Review of the new new DVD volume of Beck is over on Flickering Myth now…
The contrast between the calm and studious internal world of celebrated Swedish detective Martin Beck and the drama of murderous crime is brought to the screen in fine style in these five feature-length episodes.
Comprising the last episode from season four (Buried Alive – a horror tinged tale that received a Swedish theatrical release in 2009) and four from the most recent series, this collection can either serve as a good introduction to the show or a reminder as to just why it has been so popular.
The reason why it has done so well is possibly down to its classic approach to the cop show format. It avoids gimmickry, instead concentrating on the twists of the stories and the conflicting personalities of the main players. The soberly calculating Beck (Peter Haber) and his rough-house colleague Gunvald Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt) perfectly sum up the good cop/bad cop routine, and it is their interplay and occasionally problematic relationship that is the centrepiece of the stories.
The haunted sadness behind Beck’s eyes tell of a character who has a tired understanding that the world is a dark and unforgiving place. Peter Haber brings a level of introspective hurt to the quietly sensitive Beck. On the basis of these stories, he is a fundamentally honest man. Larsson, a tough guy with an old-fashioned approach to everything from cultural politics to investigation techniques, takes care of the action sequences that break up the tension.
The episodes that bookend this release are the most effective and disturbing. Buried Alive and The Hospital Murders both take a horror influence that works well against the sombre backdrop of the pale hued Stockholm. Aside from the well constructed story-lines – which aren’t really whodunnits, more about how Beck will get to the truth – the show is really concerned about growing older on your own.
Beck does have friends and a politely flirtatious relationship with the hospital’s lead medic, but the most striking scenes are often the ones involving him and his daughter (Rebecka Hemse). Despite familial affection and love, the pair find it difficult to understand each other or develop much of a common bond. Scenes between Beck and his retired luxury drink loving neighbour (Ingvar Hirdwall) also highlight the sense of dislocation that the lead character seems to have for the outside world.
A classic detective show and a solid example of how the crime genre can explore a range of topics (organised crime, international terrorism, euthanasia), not least what it’s like to age in a world you feel you no longer understand.
Beck The Series – Volume 1 is out now on Arrow Films
My review of the conspiracy thriller Australian TV series The Code is over at Flickering Myth and appears below…
The vast expanse of the Australian outback certainly looks like a beautiful and mystical place. From the spiritual majesty of Peter Weir’s Walkabout (1971) to the raw bestial horror of Wolf Creek (2005) and countless others, the cinema screen has striven to capture the mysterious depths and contours of this physically and psychically challenging landscape.
The Code (shown on BBC4 in the UK) is a TV show hoping to bring some of this largely cinematic vision to the small screen. And it succeeds, layering believable characterisation and motivation along with a build up of tension and dread as it progresses through its ‘who’s more corrupt than who?’ storyline
This form of who and whydunnit creates the perfect atmosphere to explore a range of different subjects. Following Canberra based online journalist Ned Banks (Spielman) and his computer hacker brother Jesse (Zukerman) as they try to find out just why they’ve been sent a video of a road accident deep in the outback, the story keeps the viewer gripped with tried and tested TV methods. It’s slick, it’s exciting and each 55 minute episode ends with an artfully produced cliff-hanger…
As the two brothers delve deeper into the mystery, aided and abetted by outback school teacher Alex (Lucy Lawless – yes, that Lucy Lawless of Xena and Spartacus fame), the contrasts between the wild almost unearthly (to European eyes at least) landscape of the outback and the seats of power in the Canberra government become ever more stark.
Much of this intrigue is captured though the use of smartphones and computers, and the show’s production takes a striking graphical approach to bringing the IT element out. As a geek-pleasing construct, the use of a ‘screen within a screen’ approach, showing off exactly what the tech wizards (mostly the Asperger’s Jesse) are up to online is a critical device. This devotion to top-level tech marks out the show as a world away from the 80’s and 90’s face of Oz Tv which largely came to these shores in the shape of Ramsey Street and Summer Bay.
The attention given to Jesse’s condition and the ability to largely get it right is also a success-story for the show. Rarely have forms of autism been shown in a realistic way in the popular media, and hopefully this sensitive and intelligent portrayal marks an overall maturing of the medium. After all, if the Scandinavians can get it right, why not the Australians?
All in all then, The Code provides plenty of food for thought both in sociological and political terms. An excellent modern thriller series – hopefully more will follow.
My review of series 1 and 2 of the Danish/Swedish series The Bridge (Bron/Broen) is over at Flickering Myth and appears below…
Offering up countless whodunits and whydunits straight to the audience, The Bridge is amongst the best of the recent influx of Nordic (or any kind) crime dramas. Simply put, the writing is superlative, gradually edging its way into our thoughts and ideas. Starting each episode with the view of the Øresund Bridge connecting Copenhagen and Malmo, the intricately constructed show brings the perfect combination of high powered ideas and shock tactics to keep everyone guessing.
All of the cast are terrific, although the two leads are undoubtedly the main focus. The alternately hard working and gradually angst ridden Danish cop Martin and the emotionally detached Saga are brilliantly portrayed. Even in the most extreme of circumstances – of which there are many – they are both sympathetic characters who the audience continues to invest time and emotion in.
Without giving away any spoilers (of which, again, there are many) it is safe to say that the two main characters undergo a fantastic degree of transformation during the show. The borderline Asperger’s syndrome Saga even manages to start decorating her flat a little differently towards the end of the second series! Far from being a moot point, it is evidence that this show is all about the details.
Adding to the list of great Scandinavian TV to go along with The Killing, Wallander and Borgen, The Bridge is yet another example of the superb creativity going on in the Nordic countries in drama, TV and film. Strongly recommended to all fans of mystery suspense and carefully put together plotlines,The Bridge is a must see.