A TV adaptation that falls short of the audience's expectations.
First of all, I would like to clarify that I am a huge fan of both Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström's work and I've greatly enjoyed the Grens and Sundkvist book series. All the novels written by the Swedish duo feature a strong realism that is grounded on Anders Roslund's investigative journalism and Börge Hellström's bitter personal experience as an ex-convict. Hellström, in the later stages of his life, got involved in the rehabilitation of young offenders and drug addicts and was also one of the founders of the crime prevention organization, KRIS (Criminals Return Into Society). Box 21 is the second novel in order and not one of the best, though the dyad was in the early stages of their writing career and they were experimenting with diverse storylines and various narrative forms. Nevertheless, the novel succeeded in shaking the reader as it tackles the depressing theme of sex trafficking in today's Sweden through the workings of local and foreign organized crime. I have read the book several years ago, but I can remember the uncomfortable feeling that I felt in the finale. The text had a raw, perhaps immature, vigor that made it hard to forget. So, when I read that a TV adaptation was going to be released in 2020, I was all bright-eyed and bushy-tail. Unfortunately, the show didn't meet my expectations as there were many significant flaws in various aspects of the production.
To begin with, the casting was inappropriate. Don't get me wrong, I think that Leonard Terfelt, who plays the main protagonist, Ewert Grens, is a fine actor, but his physical appearance is as unsuitable as one can imagine taking into account the descriptions of the two authors in the novels. Furthermore, his limited expression palette makes his performance seem dull and uninspired. I think that the Danish veteran actor, Ulrich Thomsen, would be the perfect cast for the role. Apart from his matching physique, his major acting skills would offer the character all the characteristics found in the books. The second significant defect of this television adaptation is the script. In many parts, the dialogue between the characters seems to be unnatural and naive, thus emitting an overall stilted feeling. Moreover, while the story is mainly considered to be a police procedural, we only get glimpses of actual police work throughout the show's six episodes. The production team went for a more character-focused series, but the final result is a bit of a letdown.
The story is about a young Romanian sex worker, Lidia, who is lured to Sweden by an appalling pimp and her pursuit of revenge against the people that ruined her life. In the first two episodes, we are witnessing the brutality of Lidia's everyday life as well as her attempts to resist and stand up to her tormentors. After a savage beating she endures from the boss of the ring, Lidia is transferred to a hospital where she sets her plan at work. She steals the gun of a young police officer and goes down to the morgue where she takes hostages a small number of medical students and their professor. She seems to be totally unhinged, though, in fact, it's all part of a larger picture that becomes clearer when she asks the hostage negotiator, a man named Tobias, to come down and talk to her, promising that if that happens she will release all the captives. I don't want to spoil anything, so I will stop here as far as the plot is concerned. The only thing that I will add is that it is a sad story with some nice twists and turns, though the element of surprise was absent for me as I remembered the basic plot points of the novel. I knew who the villain is from the beginning of the first episode and I was also aware of the way that the plot will unfold.
Box 21 might not be the best export of the Nordic noir genre, nevertheless, it is a rather faithful adaptation of the original source and that's definitely a plus. In my opinion, it would be better to read the book than watching the show but those who are oblivious of its existence may find the story engaging enough to devote their precious time to watch it. The sad thing is that Scandinavian productions seem to have lessened the quality level that made them recognizable and prominent to the global audiences, and we should wait and see what lies ahead for the much-loved genre.