The Unlikely Murderer ~ Netflix: A Non-Spoiler Review

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Photo montage of scenes from The Unlikely Murderer. Central image is the poster for the show.

🇸🇪 THE UNLIKELY MURDERER 🇸🇪

The Unlikely Murderer (2021) is a Swedish, Netflix Original limited crime drama series of 5 x 43-52 min episodes. This is a dramatisation of real events. Cert 15 U.K. In Swedish with subtitles (close captioning) and also available dubbed.

Premise:

“The assassination of Palme in 1986, Engström managed to elude justice right up to his death through a combination of audacity, luck, and a perplexed police force.” IMDb

Cast:

Robert Gustafsson as Stig Engström
Eva Melander as Margarete Engström
Cilla Thorell as Lisbet Palme
Björn Bengtsson as Thomas Pettersson
Peter Viitanen as Olof Palme
Magnus Krepper as Harry Levin
Joel Spira as Lennart Grandström
Peter Andersson as Arne Irvell
Emil Almén as Göran Fors
David Andersson as MÃ¥rten Palme
Mikael Persbrandt as Hans Holmér
Johanna Wilson as Sonja Levin
Matti Boustedt as Christer Pettersson
Cedomir Djordjevic as Waiter

Crew:

Writers: Wilhelm Behrman, Niklas Rockström, based on a book by Thomas Pettersson (see Notes)
Directors: Charlotte Brändström, Simon Kaijser
Cinematographer: Aril Wretblad
Composers: Frank Back, Frank’s Back
Editors: Thomas Lagerman, Joakim Tessert-Elström, Christina Eriksson
Costume: Kicki Ilander
Make-Up: Love Larson (prosthetic makeup designer), Eva Von Bahr (makeup designer)
Special Effects: Johan Harnesk
Visual Effects: Arvid Björn
Stunt Coordinator: Peter Lundberg

Netflix poster of The Unlikely Murderer

Notes:

The Unlikely Murderer is based on the book “Den osannolika mördaren – Skandiamannen och mordet pÃ¥ Olof Palme” by Thomas Pettersson (2018)

Robert Gustafsson was at the same cinema screening as Prime Minister Olof Palme

Locations:
Tunnelgatan, Norrmalm, Stockholm
Sveavägen, Norrmalm, Stockholm
Other locations in Stockholm

Link to information about the assassination of Olof Palme:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Olof_Palme

Robert Gustafsson as Stig Engström (Foreground) Cilla Thorell as Lisbet Palme (centre) and Peter Viitanen as Olof Palme (right) in a scene from The Unlikely Murderer

Review:

The Unlikely Murderer is a dramatisation of a book that focuses upon Stig Engström as being the likely (“unlikely”) murderer of Swedish premier Olof Palme in February 1986. What we see in this limited series is a dramatic exploration of the character of Engström himself and reenactments of actual and possible/probable events. It is not a documentary and right from the start it is made clear that this is, to this day, an unsolved crime.

I already knew a bit about this tragic murder and recall it headlining the news here in the U.K., however, not everybody watching this show will know as much as I and others will certainly know far more and have their own perceptions and theories as to who murdered Olof Palme and why. This makes the level at which this show needs to be pitched tricky from a writer’s point of view.

Anyone expecting The Unlikely Murderer to be an exploration of all the possibilities will be left disappointed. This show is very much an in-depth character study of Stig Engström along with a police investigation which was marred by terrible deficiencies throughout.

Although the alteration of appearance with wigs, prosthetics and makeup could hinder the viewer (especially with actors who are so well known) I think it was essential here because what these people looked like is very well known to many (especially in Sweden). It also, I think, overcomes the overidentification of actors with their previous roles. The makeup, especially the prosthetics, is marvellous.

Robert Gustafsson as Stig Engström in a scene from The Unlikely Murderer

Turning to the character of Stig Engström himself and the central performance by Robert Gustafsson I have to say that I was incredibly impressed by his sympathetic portrayal of this man. It is his portrayal that holds this production together brilliantly. I thought his prosthetic makeup was extremely well done.

The supporting cast are all excellent from Eva Melander playing his (naive?) wife to Björn Bengtsson’s persistent Thomas Pettersson, Cilla Thorell’s distraught and increasingly embittered Lisbet Palme. Joel Spira is a great “I do not mince my words” Lennart Grandström with the never disappointing Mikael Persbrandt doing a splendid job as the ultimately floundering and misguided Hans Holmér. It was lovely to see Emil Almén in a very different role from the last I saw him play in Dancing Queens.

Robert Gustafsson as Stig Engström
Eva Melander as Margarete Engström in a scene from The Unlikely Murderer

Reconstructions of both real events and the possible events are meticulous and very well done. I particularly liked the way that when Stig was giving one of his various “accounts” (lies?) that what he was saying was shown in a reenactment, even though that differed from what we see at the start and from all other witness testimony.

How we are shown the numerous mistakes and failings of the police investigation is very well done. I did bear in mind however that when the murder took place there was a lot of terrorist groups and activity, such as The Red Army Faction etc. and external intelligence agencies which although mentioned in the series could be underestimated now. This definitely had an effect, a negative effect, in the way the investigation was conducted. I guess what I am trying to say here is that it is easy to criticise this with hindsight.

Mikael Persbrandt as Hans Holmér in a scene from The Unlikely Murderer

This show reminded me a little of The Hunt for a Killer (another Swedish series based upon real investigations) in that it exposes a systemic issue with the way investigations were often carried out, with theories determining detection and evidence rather than the evidence giving rise to theories.

Both investigations were severely adversely affected by asking for tips which overwhelmed switchboards and tied an investigation’s “legs” together. We see deliberate hampering of the investigation into alternatives, a desperate need to pin the crime on someone, while not following basic procedures in even interviewing everyone who might be relevant and dismissing evidence that contradicted the theory. Tainting statements by giving details, photographs, that should never have happened and undermined conclusions on a legal basis. This is the problem when the issue becomes finding someone you can pin the crime onto rather than from the objective of finding the actual perpetrator.

Joel Spira as Lennart Grandström (left) and Peter Andersson as Arne Irvell (right) in a scene from The Unlikely Murderer

Flashbacks to when Stig was a child were easy to follow, since he is played by a child actor, and these certainly aided our understanding of how he came to be the man he was (as portrayed in this series, of course). It was easy to follow the flashes into the near past with Thomas Pettersson but would have liked a few more date captions for the other events with Stig’s story because his appearance does not always help work out the sequencing.

It is very impressive that actual locations were used and that costuming and sets etc. were accurate and period-specific when necessary. The direction of The Unlikely Murderer is excellent, the editing is superb and the music really aids atmosphere and era.

We all know of Scandinavian noir however, The Unlikely Murderer is “Scandinavian slow”. If you watch TV solely to be “entertained” and have lots of bells and whistles and action and do not have patience then there is every chance that you will struggle with The Unlikely Murderer. This is a slow – very slow – production that spends time building up an in-depth “composite”, as it were, of the man who is now accepted as being the most likely murderer of Olof Palme. It is a series that I do feel the need to watch again, just to pick up on things I missed on a first watch and to clarify my thoughts. This is a classy, and intelligent TV series.

As a final comment, I will be shocked if Robert Gustafsson does not win a major award for his amazing performance in this.

Trailer:

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