First Look: Sweden’s Before We Die

ivd-infor-jpgInnan vi dör (Before We Die) is the new big crime series on Swedish public service channel SVT. Of course, it’s not a given that every Scandinavian crime series will be exported to the UK, but as this one is showing a good amount of potential after two episodes, let’s have a look at what’s on offer.

To BBC4 viewers there are some familiar faces. Two of the main characters, mother and son, Hanna and Christian are played by Marie Richardson and Adam Pålsson who were both in Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves, a drama about the gay community in 80’s Stockholm being affected by AIDS. Though Adam Pålsson is more likely to be remembered for his role as Emil Larsson in The Bridge III.

Hanna Svensson is a Stockholm detective with firm principles. One warning is all she’s willing to give her son Christian before making sure that he is caught while dealing drugs. As he is being cuffed by the uniformed police he looks defiantly at his mother ”Are you happy now?”. ”You know what I said” is her only response, though later on she cries alone in her car, so not entirely without feeling then. (Problematic family situation – check.)

After two years in prison Christian is released and starts working in the family restaurant of a friend he made inside. The restaurant is a legal front for more dubious undertakings, drugs amongst others. Davor Mimicas (Alexej Manvelov), the eldest brother, is head of the family as the father was killed in Croatia during the war. After a short while Christian is welcomed to join in on family meals. A stark contrast to his relationship with his mother, who he wants little contact with.

Hanna, having been removed from the Organised Crime Unit, is working for the Economic Crime Unit and promptly turns down early retirement when it is offered. She wants to head investigations, not retire. She’s also carrying on an affair with married man Sven from her former unit. (Romantic entanglement with a colleague – check.)

I believe that criminal motorcycle clubs are less of a thing in Britain, but it’s a common enough type of criminal organisation in Scandinavia with strict hierarchy and relying on strong loyalty within the clubs. There are also violent rivalries with other clubs and it’s notoriously difficult for the police to deal with. These clubs make for a much more realistic plot ingredient than, say, an extreme right wing Christian assassin dispatched from America to go on a bit of a killing spree in Sweden, for instance.

Sven, while investigating the murder of the wife of the president of motorcycle club Mobsters, goes missing and is presumed kidnapped. Hanna finds his phone and proceeds to exchange messages with Sven’s informant Inez, pretending to be him. Hanna is also told to partner up with Björn (Magnus Krepper, The Bridge) who joined the Organised Crime Unit after she left and has some doubts about Hanna, which are reciprocated. (Initial collaboration and trust issues with a colleague – check.)

Mobsters and rival club Delincuentos are on top of the list of suspects as the search for Sven continues. Their conflict is seemingly picking up pace and while the men keep quiet to the police and keep fighting each other the women keep ending up under fire, knowing that there is nowhere safe for them to go, that the retaliations will continue until they are dead.

As the investigation intensifies some trails grow cold and other leads become more interesting. Hanna and Björn realise that they can trust each other and are able to work together better but can they rely on all the team?

The acting is good across the board. This early on I’d say that Magnus Krepper and Adam Pålsson are the highlights but I’m interested in seeing more of Alexej Manvelov as his character Davor has got off to a fairly brutal start. I’m also curious to see more of the bikers as they could easily become stereotypes, though I hope they won’t.

Over all there is a lot of violence but also a good measure of desperation, angst and fear. A palpable feeling that some are in over their head and before it can possibly get better, it’s going to get much worse. I like it. It feels real.

Yes, there are some staple ingredients that recur in the genre, not all mentioned here, but not enough for it to be annoying or a distraction. The pace is good, not too slow which you can sometimes feel in the beginning of a noir (although, in those cases you are usually rewarded for your patience anyway.)

I see a lot of promise in Before We Die. For the moment I would place it one notch below top tier and I’m certainly looking forward to see how things play out over the remaining eight episodes.

Charlotte Carling

See a short non-subbed trailer here

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Seija says:

    Hej, CC, och Gott Nytt År till dig också!

    I started wondering about your comment on criminal motorcycle clubs being less of a thing in Britain, and you may have some point there. The reoccurence of such clubs in Scandinavian tv shows (as proof of them being part of the reality of life in Scandinavia?) could also be an echo of a Viking past? The idolazation of groups of men, soldiers, fighting side by side like Vikings? I don’t know if there’s any truth to my wonderings, but an interesting thought, nevertheless.


    1. Charlotte Carling says:

      Hej Seija,

      Well, obviously the UK has plenty of criminal gangs and organised crime, but I’ve never noticed reports on motorcycle clubs like we get all the time.
      You might be right about the idolisation of groups of men. Or, it’s just handy villains with a ready made subculture that at least Scandinavian viewers will recognise as very dangerous right off the bat.


  2. Jenny says:

    Do you know if any UK channel has bought this one? It looks interesting and I liked Alexej Manvelov in the Norwegian series Occupied.


    1. Charlotte Carling says:

      A subbed international trailer has been released so I suppose they are in the process of selling it. Let’s hope some English channel will bite. Meanwhile…


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