Beck on BBC FOUR: what to expect

Beck and Gunvald
Peter Haber and Mikael Persbrandt as Beck and Gunvald

Martin Beck storms onto BBC FOUR this evening as the channel brings us the most recent instalments of the long-running detective series. The films are less well-known than the iconic books by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, so we’ve asked Beckspert Jilly Fernandez what to Beckspect (That’s enough rubbish puns – Ed).

What are the main differences between the books and the films?
There are many but they all stem from the main difference which is the movies contain only three characters from the original books: Martin Beck, Gunvald Larsson and Beck’s daughter Inger (although called Ingrid in the books). The movies did include a minor character from the books – Benny Skacke, which I often find strange as Skacke never really jumped off the pages of the books.

The other glaringly obvious difference is the movies have their own storylines. I find it interesting that both the books and the movies were written by couples (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and Cilla and Rolf Börjlind) – maybe this is deliberate?

The films include wider gender equality, but we lose a central character. Do you think the women detectives are a good enough replacement for Kollberg?
I’m not convinced the writers of the movies replaced Lennart Kollberg with anyone. Kollberg is described as compassionate, intelligent and Beck is at his best around him – Lena Klingstrom certainly fits most of these characteristics, but compassion and intelligence are visible in nearly all crime stories.

Interestingly (and not on a too dissimilar note) Inger Beck is Beck’s daughter in the movies, but Inger was the name of his wife in the books. Given that Inger is fairly angry towards Beck during the early movies (as was his wife in the books), I wonder if the name change from Ingrid to Inger was not a deliberate attempt at amalgamating the daughter and the wife… weird but it kind of works.

The books are known for looking at social issues – there is a little bit of that in the films but not much. Why do you think they shied away from that?

I don’t think the movies did shy away from any social issues, in fact they dealt with the most difficult social issues head on – a precedent set with the very first movie on child prostitution. And no one can argue that tackling domestic violence, drug trafficking and extortion is shying away from social issues.

In the books, Beck is a miserable sod but in the films he’s quite a warm character. Do you agree, and why do you think that is?
I disagree. I think Cilla and Rolf Börjlind have been very loyal to Martin Beck. We meet the movie Beck when he’s leading an established murder squad. He’s divorced, living a bachelor life and his daughter is in her early twenties. In the books, we meet Beck much earlier in his life, he’s still married, and his daughter is still in school. He leads a newly formed murder squad. We see Beck develop throughout the books and into the man, the father, the police chief we are introduced to in the movies.

The books are very clear about not having a bolshy sidekick but in the films Gunvald obviously plays that role. Discuss.
Many movie adaptations generally lean towards a watered down version of the book and characters are no exception. The literary Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg share very similar traits and any character differences are too subtle to pick up on screen. And Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Gunvald Larsson (along with his predilection for violence and designer Italian shoes) was strong enough to translate to screen.

Jilly Fernandez tweets @jillyfern

Find all our Beck coverage here.

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