🇸🇪 🇷🇴 BOX 21 🇷🇴 🇸🇪
Box 21 aka Roslund & Hellström: Box 21 (2020) is a Swedish crime-drama-thriller. All4 Walter Presents U.K.; SBS On Demand Aus; PBS Masterpiece Walter Presents US. 6 x 46 min episodes. G Cert U.K. Subtitles.
“A young Romanian woman named Lidia is lured to Sweden with promises of a better life, but is instead forced into prostitution. In search of revenge, her fate is interwoven with police officer Ewert Grens who chases a dangerous criminal.” IMDb
Leonard Terfelt as Ewert Grens
Bahador Foladi as Sam Shirazi
Kristofer Kamiyasu as Sven Sundkvist
Anda Sârbei as Alina Lazariuc
Joakim Sällquist as Jochum Lang
Simon J. Berger as Tobias Nordwall
Cristian Bota as Lucian Manea
Edda Magnasson as Lena Nordwall
Mimosa Willamo as Mariana Hermansson
Sandra Andreis as Anni Grens
Shirin Golchin as Farima Shirazi
Malgorzata Pieczynska as Interpreter
Ioana Ilinca Neascu as Lidia Amariei
Director: Mani Maserrat-Agah
Writers: Dennis Magnusson, Anders Roslund, Stefan Thunberg
Music: Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm & Ian Person
Make-Up: Corina Brailescu & Gabi Cretan
Costume: Nicolas Olivier Richard
Based on the best selling novel by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström.
⚠️ This review contains some spoilers ⚠️
I have not read the novel upon which this series is based, so there will be none of that “the book is better than the show” nonsense, or the reverse, in the review (a collective sigh of relief all round, I hope). The trailer (link to this at the very end of this review) looked hot, gritty and immediately appealing. While I will touch on the narrative of this show I’ll also try and pick out some of the main themes.
Box 21 is connected by the main character of Ewert Grens a police officer who is hell-bent on revenge against Jochum Lang, the man responsible for the death of his unborn child and leaving his wife in a vegetative state.
In Ewert’s orbit, we have his colleague, best friend and fencing partner Tobias Nordwall who appears to be the one trying to keep him on the straight and narrow. The other Swedish police they work with, Sven and Mariana are other moral compass touchstones in this story.
Another main set of characters are those young Romanian women such as Alina and Lidia who are lured into sex slavery in Sweden by the charms of the vicious pimp Lucian. A young man who works for people who are even more violent and considerably more dangerous than he is (and as you watch this that is saying something!)
Very quickly in the story a brutalised, beaten and hospitalised Lidia, seeking revenge and with help from her friend Alina, goes “Kill Bill” takes hostages, releases them in exchange for Tobias Nordwall and commits a devastating act.
A very uncomfortable focus of Box 21 is on that of these poor young women, many not uneducated nor unduly naive, who are assaulted, made to take drugs and alcohol, and to all practical purposes kept imprisoned. There are whole sections of their stories that are extremely traumatic and harrowing.
Meanwhile, “back at the ranch”, Jochum upon leaving prison is trying to turn his life around, get back with the love of his life, give up being an enforcer (for anyone not sure what this entails mostly it means murdering people under orders). It was whilst in prison that he met Sam Shirazi, a junkie with whom he became friends. Sam is responsible for the death of a young female drug addict to whom he sold tainted speed. Unfortunately, this woman is the sister of Jochum’s gang boss!
Sam has an enduring hope that they can change the ending to their stories (I particularly liked this aspect of the story). Is this possible? Can these two men find a different ending to their story? Or are they doomed to an ending that they can both see coming? Or are they trapped by “You never stop being who you are.” This was one storyline that really affected me emotionally as I became very invested in the fate of these men, neither of whom are characters you would normally expect to become so engaging.
Another theme of Box 21 is of people not being who they appear to be. One code name which appears from time to time is “Janus” the Roman god with two faces. But it is not only Janus who wears two faces, many characters in the story do so. Spot them as you watch.
Victims, the innocent victims and the sheer pity of it all. We see people who do terrible things but it with those caught up in the fallout that our sympathies should and do lie.
“Revenge is a dish best served cold” is a well-known phrase but in Box 21 revenge is shown in all its self-destructive (literally) “glory”. This works alongside redemption arcs, but in this show, the normal redemption arcs are distorted and often ruined. Ultimately forgiveness rather than revenge is what allows Ewert to find his new and real place in life as up until then he is stuck because of his desire for revenge.
This is an unusual show in that with only half of the episodes done you might think “What on earth can they do for the next 3 episodes?” Have no fear, with flashbacks, engaging (and repulsive) characters and leaps forward both in time and place the show maintains the momentum it sets in the first 2 episodes.
I loved the direction and cinematography of Box 21. The pacing is good with periods of increasing tension and then much needed pauses to recover before it racks up again (often accompanied by muffled shrieks and gasps). The visual imagery is impressive and the varied locations very much add to the atmosphere. The music score melds well with the visuals and enhances both atmosphere and tension.
Box 21 was, for me, an excellent piece of TV. It is full of twists and turns, shocks and surprises, heartbreak and trauma. Gritty and hard-hitting. Some viewers however some will find the subject matter, the violence and the overall atmosphere not for them. Parts had me in tears, others gasping while looking through my fingers, occasionally I found myself bawling “Oh no!” Finally, this is a Swedish series so don’t expect happy endings.
Near to the end of the show, Tobias Nordwall’s young daughter is talking with Ewert about fencing. Ewert tells her “Start right to get the ending you want”, this is a quote with a meaning that arches right over this series.
Kristallen (2020) Best Actor ~ Joakim Sällquist
Kristallen (2020) Best Actress ~ Ioana Ilinca Neascu
ViaPlay Trailer (No English subtitles):