B-Reel Films’ Ulf Synnerholm introduces Swedish crime drama Detektiven från Beledweyne (Detective #24) and reveals how this story of two investigators searching for a missing girl feeds into the country’s immigration debate.
In all its work, Swedish producer B-Reel Films looks to create debate and engagement around societal and political issues, but in various genres and disguises. It might be a young woman navigating adulthood in Thunder in My Heart, the trials of online dating in Dejta, a fact-based crime drama about a real shooting in Knutby (The Congregation) or even within a fictional spin-off about an Agatha Christie character in Hjerson.
The company’s latest series, Detektiven från Beledweyne (Detective #24), is no exception. The six-parter, which aired earlier this year on public broadcaster SVT, is a crime drama about careless former prosecutor Tilda Renström, who is demoted to a job in a refugee detention centre.
Tilda is about to deport an asylum seeker known as 24 – they are referred to as numbers rather than by their names – back to Somalia. But when a young girl goes missing near the centre and the spotlight falls on the town of Karkebo, Tilda discovers 24 is a former Somali police detective – and by utilising his skills, she sees a way to win back her self-esteem and maybe her job. However, 24 may want something in return for his services.
Written by Aron Levander and directed by Zaida Bergroth and Patrik Gyllström, Detective #24 stars Malin Levanon as Tilda alongside Nasir Dhagole as 24. All3Media International is handling distribution.
“We are a pretty political company in the sense that we do engage in any kind of questions within the Swedish community and the political landscape,” B-Reel MD and series executive producer Ulf Synnerholm tells DQ. And few issues have shaped Sweden like its immigration policy, with around 100,000 people arriving annually over the last two decades in a country of just over 10 million people.
“We’ve been generous, we’ve allowed people to come, which we always do, but then we’ve had discussions about how we transform this into something good, not only for the people who are kept away from a war, for example,” Synnerholm continues. “And that’s where it all started.
“We realised the crime genre is still so popular that we can’t back away from it, and by putting these two characters [Tilda and 24] together, it became an inverted Sherlock and Watson story about a privileged woman who is lazy, who has lost her job as a prosecutor and is stuck in this detention unit where she is taking care of people who are being shipped home. They don’t know their names and they don’t really care.”
When Tilda meets 24, she sees an opportunity to restore her own dignity by helping the police to find the missing girl by partnering with a man who is willing to stay in Sweden at any cost.
“That felt like a setup where they need to get into this collaboration, where they need each other for different reasons, but they can’t really reveal it because if they reveal it, he’ll be sent back and she will be stuck with her job,” Synnerholm says. “They’re stuck and it’s not that they like each other, but they need each other. She’s the privileged on; it’s not about life and death for her. For him, it’s definitely life and death and that’s what it’s about, coming as a refugee.
“When Aron Levander, the creator, found that premise for the show, it was really easy for us to become deeply engaged in it. We wanted the show to say something but it should also be entertaining.”
Early discussions about the series could have seen it become a procedural, where the two mismatched partners solve a different crime in each episode. But when it became clear that approach would shift the focus of the drama away from the characters themselves, the creative team settled on a serialised storyline that also features flashbacks of 24’s past, revealing why he fled Somalia and why it’s now impossible for him to return.
“We had very close collaboration with the migration system in Sweden, the authorities, and we learned a lot about the people working there [in the refugee centres] and the people staying there,” Synnerholm says. “We learned a lot about the bureaucracy and red tape. We also learned the importance of showing the humans behind the quotas we see, because we’ve very much lost that.
“In many ways, the people who work there feel their hands are tied when it comes to bringing a better life to these people, who are basically in a waiting room. Most of them will be sent back sooner or later, and none of them have any opportunity to utilise any skills they might have. It’s a horrific system, and some of that plays out throughout the series.”
For financial reasons, Detective #24 was filmed around Goteborg on the south-west cost of Sweden, though it is set in Uppsala, north of Stockholm, as the producers wanted to root the show in a traditional, academic town with “fairly classic” cinematography. “We never wanted a stylised show because it didn’t fit the theme and the topics. That would have created a distance from the seriousness of the story,” Synnerholm says.
But it’s the central pairing of Tilda and 24 that is at the heart of Detective #24, and Levanon and Dhagole were brought together after a lengthy casting process.
“Malin we knew from a feature film we made many years ago, and she is in many ways perfect for the role,” Synnerholm says. “Finding 24 did take a lot of time. We went abroad and went all over. We had a few people who came in to do a screen test and then they backed out, but Nasir did a self-tape and sent it to us.
“We looked at it and he had such a fantastic presence in front of the camera. When we paired him with Malin, we realised this was what we needed to do. Then he said no at first, but after his wife had their child, she said, ‘No, you should do it.’”
With a background in theatre, Dhagole took a TV role for the first time in Detective #24, using his own experience of living in Somalia to inform his performance and some of the twists and turns taken in the series.
Synnerholm adds: “He was super solid throughout the entire production, and so was Malin. It worked really well.”