TV Review: ‘The Investigation’ – Empathetic Portrayal Of A Sensationalised Murder

The Investigation is a Danish six-part limited series based on the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall in 2017, released on BBC Two in January 2021. You may remember it from the media storm of tabloids indulging in the gory details of the case: a homemade submarine, built by a wealthy inventor, was sunk in the summer of 2017; the owner returned to the shore, but Wall, who had gone onto the submarine for an interview, remained missing. Her body was later found, decapitated and dismembered, piece by piece over the course of several months.

The show could so easily have been an extension of those tabloid headlines, but writer and director Tobias Lindholm chose a different option: integrity. The series tells the story of the police investigation, from first hearing about the sunk submarine through to the court case. It avoids any dramatisation of what may have happened on the submarine in the hours leading up to Wall’s death, remaining firmly in the realms of truth and accuracy. It follows Jens Møller (Søren Malling), the head of the Denmark Police Department, as he leads a small team in piecing together fragments of fact to find proof that the accused murdered Wall. The accused is never named (simply referred to as ‘the accused’), and Kim Wall herself is remembered as the skilled and courageous journalist she was, not the victim she became.

“The quality of the acting, direction, and filmography is so good that you can’t help but empathise.”

The police work is difficult, time-consuming, and, as BBC Must Watch reviewer Haley Williams aptly put it, mainly spent on the phone and in cars. Diligence is rarely seen in crime dramas; poring over stacks of paperwork, consistently finding nothing, waiting 36 hours for a forensics report all takes time, and it’s boring. And yet, some of the most profound scenes in the series involved divers searching the sea-bed over and over; as new pieces of information came in, they would adjust their search area and carry on.

There’s a sense of vastness to the landscape, from the wide shots of volunteers painstakingly searching shorelines to the matte-black submarine being raised at the end of the first episode. This vastness seems to correspond to an empathy within the series. A related side-plot to the ongoing investigation is the relationship between Jens Moller, the police chief, and Kim Wall’s parents, who in real life worked closely with Lindholm in creating the series. There is a low hum of a question that recurs throughout the series: ‘what would I do if this happened to my child?’ As Moller has to face the gruesome facts of the case, he is forced to work through his own relationship with his own pregnant daughter. The vastness of the landscape seems to reflect this seemingly inconceivable question, and the quality of the acting, direction, and filmography is so good that you can’t help but empathise.

These themes of integrity, truth, diligence, and empathy are journalistic traits, as well as being essential for good police and legal work. The show demonstrates, quietly and understatedly, how to be a good journalist: the best memorial to Kim Wall.

The Investigation is available on BBC iPlayer.

Words by Anna Willis

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