announcements at the Edinburgh TV festival today. Below is an extract from the BBC4 press release:

>> BBC Four brings viewers an autumn of gripping Scandinavian drama with the return of the hugely popular The Bridge (the final episode of the last series was enjoyed by over 1.5m viewers) and Arne Dahl, as well as the launch of new crime thriller Beck.

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Beck: Based on the characters of the hugely popular Martin Beck detective series of novels by Swedish husband-and-wife writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Beck sees the much-loved detective brought to life on the small screen. Following the fortunes of enigmatic and extremely methodical detective Martin Beck and his partner, the irascible, impulsive Gunvald Larsson, Beck is arguably the originator of what has become known as Scandinavian crime: the good-cop, bad-cop partnership which went on to form the modern crime-fighting blueprint.

The brand-new feature-length films see detective Martin Beck investigating the shocking death of a young woman found strangled in a hotel room, a gangster kingpin executed by a sniper in front of his family, a terrorist attack and a suspicious hospital death which sourly turns out to be premeditated murder. It’s an intricate web of characters and lies. Think again. The killer is never who you expect it to be.

Starring Peter Haber (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as Beck and Mikael Persbrandt (The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug) as Larsson, the drama’s combination of complex woven details of police detection and beautifully realised characters combined with twisting, masterful storylines has ensured that the award-winning series won fans and acclaim from around the world.

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The Bridge 3: When Helle Anker, the founder of the first gender-neutral kindergarten in Copenhagen and a high-profile debater on gender issues, is found murdered in Sweden, the Danish and Swedish police are compelled to join forces once more for a third series of The Bridge. The brutal killing turns out to be only the first in a series of gruesome crimes, strung together in a case which involves Saga Norén of the Malmo Police personally and which will change her forever. A powerful, intriguing and unpredictable tale of crime, played out by fascinating and complex characters, the new season will revolve around the concept and structures of family – new, old, deviant, classical, constructive and destructive. At its heart, The Bridge carries a central theme of personal responsibility and its consequences.

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Arne DahlThe Swedish crime drama returns with five new stories. The A Unit has been disbanded for the past two years. When a wave of brutal murders hits Polish nurses in Sweden, the National Police see their chance to reinstate the The A Unit, and Kerstin Holm, previously a member of the team, is assigned to lead them.

We meet a chastened team of individuals who have allowed the all-consuming nature of their police work to eat away at their private lives. Demands and expectations have never been higher and a cold wind blows through the corridors at the National Police head-quarters. Can Kerstin get the unit to deliver, or is this new effort a misguided attempt by a paranoid police force in a time of increasingly unusual and refined criminal activity?

It is produced by Filmlance International AB in co-production with Sveriges Television and ZDF Germany, written by Erik Ahrnbom, Linn Gottfridsson, Peter Emanuel Falck and Fredrik Agetoft, adapted from the novels by Arne Dahl.<<

This is all very fitting on the day that sees the UK publication of the fourth in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, authored by David Lagerkranz (it’s out in the US on 1st September). Reviews appear to be pretty favourable thus far, as this example by The Telegraph‘s Jake Kerridge shows. So glad to see Salander living to fight another day.

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