Sweden’s rich vein of crime writing talent has ensured that its television industry receives a bountiful supply of excellent story ideas. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the finest international crime shows originate in Sweden. Programmes like Wallander and Beck have created a new generation of viewers in the English-speaking world who love the slightly minimalist atmosphere of Scandinavian crime fiction and now struggle to watch shows in their own language. ‘Where are the subtitles?’ they ask!
Let’s review seven of the best, in case you’ve missed them…
7 of the best Swedish crime shows:
Well, there’s Wallander, Wallander and then there’s Wallander, isn’t there? What we’re talking about here is the version of the programme that starred Krister Henriksson as the detective based in the town of Ystad, southern Sweden. Your other options are a BBC clone of the Swedish programme with Kenneth Branagh, or an earlier Swedish series with Rolf Lassgard in the lead role. Ystad is a windswept town, exposed to the elements in the same way as it is exposed to the darker motivations of the human heart. Murders there are solved by Kurt Wallander, a dry and thoughtful detective who contemplates not only justice but also his duty to his elderly father and his daughter, who also becomes a cop. The tone this series strikes and its quiet minimalism set it apart from many UK and US programmes at the time, defining the Nordic televisual style for crime shows. Some episodes are based directly on the books by Henning Mankell, others aren’t… You can grab them on DVD.
Okay, does this count? The whole concept of The Bridge is that the criminal activity investigated spans the structure that crosses the Oresund Strait between Copenhagen and Malmo, Denmark and Sweden. But we’re throwing it in because it’s brilliant and the show’s defining character is the Swedish detective Saga Noren, played by Sofia Helin. Like Miss Smilla, Lisbeth Salander and Sarah Lund before her, Saga is a brilliant investigator but also an outsider and a bit of a savant. She’s somewhere on the autistic spectrum, a great detective and a complete stickler for the rules. She also has little regard for the feelings of others, despite the deep emotional wounds she suffered when her sister committed suicide. The intrigue of her character alone, supported by her first Danish partner Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) and later Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt), is enough to drive the programme, however each of the four seasons features massive twists and countless red herrings to keep you guessing. Everything starts off with a murdered body right in the middle of the great bridge, one half in Sweden, the other in Denmark. The Bridge can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.
Swedish author Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series of novels have been adapted for television, with each of the 10 books turned into a two-parter. The focus here is solving crimes with an international dimension, such as the murders of three businessmen, an American serial killer hiding in Sweden and the murder of illegal immigrants. Instead of one or two wonderful detectives to ride along with, here you get a whole team and each member has his or her own specialism and human weaknesses. Unit A has tough detectives, lonely profilers, tech wizards and new members still learning their trade. They have to fend off political pressure, uncover corruption and deal with affairs as well as friction within their own ranks. If we were to recommend a particular story, it would be Bad Blood. Watch for former World’s Strongest Man Magnus Samuelsson among the cast. It’s available in the UK on Amazon Prime Video.
Yet another brilliant series that comes from the world of literature. The Martin Beck series made Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo so famous in Sweden, and beyond, that there are even stamps with their faces on them. The TV series with Peter Haber as Beck isn’t based on the books, but the setting and atmosphere are the same and the cases are similar. In many ways, Beck resembles Wallander. He’s quiet, dedicated to justice, worried for his daughter and about his own mortality. However, what you get here is more of a big city vibe with the Stockholm setting and some strong secondary characters. Gunvald Larsson, played by Mikael Persbrandt is superb – strong, steady, grumpy and when the temperature rises he has a certain flashpoint. Drugs, human trafficking, immigration, cover-ups, bikers, dangerous secrets… since 1997 Beck has had it all and there are 34 90-minute episodes to devour, with four more on the way. Episodes from series four, five and six can be viewed on Amazon Prime Video.
Before We Die
Hannah Svensson (Marie Richardson) is a stickler for the law to the point where she had her own son sent to prison for possession. Just as it appears she’s being railroaded into retirement, her lover, the married cop Sven, disappears. Meanwhile, on his release, her son Christian (Adam Palsson) appears to be drawn into some underground activity and he might just have a connection to Sven’s abductors. What ensues is a taut and gritty crime drama with procedural elements that has had fans of the Nordic noir genre glued to their screens. It’s not exactly high action, nor is it an atmospheric escape to the wilds of Scandinavia, but it is urban, realistic and gripping. The 10-episode series on Walter Presents has received great reports from viewers.
Like Before We Die, Alex has a gritty, urban vibe, but it’s a show that dares to be different. While so many other Scandinavian crime shows feature a cop driven by a sense of justice, here we’ve got a dirty cop whose number one aim is to cover his ass after accidentally shooting his partner dead. We’re not quite talking about a Dexter-style anti-hero here but Alex Leko, played by Dragomir Mrsic, will both double-cross his new partner Frida Kanto (Rakel Warmlander) and headbutt BG, the dangerous crime lord who used to employ him. To extricate himself from the syndicate, Alex must investigate a leak in BG’s organisation while at the same time avoiding being caught by the police force he works for. This is an unusual show that avoids some of the tropes of the genre and has an explosive but compelling lead character. It was partly written by Mrsic, who in the past did time for armed robbery. You can seek it out on Walter Presents.
From midnight sun to endless night, this series brings you mysteries set at different times of year in the far north of Sweden, where the climate and landscape play a role alongside a strong performance by Ida Engvoll as the legal eagle Rebecka Martinsson. Sensitive, strong, introspective – Martinsson returns to the place where she grew up and the mysteries she solves are often emotionally charged and tackle issues faced by communities on the edge of the Arctic Circle. From mining rights and land use to collaboration with the Nazis during World War II and even to the provision of care for the disabled in an isolated town, as she digs up secrets and challenges the status quo, Martinsson’s status as one of the locals shifts to that of an outsider. The series covers four of Asa Larsson’s original books across eight 45-minute episodes to enjoy on Walter Presents. The show was made by Yellowbird, the production studio behind the Wallander series.
Have we missed any of the best Swedish crime shows? Let us know in the comments below!