The brutality of the crime, as well as the eccentricity of its perpetrator, made it one of the most closely-watched cases in Scandinavian history. An Australian documentary called Into the Deep, which focuses on Madsen and the people who worked with him, was acquired by Netflix but later pulled from its lineup.
The Investigation, produced by Miso Film, a Scandinavian company, does not depict the crime or its perpetrator — in fact, Madsen’s name is never uttered. Instead, Lindholm chose to focus his six episodes on the detectives, divers and scientists who gathered the evidence that would convict him.
“I wanted to make a story about heroes, so I didn’t have room for him,” said Lindholm, who also directed the Oscar-nominated film A War. “It liberated me to tell a humane story,” he added.
The genre of Nordic noir has exploded in literature and on screen over the past decade, and is usually characterised by a horrific crime, a gloomy setting and protagonists tormented by personal demons. Although Lindholm had experience with shows that probe human darkness — he directed two episodes of Mindhunter, the American series following the FBI’s early efforts to psychologically profile serial killers — he said that he wanted something different for The Investigation. A meeting with Jens Moller, the pragmatic, good-natured Danish homicide chief who led the investigation into Wall’s killing, persuaded him to focus the show on someone who was simply good at his job.
“The story he told me about the case was very different from the dark, horrifying story that I saw in the press,” Lindholm recalled. “He told me a story about police officers who did their job and about divers who spent months in the dark, cold water trying to find what they could so that parents could bury their daughter.”
As played by Soren Malling (who also starred in The Killing, which helped to popularise the Nordic noir TV genre abroad), Moller is reserved but not tormented, and he doesn’t so much crack the case as doggedly compile the evidence that allows it to be successfully prosecuted. “He became my hero,” Malling said of the homicide chief. “This is a guy who never appeared on the cover of a magazine. He just worked as a policeman for 40 years.”
Moller introduced Lindholm to Kim Wall’s parents, who had come to think of the officer as a friend. Although the couple had turned down most media requests, they decided to work on the show in part because of the director’s decision not to include Madsen. “We don’t want to make a commercial for this guy,” Joachim Wall said. “He’s already cost us so much.”
But they were even more persuaded by what Lindholm did want to focus on. “We see this as a tribute to the ordinary people — the normal policeman, the normal diver,” Ingrid Wall explained. “Not just because they were doing their jobs, but because they did their jobs with determination. They were out there, on the Oresund in November, with big waves, and freezing cold.”
In some ways, the show’s focus echoed their daughter’s work as a journalist, which appeared in many publications, including The New York Times. She wrote about women fighting for the Tamil Tigers and about Ugandans tortured under Idi Amin. “Kim wanted to give a voice to people who didn’t have one,” her father said. “She was always looking for the story behind the story.”
By the time Lindholm met the Walls, they were working on a book about their daughter’s life and had started the Kim Wall Memorial Fund, which awards grants to young female journalists. And they had also, somehow, figured out a way to embrace life. “Even if it’s the absolute darkest time, there is light on the other side,” Ingrid Wall said. “So, even if we have been hit by this tragedy, we can still laugh, we can still enjoy walking the dog on the beach.”
The couple did not have veto power over the script, but they did advise Lindholm on a few places where moments didn’t ring true. In an early draft, for example, the director figured that, as reserved Scandinavians, the Walls’ neighbours would back away from the grieving couple. But the couple experienced just the opposite, and the corrected scene, in which their neighbours bring them flowers and condolences, is one of the most moving in the series.
Joachim Wall is portrayed in the show by Rolf Lassgard, and Ingrid Wall by Pernilla August, who has appeared in two Star Wars movies. “To be played by Luke Skywalker’s mother,” Ingrid Wall said, “is pretty great.” The Walls figure in the series not just as survivors of tragedy, but as active participants in the quest to find meaning in it. In one episode, Joachim Wall initiates an important plot turn when he suggests that the police use “cadaver dogs” capable of locating scents originating underwater.
Those small moments may not have the same dramatic force as the complicated twists of the average Scandinavian crime drama. But they add up to something affecting in its own right: a portrait of a society in which, even in the face of horrific violence, things work as they should.
Pausing by the heart-shaped memorial to Kim Wall that anonymous well-wishers have created on the beach near the Walls’ home, Lindholm reached down to pet Iso. “Systems that work, human beings who believe in society,” he said. “That’s a Nordic story, too.”
The Investigation is on SBS on Demand from December 17.