The latest Swedish crime series to hit BBC4 is based on a classic series of books
★★★½ BBC4, starts Saturday, 12 September, 9pm
BECK is the latest Scandi-noir series to fill BBC4’s Saturday-night slot. Since The Killing alerted the channel’s viewers to the distinctive mood and quality of Nordic TV dramas five years ago now, a new audience has been cultivated for death with subtitles in a cold climate.
Martin Beck is, of course, the character featured in the groundbreaking Swedish crime novels written by husband-and-wife Marxists Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö back in the 1960s. These two crime-writing pioneers wrote a superb series of novels that often delved into society’s sore points, such as police corruption, while following Beck’s investigations.
The books are well worth exploring and this new series, set in the present day, is a polished adaptation, with Peter Haber – who starred in the Swedish version of The Girl with Dragon Tattoo – playing Beck. Mikael Persbrandt co-stars as Beck’s rough, tough colleague Larsson, a guy who, on taking out a biker in an alley fight, says, ‘Sometimes you have to make your mark.’
Beck’s on the trail of a serial killer
The first story, Buried Alive, starts with the discovery by a child of a crate buried in her playground’s sandpit. Her mother thinks she can hear a noise from inside and Beck and Larsson are soon on the scene. The crate contains the body of a prosecutor who’s been investigating a criminal biker gang.
The bikers are suspected, but when the gang’s leader is then also found dead in a similar crate, the detectives have to think outside the box, as it were.
So, how does the series measure up? It’s a pretty standard police procedural, similar to many series made in the UK.
It’s not as atmospheric and fresh as The Killing or The Bridge, the characters here being fairly routine. But the stories are intelligent and the cases offbeat and chilling enough keep Saturday-night Nordic fans gripped.
• See also… BBC4’s Nordic autumn preview