The Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm has made a string of accomplished, morally complex dramas that almost nobody in Britain has seen. He was one of the co-writers on Borgen, and with Thomas Vinterkorn, he co-wrote The Hunt in 2012, which starred Mads Mikkelsen as a teacher wrongly accused of sexual abuse. In the same year, however, he also came out with a solo film, the underrated A Hijacking. Two of the stars of Borgen, Pilou Asbaek and Soren Malling – although Asbaek is now better known as Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones – played a cook on a cargo ship and the shipping company’s chief executive, who are pushed to their limits when a ship is hijacked by Somali pirates. In 2015, Lindholm reunited with both actors for his Afghanistan drama A War, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
Now the three of them at it again. The Investigation (BBC Two) is a six-part true-crime drama about the 2017 murder of the 30-year-old Swedish journalist Kim Wall, whose dismembered body was found scattered around Copenhagen after she went to interview the Danish entrepreneur-inventor Peter Madsen. Malling plays Jens Moller, chief of homicide in Copenhagen.
In this first episode, he charges Madsen with murder before a body is even found, putting pressure on his team to find evidence before the suspect is released. Asbaek, in a suit and tie looking more spick and span than we are used to seeing him, plays the prosecuting lawyer Jakob Buch-Jepson. Madsen had taken Wall out in his midget submarine, a detail that lifted the story into the international press. New information often becomes clear to the police mere moments before it is broken to the media, which makes the investigators’ job even harder. It isn’t long before the case is starting to take its toll on Moller, who becomes distracted at home.
Superficially, The Investigation has all the usual ingredients of a true-crime drama. Grizzled male public servants, plucky sidekicks, angry parents. Yet between the cinematography, which makes even the winching of a submarine out of the water an artistic event, the excellent lead performances, and a script that works on the accumulation of small details rather than fireworks, it is elevated into something far more engaging. Its trick is that we never meet the killer. Unlike so many similar series where the murderer becomes the antihero, Madsen is given no chance to grandstand. By being hidden away like this, his role is almost abstracted. He’s an unseen evil, and the job of these men is to prove it. As a result, for all its dark themes, The Investigation never gives into prurience, and was made with the cooperation of Wall’s parents, Ingrid and Joachim. Its drama comes from watching dedicated professionals grapple with the horror and slowly piece together what happened. In its own way, it’s a radical vision of a man determined that justice will be served.
Or maybe it’s just that even 10 years after the height of the Scandi noir craze, we remain susceptible to grey seafronts and stylishly minimal homeware. Either way, hopefully this prime-time outing on the BBC will raise Lindholm’s profile. In interviews, he has said The Investigation is about “a society that worked”. It’s testament to his gifts that he makes this howdunnit as gripping as a whodunnit.