The Swedish series Rebecka Martinsson returned to the UK tonight (Friday January 8) for its second series.
It feels like a long time since we’ve seen the urban-prosecutor-turned-hometown-sleuth, but it’s immediately obvious things have changed considerably since the last time we saw the show. Ida Engvoll has vacated the lead role and has been replaced with Sascha Zacharias, so instantly I was looking out for what she would bring to the part.
Some readers of this site have already hinted that Zacharias hasn’t got the same energy or presence as Engvoll and the second series has suffered because of the switch.
After digesting all this negative opinion, I came into this series with low expectations. And that’s saying something, because even though the show is very popular the first series was only a solid, enjoyable watch, and certainly not gold-standard Nordic Noir.
The fact that there has been two years since the first series (at least here in the UK) is probably a good thing as it’s almost given Zacharias a blank canvas and head start of sorts because Engvoll and the series is almost a distant memory in television terms.
And, I have to say, she did a good job.
All the regulars were still there: police chief Mella (who I loved in the first series), her on-off love interest and police dog handler Krister Eriksson, quirky pathologist Lars Pohjanen (Bordertown/Sorjonen’s Ville Virtanen… YES, I’d forgotten he was in this and I do love watching him onscreen), and the rest of the Kiruna police team, who are partial to discussing cases over fika.
The first, two-part story of this new second series concerned the Sami, that indigenous tribe of people who inhabit the northern areas of Sweden and Finland. We saw young Sami herdsman, Jon Åppas, incensed by a group of illegal poachers who journeyed into the wastelands to kill reindeer (indeed, the story was called The Reindeer Boy).
Jon took revenge on poacher Putte Larsson, and their feud began to escalate until, by the end of the first episode, Jon was dead, killed by a bolt gun.
The first episode did move very slowly, and it felt at pains to re-establish Rebecka as both a character and as an actress – we saw her help the police investigate the feud, the dead reindeer, and the possible leads. We also saw her relationship with Krister dip (he has a new girlfriend) and reconciled, temptation in the form of an old friend who asked her to come back to Stockholm, and we saw her live the life of Swedish summer. Saunas, aquavit, grilled fish, swimming naked in the lake… it all looked glorious, liberating and, during our own lockdown here in the UK, hugely aspirational.
The land, the lifestyle… these first two episodes of Rebecka Martinsson were certainly balm for lockdown eyes.
But in terms of thrills and spills, the story didn’t travel breakneck speed, nor did it contain many twists or turns. Instead, it was a slow, melancholy tale of a long-standing family beef, of Sami custom and tradition. In some ways, the tale and the outcome reminded me of Hinterland/Y Gwyll in the sense that it featured taciturn rural folk who made their own laws, fomented their own feuds over the generations and who did not trust the police.
Where once we thought poachers had killed Jon, the answers lay much closer to home.
But what viewers really want to know is whether Sascha Zacharias was an able replacement for Ida Engvoll.
Honestly? I thought she was fine. Engvoll has a very striking face and brought with her a very distinctive – almost fierce – kind of energy to the role. Zacharias, on the other hand, is softer with a more classical face, and only occasionally does she show the same kind of spark as Engvoll’s Rebecka. However, that’s not to say she’s a bad replacement… she’s just different.
I’ll be interested to see how she gets on throughout the rest of the series.