Tobias Lindholm, writer and director of Danish real-life drama Efterforskningen (The Investigation), reveals why he wanted to tell the story of the people working to solve the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall.
In August 2017, Swedish journalist Kim Wall boarded a submarine to interview its owner, Danish entrepreneur and engineer Peter Madsen. When she was later reported missing after the submarine failed to return, the vessel was discovered to have sunk. Madsen was rescued at sea, but Wall was nowhere to be found.
Over the next 160 days, investigators tirelessly searched for answers to what had happened to her as the story gripped the local and international media. Wall’s torso subsequently washed up on a beach, while divers later found her head, legs, arms and clothes in a stretch of water between Danish capital Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmö.
Madsen changed his account of what happened numerous times, at first claiming he had dropped Wall off on land before later stating that he dumped her body at sea after she died accidentally. He also claimed she died after hitting her head on the submarine hatch. But in January 2018, he was charged with murder, and in April that year he was sentenced to life in prison.
Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm had watched the case unfold but had no interest in dramatising it for television. “I didn’t want to be part of that story and I didn’t really see the relevance of a fictionalised version,” he says. His thoughts changed, however, when he met Jens Møller, the head of homicide at Copenhagen Police who had overseen the inquiry into Wall’s murder.
“I’ve been doing material about real events and real people since I began making movies and I knew that I would like to pick his brain,” Lindholm tells DQ. “We ended up having a coffee and he said a couple of things that got me interested. First of all, he talked about his work as a murder investigator and that a human being could die in four different ways: natural causes, accident, suicide and homicide. The idea of being able to talk about death in such a calculated way reminded me of Sherlock Holmes.
“Then he described to me an investigator’s world that didn’t remind me of [US crime procedural] CSI. I realised I had no idea how this guy worked. I had no idea what price they paid and I had no idea how hard they work and how complicated it all was. Later, he told me a bit about this case and his friendship with Kim’s parents. Those two elements started to boil in my brain.”
Møller also spoke about the other officers involved in the case, the numerous police divers who scanned the seabed for clues and the Swedish police dogs, trained to smell human remains underwater, that were brought in to assist the human investigators.
“Suddenly from being a terrible, brutal case that I forced myself to look away from, it became a story about companionship, friendship, love and standing together. That fascinated me,” Lindholm says. “I realised I could tell a story about a case that was already known to the world but from a new angle that would be humanising and warm, and in some way would give hope from darkness. That intrigued me.”
The result is six-part drama Efterforskningen (The Investigation). Played by Søren Malling (A Hijacking, Borgen), Møller is at the show’s centre, leading viewers through the complex jigsaw he and his team must piece together to provide prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen (Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk) with the evidence he needs to secure a guilty verdict against the murder suspect.
It’s not just Møller’s professional life that is put under scrutiny, however, but his personal life too, as his relationships with his wife and his daughter are impacted by his career.
“He was brave,” Lindholm says of Møller. “I promised him to be as objective and precise as possible. Normally the cliché is we have a chief investigator who’s already darkened by all the crime and all the brutality he has witnessed throughout his career and has been dehumanised by that – he is not able to maintain a marriage, he is not able to maintain friendships, he’s drinking too much and, in so many ways, is a damaged human being.
“What is brilliant about Jens and what makes him a great investigator is his humanity. The way he offered friendship and passion towards Kim’s parents was just inspiring because it gave me an insight into people who found each other in the darkness and walked towards the light. If I needed anything at the time, and still do, it’s stories about hope that remind us of how important we are to each other. Jens was a perfect ambassador for that. I don’t remember ever seeing a chief investigator of homicide being this human and being this normal.”
Also integral to the story are Wall’s parents, Ingrid and Joachim Wall, played by Pernilla August (Star Wars) and Rolf Lassgård (The Hunters). It was after Lindholm was first introduced to them by Møller and he heard how Joachim became involved in the investigation himself that he decided to pursue his idea for the series.
“It seems like you would always feel the relatives would be some sort of obstacle for the investigators to get by. But in this case, they were actually part of the investigation and they’ve been very close to this production,” Lindholm says. “For me, it’s a story about three people. It’s about Ingrid, Joachim and Jens and how they found each other.”
Adding a further layer of authenticity is the fact that many of the people – including divers, sailors and scientists – who featured in the real case also play either themselves or background characters, while real Swedish police dogs also appear.
“It’s a story that shows their heroic work more than anything,” Lindholm says. “I wanted them to be to be part of it and, luckily, a lot of them wanted to be part of it.”
In contrast, Lindholm completely cuts out the accused, who is never mentioned by name, while Kim Wall is only portrayed on screen through the words of her parents.
“Nobody knows what happened [on the submarine] and I didn’t want to guess, so I decided to make it a story about Jens Møller and his investigation, which is why it’s called The Investigation. The case opens when it lands on Jens’ desk and it ends when he passes the case to the prosecutor. The perpetrator had been mentioned enough already. I had nothing to add. And I don’t think a story about heroes and a story about hope needed him. I needed all of those who had not been spoken about.
“When we meet other people, they needed to have some sort of effect on the investigation and on Jens’ work. I did not want to add things from the outside that didn’t have a direct effect on the investigation, and therefore we ended up leaving the perpetrator outside and only giving insight to Kim when it came from her parents.”
With the series entirely based on facts surrounding the case, Lindholm avoided using creative licence in any area outside of Møller’s family life, where events and timelines have sometimes been moved or condensed. He spent hours talking to Møller and the Walls, before locking himself away for six months to write the scripts. Occasionally, he would allow producers from Fremantle-owned Danish production company Miso Film to see what he was working on.
“I decided to just sit down and write it myself. And then afterwards I would hire researchers that would double-check facts so that I wouldn’t have anything in this story that we couldn’t find in two other places, like in a radio show and a newspaper,” he explains. “The most important part was I didn’t want to make true crime. I was not fascinated with the crime. This is true investigation. Step by step, we follow the investigation.”
Borgen writer Lindholm has worked with Malling for more than 10 years, and says the actor – who he describes as one of Denmark’s finest – was the natural choice to play Møller. “I know with him I don’t get a well-trained circus animal. I get a live human being,” he says. “He will offer emotion, realism and naturalism that I know the camera will love. It was easy to call him and ask him, and luckily he said yes. He and Jens spent a lot of time together. They both have had jobs that demand a lot from them and they could connect to each other from a private point of view, being fathers and husbands and knowing the price of long, rough careers.”
Behind the camera, Lindholm is known for the handheld style he has used in films including The Hijacking and A War to bring an immediacy to proceedings. But after working with David Fincher on Netflix FBI thriller Mindhunter, an experience he describes as a “very privileged film school,” Lindholm developed new ways of directing to underline the psychology and emotional power of a scene, which he then employed in The Investigation.
“With my DP Magnus Nordenhof Jønck, who has shot everything I’ve directed except Mindhunter, we decided to work more stylistically, allowing ourselves to relax and just be in the moment and be present in the settings instead of constantly hunting action with a handheld camera.”
Malling also contributed to Møller’s portrayal on camera, asking Lindholm to allow his character to disappear into his thoughts from time to time. So in episode one, the camera flits back and forth between Møller and other characters as they talk to each other. But as the series progresses, the camera has more patience with the lead investigator as the camera anticipates his next move.
“We have more patience with him at the end, more than we had in the beginning, which was, of course, the plan,” Lindholm says. “The idea was that we would get to know him [through the series], as would the audience.”
Filming scenes on the open water, Lindholm also chose to keep the camera above the surface, rather than showing the divers underwater, so viewers must wait for answers alongside Møller and his team on the boat.
“Anybody who knows Denmark would know that the weather changes five times a day, so the idea that we could plan any sort of shooting on water was just crazy,” the director says. “Then we added Swedish dogs to the boats, which didn’t make it easier. But the biggest gifts came with that. The fact that we had the real divers with us, the real dogs, the real scientists, I felt a responsibility I haven’t felt before in terms of making sure I told the truth about these police officers, first responders, divers and everybody who was involved with the case.
“I felt the case itself had been covered enough, so the hard part was to constantly focus on what the interesting part of the investigation was. That’s where the big battle was won for me. Then, of course, we could not be seduced into the grief and into the fascination of the darkness. I had to constantly remind myself this is a story about hope, love and compassion.”
Ahead of the launch of Efterforskningen on Denmark’s TV2 on September 28, Madsen is back in the news after admitting to the murder in a new documentary. “It’s not new. He admitted to this a long time ago,” Lindholm says. “From the perspective of her parents, that he comes with a new explanation is not a surprise. The truth is that he’s been convicted with the highest imprisonment in Danish law so, for them, that’s enough.”
Believing people are too attracted by tales of darkness, Lindholm hopes Efterforskningen will show how this particular story is also one about hard work, sacrifice and people helping each other. Distributed by Fremantle, Miso Film produce the series in cooperation with Outline Film with Sweden’s SVT and Nordic Entertainment Group’s Viaplay, with the BBC in the UK and Germany’s RTL also picking up the series.
“Even though they were caught in the darkest hours, these people, the parents and the investigators, they found each other and, against all odds, they found a way towards the light,” Lindholm says. “That itself is inspiring and a story worth telling.”