NB: SPOILERS INSIDE
And so we head back up north to Kiruna, in Sweden, for another Scandi treat of a crime drama series, starring the preternaturally striking Ida Engvoll as a hotshot lawyer in a new adaptation of Åsa Larsson’s novels. Interestingly, it’s not the first time Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson series has been on our screens: Isabella Scorupco played Martinsson in a 2007 film called Solstorm, which was much more faithful to the original book. In this adaptation, things seem to have changed – out go some of the bloodier elements of the original, and in comes some ‘softer’ plot devices. Which may actually be a good thing.
In Larsson’s novel, Solstorm (The Savage Altar in English), there was all sorts going on: a man’s body was slashed to pieces, with his hands severed and his eyes gouged out. Charming. The vic’s sister found the body and, thusly, she became the prime suspect. An old friend of Rebecka Martinsson, she called her and the tax lawyer came home to defend her and get to the bottom of the case.
Here, in this adaptation, things were a little… calmer. Rebecka Martinsson was still a high-flying lawyer in Stockholm – all urbane suave, conservative suits and high heels – and had just been offered a partnership in the law firm she working in. Things couldn’t have been going better for her. She was young, smart, very good at her job and beautiful. Then she got the call from her hometown of Kurravaara, a charming place in the heart of Swedish Lapland (and very close to Kiruna, which was featured in last year’s Midnight Sun). An old childhood friend of hers – a priest called Mildred – had been found dead after an accident and she had received an invitation from her uncle to the funeral.
She flew back to Kiruna and headed back to Kurravaara. So far so standard – the trope of the person going back to a hometown to face old demons has been and is still well-used. And, for all the world, Rebecka Martinsson looked like a by-the-numbers revisit to this trope.
Of course, Mildred’s death – straightforward to the local police – did not look straightforward to Rebecka. Her suspicions were aroused when she found some hate mail addressed to her – it seemed that the woman who spent so much time with her when she was little was not liked by many. She was a feminist and had started a group called The Magdelene Sisters, and she was at odds with the local hunting society over the lease of church land.
Again, so far so straightforward.
As Rebecka went all amateur detective on us, we were introduced to the local characters, and this is where Rebecka Martinsson: Arctic Murders started to pick up and get interesting. Throughout this first episode we never got too much of an idea what made Rebecka tick, and she remained a pretty much blank canvas. Instead, it was the peripheral characters that were interesting: long-standing feuds and strained relationships coming to the fore because of Mildred’s death. There was Rebecka’s avuncular uncle, Sivving; Mildred’s widowed husband, Erik; Mildred’s best friend Lisa Stöckel; a man and his Down’s Syndrome son, Nalle… they were all interesting, well-rounded characters. And, unlike most returning home stories, they greeted Rebecka with open arms rather than the mistrust and resentment you’d expect in a yarn like this.
And there was the gloriously no-nonsense police officer Mella (also heavily pregnant) who allowed Rebecka to get involved in the case (the original investigating officer had had a breakdown and was now out of the picture). Together they found evidence at the crime scene that suggested that Mildred’s death was far from an accident.
It proceeded at a leisurely pace, and Kurravaara and its surrounding towns of Poikkijärvi and Jukkasjarvi – with its glorious, lakes and pine forests – made for a beguiling landscape. The constant buzz of mosquitoes on the soundtrack was a nice touch.
I mentioned earlier that despite being the central character that we never really got to know Rebecka – she came without airs or graces, and seemed like a well-rounded, nice person with good intentions – but the closing scenes perhaps gave us an idea of what kind of woman she was. She was in the bar of her hotel, and the barmaid Mille tempted her with some home distilled schnapps. Several shots later she was dancing drunkenly with abandon, and staggered home through the lakesides in the late-night, summer dusk-light. It painted a picture of someone happy to be back, albeit reluctantly, to breath in the fresh air and re-evaluate where she was in her life.
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When high-flying lawyer Rebecka Martinsson hears about the death of a dear childhood friend, she reluctantly leaves Stockholm and heads to her far-flung home town in Kiruna. Upon her arrival, it becomes apparent that everything is not as it seems and her friend Mildred, who was the local priest, has been murdered. Hatred of the liberal priest turns out to be deeply-rooted among the local inhabitants and, along with the police superintendent, Rebecka is drawn into the pursuit of her killer. Meanwhile, in Stockholm, her boyfriend waits impatiently as Rebecka begins to question where she really belongs.
A church in the glittering frozen wastes of northern Sweden. Inside, a sacrifice: the body of a man – slashed to pieces, hands severed, eyes gouged out.
The victim’s sister is first to discover the body and she soon finds herself the police’s only suspect. Terrified and confused, she calls on an old friend: hot-shot city lawyer Rebecka Martinsson.