Anna Sundell

6 november 2021 | 12:00

An unlikely murderer indeed: The story behind Netflix's latest hit show

In 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot dead in the street. 35 years later, Netflix drama "The Unlikely Murderer" sheds some light on the event.
Hello, dear international reader. Have you been brought here in your quest to find more information about the recent Netflix drama “The Unlikely Murderer”? Such as for instance what all the fuss is about, and what the true background story is? Well, I cannot offer you the truth - the only person who presumably could is deceased. But I will tell you as much as is actually known. And so will “The Unlikely Murderer.”
This article describes the circumstances of the Olof Palme murder, which “The Unlikely Murderer” is based on, but other than that, there are no spoilers for the show.
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What’s the deal with the assassination of Olof Palme?

Olof Palme was Prime Minister of Sweden from 1969-1976 and from 1982-1986, representing the Swedish Social Democratic Party. On the evening of February 28, 1986, Palme had been at the cinema with his wife Lisbeth, and they were walking home without any security detail when someone came up and shot him in the back at close range. Another shot grazed Lisbeth’s back, but she was not seriously injured. The Prime Minister however, was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
The Palme investigation infamously dragged out for over 34 years, before the chief prosecutor in charge announced in 2020 that there was enough evidence to conclude who had committed the murder. The identified suspect was Stig Engström, also called “The Skandia Man” after the name of the insurance company where worked. Engström had died in 2000, and the investigation was therefore closed following the chief prosecutor’s announcement. But the identification of the murderer was based on circumstantial rather than conclusive evidence, and many question marks remain around Stig Engström’s role in the story.
The assassination of Olof Palme has been surrounded by a large number of conspiracy theories, and initially, the police also focused on theories that there was a more elaborate, political scheme behind the murder. The investigation was extensive and sprawling, characterized by some notable police blunders, several false trails and a messy web of contradictory eyewitness accounts. Despite the chief prosecutor closing the case, not everyone is convinced that Stig Engström was actually the perpetrator that fateful night. But he is indeed an odd character in the investigation, and definitely fits the bill as an unlikely murderer.

Who was “The Skandia Man”, Stig Engström?

Stig Engström, or “The Skandia Man”, was in 1986 a middle aged graphic designer, working for the insurance company Skandia. He had no previous criminal record and lived in an upper middle class neighborhood together with his second wife. Engström had been working late on the eve of the murder, and left the building, which was very close to the scene of the crime, almost exactly around the time that the shots were fired.
Engström was known in the investigation from the start. He presented himself an important witness to the crime, but made several claims of his activity on the scene that none of the other eyewitnesses corroborated. He was also very eager to speak with the media, seeking out journalists and boasting about his involvement on the scene while lamenting the police’s lack of interest in his account. The police seem to have considered him an annoying presence in the investigation and disregarded him as an attention seeker of little importance, despite that he was proven to have been near the crime scene and that his story didn’t add up.
Stig Engström died of natural causes in 2000, after a period of increasing issues with alcoholism. He kept seeking attention from the media long after the murder. In 1992, he did his last interview with an industry magazine called “Skydd & Säkerhet” (“Protection & Security”), where he had reached out to an acquaintance to conduct an interview with him. In the interview, he speculates about the motive for the assassination in an eerie way, which has by some been considered a kind of masked confession.

What can I expect from the show “The Unlikely Murderer”?

“The Unlikely Murderer” is based on a non-fiction book with the same name by Swedish writer Thomas Pettersson, which came out in 2018 and thus singled out Stig Engström as the most likely perpetrator two years before the official police investigation came to the same conclusion. The Netflix show is a dramatization of the events presented in the book, and follows both Stig Engström himself, as well as the detectives investigating the murder.
The show assumes “The Skandia Man” as Olof Palme’s killer, but stays close to the known facts, remaining ambiguous when it comes to the unknown factors in the story. It has has received favorable reviews in Sweden, including the review here at MovieZine (in Swedish). It is also expected to draw a large audience, as the Palme murder is a lingering, tantalizing mystery in the Swedish collective consciousness - kind of our equivalent to the Kennedy assassination.

Why do some of the actors look familiar?

The lead role of Stig Engström is played by actor and comedian Robert Gustafsson, a popular household name in Sweden for decades, but probably mostly unfamiliar to international audiences. A curious coincidence is that Gustafsson, a then 21 year old up-and-coming comedian, was at the same cinema as Olof Palme on the night of the murder, even putting his hand on the Prime Minister’s shoulder as a joke while exiting the venue.
A face that might look more familiar (albeit heavily disguised by appearance altering make-up) is that of Hans Holmér, Chief of the special investigation unit for the murder. The role is played by Mikael Persbrandt, whose most internationally recognized roles include playing Beorn in “The Hobbit” trilogy, and guest starring on “Sex Education”. He also starred in the Danish movie “In a better world”, which earned an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011.
Other actors known outside of Sweden include Eva Melander, who played the lead role in the highly praised 2018 drama “Border” (“Gräns”) and Shanti Rooney, starring in the 2013 Lars von Trier drama “Nymphomaniac”, alongside international stars like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Shia LaBoeuf.

Who are the creators behind the show?

“The Unlikely Murderer” is directed by Simon Kaijser and Charlotte Brändström. Brändström has a long international career behind her, working mainly in France, Scandinavia and the United States. She has directed both movies and tv shows, including episodes of well-known shows like “The Witcher”, “Outlander”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Arrow”. She is also set to direct two episodes for the upcoming “The Lord of the Rings” series, and have been working on the production in New Zealand during the year.
| 6 november 2021 12:00 |