What is the story about?
After the death of his son Isak, Peter Johansson, a former ice-hockey player, returns to his hometown of Bjornstadin Sweden, with his family. In order to make a fresh start, he decides to coach the youth ice-hockey team. Driven by the threat of the town’s ice-hockey arena being shut down, and the promise he sees in talented team captain Kevin, Peter coaches the team to winning ways. However, after their semi-final win, Kevin ends up raping Peter’s daughter Maya. As Maya grapples with the trauma of the incident and goes public with her accusations, a town that is looking forward to the team’s championship win turns on her and her father. Will Maya get justice, or will she be shunned by the town?
If you look at any team sport—be it football, cricket or hockey—there is always an element of bloodlust beneath all the enthusiasm, hard work and planning. More often than not, it is hypermasculinity in the form of swagger or arrogance which sportsmen are made to include in their daily life. And in this day and age, where everyone is craving for "good news", the lines between ethical and unethical get blurred as even fans put their sporting heroes on a pedestal. In Beartown, director Peter Gronlund brings Fredrik Backman's chilling novel to life, where an entire town has pinned hopes of revitalization on the success of their teenage ice-hockey team, and their coach Peter. This is not a town where people can be themselves. Everyone seems to be on their guard, and every man tries to assert their authority in front of others. More chillingly, when Kevin rapes Maya, the townspeople are more horrified at the fact that Kevin won't be able to play, rather than the fact that he violated someone's dignity. It's in these moments that Beartown becomes a stunning indictment of popular culture and its obsession with making heroes out of human beings, and the backlash against Maya that follows in the series is too uncomfortable to watch, because it's also too real. Unlike most other Swedish dramas/thrillers, there is a sliver of hope in its conclusion. You pray fervently that it's not a mirage.
It is Peter's reappearance in Bjornstad that kicks off proceedings, and Ulf Stenberg plays him with a kind of cautious swagger that masks his inner turmoil and inability to cope with the loss of his son. Aliette Opheim is equally resilient as Mira, his wife. Ultimately, though, the series primarily rests on the shoulders of two young actors, and they deliver in spades. Miriam Ingrid channels oceans of vulnerability and hurt as Maya, Peter's daughter, who loses and slowly regains her confidence in the face of excessive brickbats. Oliver Dufaker is alternately menacing and timid as Kevin. The rest of the cast are equally decent.
Music & Other Departments
Petrus Sjovik's ace lensing captures the snowy, barren splendour of northern Sweden perfectly. Johan Testad's score is apt for the narrative.
The ice-hockey sequences are impressively filmed. Ultimately, though, it is the sharp writing that sustains your interest throughout.
For a show that keeps the tension constantly simmering throughout the most part with its sharp writing and direction, it is slightly unbelievable how the initial part of the final episode is handled. The sequence at the arena where townsfolk have gathered to vote out Peter as the coach feels over-the-top and certainly incongruous with the rest of the show.
Did I enjoy it?
Apart from portions of the final episode, I enjoyed the convoluted narrative a lot.
Do I recommend it?
I will recommend this, but with a necessary disclaimer: there are certain scenes that could act as triggers.