Birger Larsen | 84 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | Sweden / Swedish | 15
It would seem there’s a market in Sweden for series of feature-length crime dramas that begin with a first episode released in cinemas before continuing in regular direct-to-DVD/TV instalments. It’s what happened with the Krister Henriksson Wallander (which eventually totted up five theatrical releases across its three series), and the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films also exist in cropped and lengthened TV versions (released in the UK and US as “extended editions”). The latest example is Crimes of Passion, the first episode of which debuted in cinemas in March 2013, before five more feature-length mysteries were released on DVD between August and November the same year. In the UK, it’s the latest Scandi-crime acquisition for BBC Four, airing in their regular “foreign crime” slot of Saturday nights at 9pm.
Marketed as “Mad Men meets The Killing”, it would be more accurately described as “Agatha Christie with subtitles”. There’s some of the ’60s style of the US critical hit — not least a detective who looks like he’s Don Draper’s twin brother — and there’s murder with a Scandinavian accent, as per the cause célèbre of Nordic Noir; but those are surface similarities. The fundamental elements are Christie through and through: a small group of people in a confined location where one (or more) mysteriously dies and the detective solves the case simply by interviewing the suspects, all in a pretty early-20th-Century setting. There’s a little more nudity (a skinny-dipping bottom!) and gore (a fly-bothered corpse!) than Poirot or Miss Marple usually have to deal with, but anyone au fait with the ITV iterations of those characters from the last twenty-or-so years will be in comfortable territory here.
The specifics of the plot see young university lecturer Puck (Tuva Novotny) invited to spend midsummer on the island home of her supervisor, who’s really asking on behalf of attractive history lecturer Eje (Linus Wahlgren), who Puck has been to a café with three times. A whole gaggle of old chums of Rutger and Eje are also there, including a couple of uninvited guests who arrive out of the blue — and before you know it, Puck finds one of them dead. Eje calls in his chum, detective Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace), and, after the island is cut off from the mainland in a more permanent fashion, the three set about getting to the bottom of things. Cue suspicious actions spied through trees, suspicious conversations partially overheard, suspicious evasion of perfectly reasonable questions, and all the usual suspiciousness you’d expect from a Christie narrative — only subtitled.
The storytelling is very much on a par with recent Poirot and Marple TV adaptations, for better or worse — if you enjoy those (as I do), then this should float your boat also; if they’re not your cup of tea, this doesn’t have anything startlingly original to add to the mix. There’s some pretty cinematography by Mats Axby, and director Birger Larsen’s choice of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio is shorthand for movie-quality, but isn’t inherently backed up by what’s in the frame. That isn’t to say it’s badly directed, just not strikingly cinematic. It’s a completely standalone tale at least, unlike some of those Wallanders, which were very much episodes-of-a-series that happened to get a big screen outing.
Novotny makes for a likeable lead, though the attempted love triangle between her, Wahlgren and Rapace feels like a non-starter. The biggest surprise is Rapace: previously seen as troubled young copper Stefan Lindman in Wallander and, most famously, as shaven-headed silent assassin Patrice in Skyfall, here he’s every inch the slick Draper ladies’ man. That he ends up seeming to do less detecting than Novotny’s amateur sleuth isn’t too troubling.
How well Crimes of Passion works for BBC Four remains to be seen, but it’s suitably different to their usual dour Scandi acquisitions to perhaps tempt in a different kind of viewer. Or maybe just inspire an interest in our good old murder-mystery yarns for anyone previously too highfalutin’ to bother.
Death of a Loved One is available on BBC iPlayer until 10:25pm tonight. The second episode, King Lily of the Valley, is on BBC Four at 9pm.