TV review: Beck – Gunvald (BBC FOUR)

Contains spoilers

Beck and Gunvald in ‘happier’ times

Well, that was uncomfortable. Those of us who had thought that Gunvald Larsson would have the chance to retire from the Beck series with grace and dignity were to be massively disappointed. Yet grace and dignity were never really words you would associate with Mikael Persbrandt’s character. Beck’s producers had a tough call to make once Persbrandt had decided that the passing of time and alternative acting opportunities would lead to Gunvald’s exit from the series.

We fans can overthink these things. There were the red herrings suggesting a possible spin off series (though how on earth that could have possibly worked is beyond me). There was the knowledge that having bumped off commissioner Margareta Oberg in the episode In the Name of God it would be a cliché to walk that way again so soon. But In the Name of God was actually made in 2007. And I suspect that one of the causes of grief for British fans comes from the way in which Beck has made it to our screens.

The first episode of the film series was broadcast to its home audience back in 1997. Peter Haber (Beck himself) was in his early forties and Persbrandt in his early thirties. Indeed, for a while Gunvald’s role was as the over-excited rookie – a position that Oskar has since taken up and also graduated from. Viewers who have been able to watch the series in real time will have watched the characters mature and age. For those of us in the UK who have seen the films over a year or so the experience is quite different. How could Gunvald be old? We saw him beating up ne’er-do-wells only a few weeks ago. The ageing process has been telescoped, in a way not of the film-makers’ doing. I think we were also blind-sided by the end of the previous episode, The Hospital Murders, in which the producers allow Beck and Gunvald the chance to be ordinary middle-aged men, and made us feel that perhaps Gunvald would have the chance to bow out quite happily.

Difficult viewing it may be but I think that in the end the producers made the right decision to have Gunvald fatally shot. There is scarcely an episode in which Gunvald is not facing down the barrel of a criminal’s gun. Despite the heavy penalties for shooting a Swedish detective, are we really to believe that Gunvald is indestructible? After 30 films it is entirely reasonable that his luck may just run out.

Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking of Gunvald as some Swedish policing national treasure. He is, especially in the early episodes (admittedly, not yet broadcast on BBC FOUR) a misogynist and a bully, swift to anger and slow of brain. No one would have blamed Martin Beck for cutting him loose on one of the many occasions when Beck’s bosses suggest it. How the Helvete has he killed only one pedestrian when driving as he does?

Persbrandt has commented that there could never be a huge amount of room to develop Gunvald’s character but that isn’t to say we’ve seen no growth. He finds mutual respect with Alice Levander. He attempts to build bridges with his sister after years estranged. But the relationship with his ‘surprise’ son is not developed, nor is the friendship with Beck’s daughter Inger. The memorial service, very sparsely attended for a policeman shot in service, raises in itself many questions about the life of Gunvald Larsson, and its meaning.

We can think all these things, and know the shooting probably makes sense, and although Persbrandt was hardly on set for this episode it’s hidden quite well, and the actual crime story isn’t too bad. But it’s a mark of the acting of Mikael Persbrandt and Peter Haber that none of those things matter today. Gunvald is dead, and for the moment we are inconsolable.

Find all our Beck coverage here.


  1. Well, here it is in March, 2023, and I’m now streaming many missed episodes of Beck on PRIME here in SoCal, USA! I was just thinking how handsome Gunvald had become in Season 5. Beck himself is OK, but Gunvald made the show really interesting. …and I’m crying my eyes out that he DIED!!!! I will be looking for other places to find Mikael Persbrandt. Hopefully he will be seen in new shows where he can stretch his acting skills. (Boohoohoo!!)

    • Well, you’re quite a way behind, Nikki, but much good stuff awaits you following 2016’s S05. The Beck wiki says of S09: “In February 2022, the shooting of four Beck films began in Stockholm.” Can’t wait to see them on the Beeb. Good luck finding the intervening episodes, which should take you to S08 EP04 (#47).

  2. Once the viewers are so invested in a character, as they were with Gunvald, the writers could have done so much more in developing his personal life. They didnt go there. Missed opportunity.

  3. Kill Gunvald, kill the series. The writers are fools. I have watched every episode and will never watch another. I love Bec and the other characters, but they do called artistic authors have no understanding of the public. They can nor revel in having killed the showTypical dumb move. How many times to people who pretend to be writers not see the effect. They could have him leave the show in dozens of ways without this horrible finality.

    I am going to see what else you idiots write and make sure I never watch even one episode. There is more I would like to say, but you could not print it


    • I agree 100% with your opinion. Gunvald was the star of the series and without him the show isn’t worth spending time on. American TV series have occasionally done that too, i.e. killing off the most interesting or exciting character and subsequently the shows went rapidly downhill. Maybe the writers should listen to the viewing public a little more before they make these dumb decisions.

  4. As someone who started watching Beck in 1997 the death of Gunvald was traumatising. But I also believe it was done very well: no schmalzy good-byes in the hospital. It felt very real. Sometimes you don’t expect people to die, because you might know them well enough to think nothing will ever happen to them. Gunvald was indestructible, he could look after himself. And then killed in a manner, which felt so simple. The grief and the denial of being able to say goodbye made this very emotional indeed.

  5. I’m not as convinced as Richard Fernandez (above) that starting with an older series would have encountered viewer resistance. We got acquainted with BBC4’s Sicilian cop ‘Montalbano’ that way, whose timeline also had to be telescoped in GB, and did not demur when he morphed into Young Montalbano, where fans could unearth the ‘back story’. Young Beck, anyone?

    • Thanks for your comment Humboles. I was fortunate enough to see most of the episodes in the right order, so I am all up for BBC FOUR showing them a la Montalbano. But I can understand why they might have felt uneasy about taking the risk. Either way, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the way in which they’ve been screened has changed the viewer experience somewhat.

  6. I’m gutted they killed off such a wonderful character, there was so much more to know about Gunvald and now we’ll never know it. Perhaps grace and dignity were not words we would associate with Gunvald but he could have been given a better exit than this; everybody concerned deserved better. Perhaps Mikael Persbrandt’s schedule wouldn’t allow for a bigger story arc but it could have been returned to later.
    I would have liked to see Gunvald fall in love (not that horrible woman from The Family though, what on earth got into him?!) and live happily ever after. Fairytale stuff of course but why not?
    I’ve watched some of the earlier episodes and they are well worth a look. The episodes where Gunvald reconnects with his sister I found very moving and from their conversations you get a small insight into how they were treated as children and why Gunvald is the way he is. Or was 😢

  7. I love Beck and the team and will miss Gunvald immensely. He was the bad boy of the bunch very brooding and moody and watching Martin’s relationship with him work and personally was great to watch. Why did he want to leave? I think there was lots to his character and personal life to explore that the audience would have enjoyed watching. I’m saddened by his departure and unless they can bring back the dead I will be watching the series with a heavy heart.

  8. I were shocked that Gunvald was killed off, but I think he would make an eearly excellent Bond. He as that broody mean look of authority about him.

  9. It’s been quite disconcerting the way BBC 4 has shown the episodes in a chronological jumble, with no apparent rationale. This hasn’t happened with other Scandinavian Noir imports. Why? But regardless, let’s have some earlier episodes so Gunwald can make a comeback….

    • In some ways to start at the beginning would have been quite risky for the BBC – the series might have been less popular if it had been seen as some 1990s retro thing. I haven’t checked the order of what’s been shown so far, but my guess is that the episodes within each series are shown in order, but the series themselves have been shown in an odd order. Plus we needed to know that Gunvald was a dad before he was killed off. But yes, we need some of the early episodes with the team in their prime!

  10. I agree. I have so enjoyed the series but I do hope that BBC Four will now show the previous ones in memory of Gunvald. I need to know more about him, can’t believe he’s gone!

  11. I thought it was a shame that there was no formal police funeral but perhaps as we knew so little detail about Gunvald’s private life it was in keeping with the character. I feel that both the actor and the fans were a little short changed by this exit and both Mikael Persbrandt and the character deserved better. The BBC definitely spoiled things for UK viewers by showing episodes out of sequence. I suppose we’ll never know why and how the nascent romance with Inger came to an end.
    It’s a testament to the acting ability of Mikael Persbrandt and his charisma that Gunvald made such an impact on British viewers in the space of only two series.

    • Thanks for your comments Susan. I wonder if the lack of formal funeral was at the request of Gunvald’s sister – and meant to contrast with the funeral we have already seen for Margareta Oberg? By the way, the end of the romance with Inger is covered – across a couple of episodes I think – but I’m not sure if they’ve been on BBC FOUR yet.

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