The Investigation is a Danish drama based unusually for the genre we’ve come to know and love entirely on real events. It revolves around the work of two men – Jens Moller, the Head of Homicide for Copenhagen Police and Chief Prosecutor Jakob Buch, reuniting Danish drama stalwarts Soren Malling and Pilou Asbæk. It’s always a pleasure to have these guys on screen; and in a mini-series created by Tobias Lindolm, who wrote Borgen? Well, we are spoiled.
Kim Wall was a Swedish journalist reported missing by her boyfriend in summer 2017. As a fearless journalist she was used to meeting unusual people in strange locations, but this was something else. She was out at sea in a homemade submarine interviewing its inventor in The Sound.
Things begin in this odd but matter-of-fact fashion and get mysterious quickly. The submarine has sunk, which begs one vital question from all non-engineers – aren’t they supposed to do that? In short, no. Danish naval experts say the sub can only be sunk like that on purpose. The inventor, who escaped the sinking, is brought in and charged with Kim’s murder. While she is still technically a missing person at this point, and the police very much hope she’s still alive, it’s looking increasingly unlikely. When the sunken sub is located, and the specialist recovery divers then realise they can’t access it on the seabed – it must be raised, which itself is a complicated and dangerous operation. Eventually, the sub is raised they can’t find Kim’s body. but there’s some blood and other items which are sent for forensic testing. This feels like a shot in the dark because of the extensive water damage it has suffered.
The story that the accused tells the police about a fatal accident on board and his ridiculously disproportionate overreaction is highly dubious. His friend from the workshop where he built his sub says he’d hoped to have a criminal career and was planning on a “happening of gigantic dimensions” which makes him sound like a hippie at best; at worst a dangerous eccentric fantasist. His girlfriend says “He’s not a monster”. While their sexual relationship was a bit kinky, she says he wasn’t at all the violent type.
Kim’s poor parents (who gave their blessing for this true story to be told) find out about the murder charge via the TV news. Despite this, they are unfailingly polite and restrained in their dealings with the police. They are rightly protective of their daughter’s work contained on her laptop which the police need to seize. We learn a little more about her prize-winning work on climate change and uncovering the scandal of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. She’s fearless and kind, but in these two episodes her character is only hinted at and it’s a shame we don’t learn more.
These episodes, and the four that follow, are entirely focussed on the police and the detailed nitty-gritty of the investigation. Perhaps for authenticity, keeping the audience as in the dark as the investigators, we don’t actually learn the victim’s name until well into episode one, and we don’t see the accused man at all. We don’t even learn his name. All the police interviews with him happen off-camera, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen in a drama before.
This is an important, timely, and respectful choice on the part of the writer, to be victim-focussed, and not to glorify violent acts of men as huge swathes of films, books and TV dramas so often do. The intention is excellent but sadly I find the outcome lacking. By choosing to keep the accused entirely off-screen there’s a hole in the story. For me, this draws greater attention to his actions and makes his motivations all the more mysterious. A gap like this should be filled with details about the life of the victim and those hard-working individuals on the police investigation, but in these first two episodes, the details are scant. Jen’s family are annoyed with him because he’s always busy answering his phone, even when his daughter tells him she’s expecting her first baby. He also has nice dogs. As for the rest of the team, or the victim herself, we have very little to connect us emotionally. Maibritt (Laura Christensen) shows some pluck in dealing with the slightly creepy surgeon, telling him off for repeating gossip about Kim and her attacker. And prosecutor Jakob pops up a couple of times to warn them the clock is ticking, but as his job is courtroom-based, we don’t see much of him in these opening episodes. I’m sure we’ll see much more of him further down the line.
Interestingly the camera is often viewing the action from behind glass; an office window, glass doors, a windscreen. We’re distanced visually as well as stuck behind a metaphorical barrier, watching emotionally remote and stoical characters.
The performances are strong, no doubt, but it doesn’t feel like the actors have very much to do but twiddle their fingers, wait for inspiration to strike and for the investigation to navigate out of the doldrums. Soren Malling and Pilou Asbæk especially are people I can happily watch in absolutely anything. They can always be relied upon to bring their A-game. The pacing is good, the story mysterious, and it’s always satisfying to get the detail behind salacious headlines. But to really honour Kim Wall’s life and legacy, by this point in what is a very short series, I would have liked to feel I knew her better. Unfortunately, like The Investigation’s central team, I just feel frustrated.
Contributed by Sarah Kennedy
The Investigation Continues Fridays at 9.00pm on BBC Two.