The feature-length episodes of Beck are based on the popular novels by Mai Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö written in the 1960s and have been broadcast in Sweden since 1997, beginning as films in their own right rather than as a TV series. BBC4’s Saturday night foreign-noir slot caught up with Beck this year by showing episodes 26 to 30, which are collected on this 3-disc volume, supplied with English sub-titles.
The series follows the crime investigations of Martin Beck (Peter Haber) who leads a homicide squad based in Stockholm. Beck is methodical, thoughtful, introverted and married to his job; when asked to list three people he has regular contact with beyond work, he can only think of two relatives and his eccentric neighbour, Grannen. Given the often gruesome crimes and serious social issues explored by Beck, Grannen (Ingvar Hirdwall) provides some welcome comic relief. Like Mrs Tishell in Doc Martin, Grannen always wears a neck brace and when he catches sight of Beck he’s keen to share his odd-ball stories along with a swig of alcohol.
Beck is assisted by Gunvald Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt), who is an impetuous polar-opposite to him. Gunvald likes taking risks and being an action man, then there is the younger Oskar Bergman (Mans Nathanaelson) who is learning the ropes, much like Lewis in Inspector Morse.
Although this starts with Episode 26, Buried Alive, it is not difficult to follow the story and come to grips with the world of Beck. In this, his team deals with a serial killer who makes coffins for his victims and buries them alive, and it gets more chilling when Beck becomes the centre of the murderer’s attention.
The opening sequence of Episode 29, The Invasion, has two boys with rifles, wearing horror alien masks, playing in a forest when they see the hands of a corpse poking out of the ground. Rather than aliens from outer space, this episode takes a look at the attitudes toward foreign immigrants and migrants - very appropriately, given that Sweden’s open-door policy has prompted fears of immigrant-related crimes, unemployment and lack of integration. When another person is found murdered at his workplace, an Islamist terror group is suspected of being responsible. During their investigation they come across those who are helping illegal immigrants, those that exploit them as cheap labour and people who are prejudiced against them. Even the gung-ho Gunvald, who rejoices in driving a police car at high speed to hospital when Oskar’s wife goes into labour, is contemptuous of a racist man whom he knocks down and shoots at him with the man’s own (illegal) gun.
The combination of characters and thoughtful storylines that touch on contemporary issues, with a fair dash of red herrings, makes for a gripping series that makes it almost equal to the benchmark of all nordic-noir, Wallander. Certainly makes us want to see more of Beck, and we hope the earlier or future episodes will make their appearance on BBC4 and disc - though the earlier stories will have to be in Volumes numbered starting at minus 1!
BECK THE SERIES: VOLUME 1 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: PETER HABER, MIKAEL PERSBRANDT, MANS NATHANAELSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW