Monday, 21 May 2012

Sebastian Bergman, starring Rolf Lassgård PREVIEW

Vanja Lithner (Moa Silen) and Sebastian Bergman (Rolf Lassgård). Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★

BBC4: starts Saturday, 26 May, 9pm

Story: Sebastian Bergman, a leading Swedish criminal profiler, finds his career on the skids when he returns to his hometown, two weeks late for his mother's funeral, but just in time to help the local force to solve the brutal murder of a 15-year-old boy.

Gosh, our Nordic neighbours do love an oddball hero. After The Killing's surly Sarah Lund and The Bridge's wacko Saga Noren, we have shambling Sebastian Bergman.

Double-chinned, overweight, unshaven, with a lecherous approach to women, that's Sebastian. We first see the criminal profiler giving a rambling lecture to an audience of police officers. One of them, a former colleague, calls him a jerk.

But while he's not in the Rufus Sewell/Rupert Penry-Jones league of dishy alpha males, he is a fascinating creation, a mixture of tragedy and courage. As this latest (in what seems an inexhaustible production line) of well-made Nordic crime dramas reveals, Sebastian has a lot of hinterland.

Detective Vanja gets the sharp end of Sebastian's tongue
Young victim's been shot and had his heart removed
He's returned home to sort through his deceased mother's belongings – two weeks too late for her funeral. He leers at a woman on the train, gets to the house and finds an old photo of his wife and daughter. He wails in pain.

He leans on an old police colleague, Torkel Hoglund, the head of CID whom he helped through his divorce, to give him a job back with the police. 'I need this,' Bergman says desperately.

Once back in the fold, investigating the case of a teenage boy who's been shot and had his heart removed, Bergman is rude to his colleagues and witnesses – such as the headmaster of the dead boy's posh school.

Who is the mystery letter from?
He also tries to hoodwink a detective into illicitly using the police computer to trace a woman who wrote to him 30 years previously, but whose letter his mother never passed on to him.  Who is the writer of the letter? Why is he so anxious to trace her? We don't find out until the final devastating minutes.

Rolf Lassgård, popular in Scandinavia for his roles in Wallander and Beck, plays Bergman, and is a pickled herring in the face of programme makers who think only actors who are young and bland can carry a good drama.

Sebastian's not exactly popular with his police colleagues
Cracker took us to similar territory, with the irascible wreck of a profiler forever correcting the detectives' instinct for going for the bleeding obvious suspect in murder cases. Here, Sebastian's first unpopular theory is that the bully neighbour of young victim Roger was not his killer.

BBC4's Saturday-night Nordic fix
But Sebastian Bergman can stand on it own feet as an absorbing drama. The investigation is complex without being ridiculous, taking in blackmail, greed, snobbery and jealousy, while also giving us Sebastian, at first glance an unpleasant old so-and-so, whom we soon realise is carrying a lot of grief while retaining a wicked wit and humanity for the underdog.

His two 90-minute stories should more than adequately fill BBC4's Saturday-night Nordic fix.