As regular BBC4 viewers are assured, Scandinavian public television is dour crime thriller after dour crime thriller occasionally leavened by a po-faced episode of Borgen. Or is it? This latest Swedish import suggests there's a much richer variety of drama on offer.
Don't Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves is a three-parter about the impact of the Aids epidemic on 1980s Sweden (the title is taken from a warning one nurse gives to another in the opening scene). In this first episode, "Love", the narrative moved back and forth in time from the childhood of main character Rasmus (Adam Pålsson), to his life as a young man enjoying Stockholm's gay scene, to lonely vigil at his deathbed. Like the 2003, multiple Emmy-winning HBO series Angels in America, this drama's strength is how it manages to combine a sweeping sense of period with intimate portraits of individual characters.
Both the gay coming-of-age tale and the HIV epidemic epic have their own stock characters and Don't Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves was not original on this count. Rasmus was the 19-year-old ingénu, enjoying his new-found liberty after a closeted adolescence in rural Värmland. His parents could marvel at a rare albino elk, but seemed unable to view their son's sexuality as more evidence of nature's beautiful diversity. Paul (Simon J Berger) was the older, wiser, queenier gay man who takes Rasmus under his wing.
An alternative Christmas family gathering at Paul's was the perfect occasion to demonstrate Wildean wit over mulled wine: "Honestly! Cheap wine with raisins, and they call us perverts!" said Paul. It was also here that Rasmus met love of his life Benjamin (Adam Lundgren). They glanced at each other, sparks flew and later, in the snowy streets of Stockholm, they were allowed a brief romantic moment before all the misery to come: Episode two is titled "Disease" and episode three is "Death".