Rebecka Martinsson, Series 1, released on DVD by Acorn Media, is the latest example of the atmospheric and moody mystery television series to come from Scandinavia. Known as Nordic Noir for a reason, and not just for the longer nights as you draw near the Arctic Circle, these shows tend to follow plot twists others tend to avoid. Whether the path of particularly brutal serial killer or delving deep into the psyches of its characters, the genre tends to be darker and more introspective than your standard mystery series.
The series opens with the lead character, Rebecka Martinsson (Ida Engvoll) happily ensconced in her career as a successful corporate lawyer in Stockholm. As we enter her story she’s just been made partner in her firm. However, in the middle of the celebrations she receives a phone call from her home town, a close family friend has just died. She immediately drops everything and jumps on a plane.
Of course she finds more than she expects. First she discovers her old friend, a woman who helped raise her when both her parents died, hadn’t died by accident as was first thought, but was in fact murdered. Over the course of the two part opening episode the series not only introduces us to Martinsson, but the environment, and people, in which she was raised.
When the first investigation ends in tragedy, Martinsson, decides to put off rejoining her firm in Stockholm, and stay on in the North to work for the district’s prosecuting office. However, the cases don’t become any easier, and over the course of the series – three more two part episodes – she also has to deal with her own personal history and its accompanying baggage.
I know some people are put off by sub-titles, but this show is so good that it’s worth whatever effort it might take on a viewer’s part in order to watch it. When subtitling is done well, as it is here, after a very short while you don’t even notice you’re reading anymore. Nor do they detract from the emotional depth of what the characters are saying. The actors are communicating what they feel with their voices and the subtitles are the words – it all fits together seamlessly.
In the lead roll of Martinson, Engyoll pretty much has to carry the show and does an excellent job. Not only do we follow her on a personal emotional roller coaster as she travels from being a cocky lawyer to someone who is not quite as sure of her place in the world, we also see her dealing with what she discovers about herself in a very realistic manner. Northern Sweden might be beautiful but its forests aren’t the only places hiding dark secrets.
Not only are secrets the reasons behind most of the crimes Martinsson has to deal with, there are also the secrets from her past which she must cope with. If this sounds like a lot to cram in only four two part episodes, well it’s so deftly done you won’t even notice the amount of information you’re absorbing. These are tightly written stories which drop nuggets of information in the viewer’s path without interfering with either the plot lines or the enjoyment of watching the show.
While this show was extremely well done, acting, script and especially cinematography (Northern Sweden is incredibly beautiful and they capture it on camera with exceptional quality) be prepared for some shocking violence. There’s nothing graphic or especially gruesome as compared to other shows, but there something very realistic about it which makes it all the more difficult to deal with. This is definitely not a show for children.
For those who have never seen it before Rebecka Martinsson, Series 1 offers a great introduction to the Nordic Noir genre and Swedish television in general. Dark and mysterious it might show you things you’d prefer not to see, but its still one of the finer pieces of television I’ve watched in a while.
(Originally published at Blogcritics.org as DVD Review: Rebecka Martinsson, Series 1 - Nordic Noir Mystery)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.