Last week we saw the End of the Road and this week we have The Last Day. So, is this the end for Beck? The episode titles certainly seem to point in that direction. The series was aired in Sweden earlier this year and so far no confirmation has been given either way. (I haven’t seen the upcoming episode so don’t worry about spoilers.) If this episode is the final instalment then it was a brief acquaintance for the British viewers.
Those of you who enjoy listening to a good story may have come across the always splendid Steven Mackintosh playing Martin Beck in the Radio 4 dramatisation of the novels a few years ago. Unfortunately, the series is currently unavailable but it’s bound to be recycled in the future so keep your ears peeled. A few of you may even have read one or more of the original ten novels that were written by author duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, one a year, from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. They are widely credited with starting a new way of writing crime fiction and having a huge impact on the genre. Here is an interesting article which appeared in The Telegraph last year (read it here).
The novels have been filmed over the years but the series, with Peter Haber as Martin Beck and Mikael Persbrandt as Gunvald Larsson, are all new plots. This series started in Sweden in 1998 and it is understandable that the BBC didn’t want to chance it by broadcasting nearly two decades old episodes. Yet in the last year, BBC4 viewers have been treated to what the Swedish viewers watched over the period of a decade.
I think this means that you were able to get to know the characters fairly well and from the reactions on twitter to Gunvald’s death it seems he, in particular, was very popular with the British viewers. Some people questioned whether it was even worth continuing the series without him. So what was his appeal?
I don’t remember much of the earlier series of Beck as I didn’t exactly follow it religiously but caught an episode here and there. What I do remember is the impression of Gunvald as being the young and unruly copper. He was the hard guy who refused to do things by the book, threw the c-word around (sometimes in creative compound words) and thought nothing of roughing up suspects. Maj Sjöwall said in a documentary that was aired last year that they originally created Gunvald because she felt that they needed some civil disobedience, which she greatly admires, except in police form. In the TV series, the character matured a bit over the years and the aggression was toned down slightly. In series 4 he experienced the loss of a long-ago girlfriend and at the same time found out he was the father of her son, although Gunvald wouldn’t meddle in his life at a time of grief he would like to get to know him in the future. He became more contemplative in series 5. Unfortunately, the BBC messed up the chronology of the episodes so that cause and effect was somewhat lost. There was a sense of Gunvald ageing a little, he felt a bit tired at times and the fact that he needed glasses was a contrived way of getting the point across. Still on the money in his police work, of course, and still occasionally shaking his head at younger colleague Oskar, who though less insecure and hesitant in his role compared to when he first joined the group, will never experience the assured confidence of Gunvald, needing validation from no one but himself.
So gone are the steely blue eyes and the ever-present trench coat. What now of Beck? Is this a good time to end the series? I would have said yes, that seems fitting. Except… enter the Norwegian.
Steinar is an excellent replacement. In fact, he’s the most exciting thing to happen to Beck for a good long while. This isn’t a trench coat kind of guy, his appearance is rather more, shall we say, informal. This is a cop whose interrogation techniques include smilingly offering the interviewed party a bun with a side of reality check – of course your wife will be told, of course you will lose your job. And if that doesn’t quite do the trick a crazy stare is easily added for effect.
Immediately Steinar is kind and concerned for the wellbeing of his new colleagues after their bereavement. He isn’t afraid of bodily contact but in fact often touches the arm of the person he’s talking to create a connection. The very opposite of Gunvald’s kind of tactility. Steinar is no doubt also able to hold his own in a fight, he just prefers not to. Haunted by his past of having shot a teenager on the job, he imparts his wisdom and personal experience to his junior colleague in need of support, without being patronizing. Finally, we have a man who understands the need for at least trying to have a good balance between work and family life and who is actively seeking out social contact, preferably accompanied by some alcohol.
I love the fact that Steinar is straight talking with compassion and has a sense of humour but the most impressive bit so far is his immediate loyalty to Beck and the team. It was only natural that there was a strong loyalty between Gunvald and Martin after 20 years of working together. But here is a new guy who clocks and calls out conniving boss Klas from the word go and sides with his new team rather than be tempted by an easy promotion. Clearly, the man has principles. That’s not to say he won’t bend the rules just a little to make progress in a case or sneak off somewhere he was told to stay away from, meaning we still have a little of Gunvald’s spirit left.
I for one would love to see more of Beck with Steinar. He has added something new and exciting to the series. Martin Beck still has a couple of years in him until retirement, I should think. One more series, a few more episodes. Please. Pretty please!
(Any Swedish speakers here? Here is the documentary about Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö and their creation Beck from last year. Two short segments, one at the beginning and one at the end are in English. Follow the link here)
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