Man In Room 301
- Brian Donaldson
- 1 March 2021
Decent enough attempt at revisiting Scandi Noir's golden age without breaking any new ground
The numbers may not have been fully crunched, but it looks like a neck-and-neck race in modern crime dramas for the main victim to be either a dead woman or a toddler/child that's either dead or missing. With Man In Room 301, the BBC's first ever Finnish drama (albeit a story conceived by Kate Ashfield aka Liz from Shaun Of The Dead), the latter has its box ticked when two-year-old Tommi goes wandering off into the woods with his sleeping father oblivious to the horror that awaits.
Having finally awoken, a dazed and confused Seppo (Jussi Vatanen) stumbles off in search of the lad. We see another boy called Elias (Viljami Lahti) who is older, red-haired, angry looking, and wielding a gun. A shot is fired. The action abruptly cuts back and forth between then (2007) and 12 years later, but soon a blooded Tommi is seen in the arms of his distraught dad. It looks like an open and shut case, but this is Nordic Noir so all will hardly be as it seems until, most likely, the very final scenes.
In the 2019 sequences, it's clear that Seppo is still struggling with his son's death: he falls out with everyone and his drinking has got so out of hand that he's now in AA. Man In Room 301 chops and changes its timeframes at a giddying rate that you're grateful some characters now have spectacles or beards or different haircuts. Indeed, a new identity is right at the centre of this drama. What has become of Elias, the angry, red-haired boy with the gun? Could he possibly be the young man who just so happens to be holidaying at the same Greek resort as the still grieving family? After all, he is acting a mite suspiciously and also has a tuft of red hair (the grandfather of the crew had already approached a redhead at the airport before they jetted off, but oops, it turned out to be a woman: are there really so few folk in Finland with ginger hair?).
As several other secrets unfold, we are continually sent off to spy on Tommi's sisters in 2019 as they flirt with two young men who are increasingly represented as 'persons of interest': the music tells us that, as does the occasional weird expressions on the boys' faces. While we remain confident that the writers know what they're doing, we can't be quite so assured about the translation. When you see an exchange along the lines of 'let's go for a walk'/'yes let's', you may not be inclined to believe absolutely everything that you're reading. It feels like a long while since the Scandi crime heyday of The Killing and The Bridge, and Man In Room 301 is another decent but barely memorable stab at bringing back the good times.
BBC Four, Saturdays, 9pm; all episodes available now on BBC iPlayer.