SERIES REVIEW – This six-part limited Netflix series tells the story of the controversial life and crimes of Clark Olofsson, the charming and easy-going Swedish bank robber, in a dramatic and hilarious way. He is the man credited with the controversial Stockholm Syndrome, but this series tells not just that story but Olofsson’s entire life story.
Don’t we all just love charming little monsters (psychopaths, conmen)? The answer is a resounding yes based on an otherwise rather worrying Netflix statistic! In this techno beat-inspired, hippie-era – it is, after all, Sweden in the 60s and 70s – series, director Jonas Akerlund tries to keep drama and stark realism to a minimum while keeping the classic Menippean satire in the script. Throughout the story, Jonas does not try to arouse sympathy for his vain anti-hero Clark Olofsson, but in the end, we can’t help but like him.
A love letter to Sweden in the seventies
Clark Olofsson’s life was clearly made for the small screen. The handsome, charming Swedish gangster; his flirtatious antics have been going strong for decades – not to mention the miles. Clark, the 6-part, catch-me-if-you-can-style Swedish-language miniseries on Netflix, is billed as a fictionalized take on the controversial character. The series is stylistically gritty, highly satirical, cynical and, in addition to its funny depiction of robberies, is full of sex scenes. Filmed on location over several months, the series is a true love letter to the good, the bad and the dirty of 1970s Sweden. Star Bill Skarsgård, for his part, manages to play such a charismatic criminal that it’s not hard to believe he could get away with decades of crime with a simple wink and a smile.
“Be a man and… sleep with all the women!”
Born into a dysfunctional family, Olofsson learns early on, “Be a man and deal with your problems.” Of course, his understanding of this relatively simple philosophy of life is quite warped. For him, “Be a man!” refers primarily to seducing and sleeping with women. In his words: he is almost constantly “in love”, but after one or two encounters, he immediately dumps women.
Perhaps the inherent character flaw in Olofsson is that he says one thing and does the exact opposite, which makes him appealing; relatable. The incredibly nihilistic and reckless gangster also has a deep contempt for the police – especially Tommy Linderstom (a clichéd cop obsessed with the notorious conman and his pursuit of him). He is constantly amused by how easily he slips through their clutches while they are frequently on him.
Skarsgård’s adult head on a baby’s body
He sets the tone right away with the absurd opening scene of the series: Skarsgård’s adult head is placed on the body of an unborn fetus, raising the “WTF?” meter to a thousand before the credits even begin. Although shocking from the first moment, one soon becomes accustomed to the harsh nature of the series and (like Stockholm Syndrome) strangely drawn to it.
The series as a whole is a tale in two parts. The first part focuses on Olofsson’s troubled childhood (reinforced by good supporting performances from Sandra Ilar and Peter Viitanen as his parents) and his descent into crime, which also serves as a prelude to what the series promises to reveal: the event that gave rise to the ubiquitous term ‘Stockholm Syndrome. This pivotal day in Olofsson’s life is recounted in Episode 4 (entitled Let The Party Begin) – and the clever storytelling, superb casting and seamless blend of drama and humour make it arguably the best episode in the series. I wish they had got to the heart of the story sooner, instead of spending hours on Olofsson’s sexual escapades, so much so that I almost lost interest at first.
Bill Skarsgård is “clowning around” again
Clark is cartoonish, at times violent, belligerent, and hilarious. Even if you start watching it with a strong determination not to sympathize with the man behind Stockholm Syndrome, you will find yourself under his spell after a while.
Of course, not everyone will like it, but Clark Bill Skarsgård (best known for his killer, surreal clown in AZ) is at his best this time around – a big win for Netflix.