Had I known how demanding it would be to make my drama series The Investigation, I am not sure I would have done it. But I’m proud I did. Kim Wall was a Swedish journalist and her murder, onboard a submarine in Denmark in 2017, led to a media circus. The Danish press seized on it: there was an obsession with the darkness of what happened, with so many theories flying around. Much of the focus was on the perpetrator.
All this made me turn away from the story. Knowing that I was a film-maker, parents I’d meet would say: “Wow, what a story – that would make a great movie.” I thought: “Would it?” Here’s a story we’ve heard many times before in fiction, revolving around a man who kills a woman. The name Kim Wall was barely mentioned by the press, compared with the name of the culprit.
It was only later, when I met Jens Møller, chief of homicide with the Copenhagen police, that I got a different perspective. Initially, I was interested in speaking to him about a Chechen-Belgian terrorist who had blown himself up in Denmark. But, over coffee, Jens ended up telling me a different story, about “the submarine case” [Wall was originally thought to have died in an accident while interviewing the vessel’s owner, who claimed he had buried her at sea. The police didn’t believe him and, 10 days later, her torso was found washed ashore.]
Jens told me about leading the investigation into how Kim had died, about his friendship with Kim’s parents, Ingrid and Joachim, and about the extraordinary efforts of the scientists, divers and police dogs in searching for her body. On my bike ride home, I started to think there was a different kind of story here, not just another tale of a “fascinating” man who killed a woman. We could talk about society and a justice system that actually works, rather than humanising the perpetrator.
I didn’t want to do a cliched story about the struggle between good and evil, and all the iterations of that. That makes sense with Mindhunter [which Lindholm worked on for Netflix] because that was about the FBI and how they did things back then. But it didn’t make sense for this. I wanted to tell a story about Jens, Kim’s parents and the humanity of it all. A story where we didn’t even need to name the perpetrator. The story was simply not about him.
Jens introduced me to Ingrid and Joachim. I expected it to be one of the most difficult meetings of my life, but they made it easy. I listened to their story and saw how much respect they had for the Danish police, the divers and everybody who had worked on the case. I started planning the story and speaking to the people who had been there. Their participation was key: the ship that lifts the submarine from the bottom of the ocean in the first episode is the one that did it in real life, with the same crew. We had the real divers there, too, with the head diver yelling lines to the actor playing him. Accuracy was very important. If I had started to pretend, to use my own imagination, I would have been the same as the journalists who covered it. The most beautiful thing is that Iso – Ingrid and Joachim’s dog – plays itself. Joachim insisted.
I also got to see the emotional toll the investigation had taken on Jens. Every time we talked, he kind of unmasked himself, occasionally becoming upset. He started to understand what an emotional burden it had been for him, why it ended up being his last case with the Copenhagen police. We brought in some of his personal life in a humane and relatable way, and how another family’s tragedy affected his own relationships. I became aware of the price these people – divers, investigators, first responders – pay in doing their job.
I felt blessed to have had the support of Ingrid and Joachim, but I also felt a great responsibility – and I controlled the material more than I usually would. It meant so much when they were happy with the finished series. Now one in four Danes have seen it and we’ve been able to change people’s perspective on the case. The press now talk about Kim as a journalist. The series, along with everything that her parents do, is a way of making sure that she is remembered as the talented, successful, important writer that she was.
• The Investigation begins on BBC Two and iPlayer at 9pm on 22 January.