Before We Die review – a weak, bleak hour that’s totally lost in translation


Channel 4’s new drama Before We Die is based on a Swedish series of the same name. It figures: viewing it felt exactly like watching something where all the important things had been lost in translation.

A pace that might perhaps have fostered a sense of dread in the original here tips over into simple slowness. The story – shifted from Stockholm to Bristol – follows senior police detective Hannah Laing (Lesley Sharp). Hannah is being forced to do a desk job in the hope that it will encourage her to retire and make way for new blood, a story that unfolds no more than steadily. She is on bad terms with her son, Christian (Patrick Gibson), because, two years before the story proper begins, she had him arrested for drug dealing during a nightclub raid. (To be fair, she thought he would get a suspended sentence rather than the prison term he ended up serving. We’ve all been there with our recalcitrant teens.)

She is on extremely familiar terms with her married colleague Sean (Bill Ward) and they are beginning to look to a future together, when he disappears halfway through a phone call to her, while on his way to meet a contact. We next see Sean hanging from the rafters of an abandoned warehouse, being beaten and tortured by a man with an eastern European accent who appears to be thoroughly exercised over “Krajina”, a word he shouts repeatedly into Sean’s battered, upside down face.

A series of flashbacks shows Sean supporting Christian in prison and after the boy’s release. When Christian realises the eastern European family which owns the restaurant he is dishwashing in might be using it as a front for nefarious activity, he tips his father-figure off. Ergo, embroilment of the pair.

Back in the present, Hannah is trying to convince her boss, Tina (Rebecca Scroggs), and fellow detective Billy Murdoch (Vincent Regan, doing a Scottish accent that is triggering all my repressed urges to become a world dictator, purely so that I can insist that, unless absolutely vital to the plot, actors are never allowed to do accents again) that a policeman going missing halfway through a phone call and on his way to meet a contact is decidedly odd. Again, we must be fair, however, and note that she has not yet told them that she found his smashed burner phone on the roadside where his car was last seen. When she eventually does, they get to work.

All this takes place via a script that seems to have been run through Google Translate and given to the actors without amendment. “Glad you’re doing OK,” says Hannah to Christian when they semi-mistakenly meet at his father’s party, “after what happened.” “You mean – after what you did!” he exclaims. Elsewhere, exposition lands like rocks until the poor actors are marooned in the rubble. “How well do you know Sean?” asks Hannah of Billy as they try to hack into Sean’s laptop looking for something that could suggest how or by whom he might be imperilled. “Not at all really,” replies Billy. “Said he was investigating an eastern European drug connection. Asked my advice.” Wait, what? Why don’t they look into that! “Is that your speciality?” asks Hannah idly, as she sifts through some papers on the floor. “Allegedly,” says Billy. “That’s why I was seconded here.” So, not “allegedly” at all then, but in some very recognisable, probably state-authorised way? “From the National Crime Agency?” says Hannah, sounding bored, because filling in character details IS boring. “Aye,” says Billy. Before that, it eventually clunks out, he was in MI5. I hope his Russian accent is better than his Scottish one.

Despite all the brilliant work we have all seen Sharp, Regan and Ward do over the years, and perhaps because of the script, the acting is poor from the protagonists. It is also downright woeful from peripheral characters. Their dire performances make Before We Die such a weak, bleak, affectless hour that it almost becomes compelling again, albeit for all the wrong reasons. At the very least, it makes you appreciate the level of quality that we have come to take for granted in television dramas.

The pace picks up a little towards the end, as mother and son become unwitting contacts and co-investigators of what by then is Sean’s murder. Whether it continues, and whether it will be enough to redeem the whole, remains to be seen.

About the author

Olivia Wilson
By Olivia Wilson


Get in touch

Content and images available on this website is supplied by contributors. As such we do not hold or accept liability for the content, views or references used. For any complaints please contact Use of this website signifies your agreement to our terms of use. We do our best to ensure that all information on the Website is accurate. If you find any inaccurate information on the Website please us know by sending an email to and we will correct it, where we agree, as soon as practicable. We do not accept liability for any user-generated or user submitted content – if there are any copyright violations please notify us at – any media used will be removed providing proof of content ownership can be provided. For any DMCA requests under the digital millennium copyright act
Please contact: with the subject DMCA Request.