Before We Die, review: Take all the Scandi and the noir away, and there isn’t much point to it

Leslie Sharp stars in this six-part detective drama which feels inferior to the original Swedish drama

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 26 May 2021 22:15
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<p>Leslie Sharp as DI Hannah Laing and Patrick Gibson as her troubled son Christian in Channel 4’s ‘Before We Die’ </p>

Leslie Sharp as DI Hannah Laing and Patrick Gibson as her troubled son Christian in Channel 4’s ‘Before We Die’

I’m not sure why Channel 4 bothered with Before We Die, the latest wave in the seemingly unstoppable tsunami of police procedural dramas. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, as such. It’s the kind of bewilderingly complicated detective drama we’ve become used to, the sort where you can’t quite recall who’s doing what to whom, or why, but we still feel for the various complicated characters living their complicated lives.

It’s actually a remake of an original Scandi noir import of the same name from a few years ago, but the action has relocated from Stockholm to, erm, Bristol. And a very close adaptation it is too, with the plot, scenes, and even dialogue lifted straight from the Nordic original. But the point about Scandi noir is that it’s Scandi noir; long winter nights, meaningful pauses, cool people, minimalist decor, and quirky twists. You don’t really get that in Somerset. Take all the Scandi and the noir away, and there isn’t much point to the exercise unless you really hate subtitles, or foreigners, or both. Which, presumably, Channel 4, doesn’t.

Apart from that, it’s fine. Lesley Sharp plays the central figure, an austere Detective Inspector Hannah Laing, and does her best with the material, all moodiness and gloom. But she’s just, you know, not actually a Swede. She’s having an affair with a married colleague, who gets kidnapped and murdered by a gang of Croatian restaurateurs, which is less comical than it sounds. She’s divorced and her troubled son Christian (The OA’s Patrick Gibson) doesn’t get on with her, but he happens to work for the nasty Croats, and gets tangled up with the crime. But she doesn’t know that, of course, and, communicating only by text message, thinks he is the female spy inside the gang that her late boyfriend was in touch with.

Something like that anyway, but, without the Scandi style, the whole lark – quite gory at times – feels inferior to the original. The producers made everyone drive a Volvo, which was silly. As fond as I am of them, not everyone in Britain drives the famous Swedish brand. While, Wallander’s Vincent Regan, as Hannah’s colleague Billy Murdoch, is chucked in as the nearest thing to a moody Viking they could find, which was desperate.

I was fully expecting to see the coppers eating meatballs in an IKEA kitchen earnestly discussing the mechanics of sex or the future of European social democracy.  Surely Brexit Britain can do better than this?

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