Clark arrives on Netflix on May 5th.
True crime stories are sometimes far more bizarre than anything in fiction; take, for example, the life of Clark Olofsson – an intelligent, criminal-minded, opportunistic egomaniac who became a modern folklore legend. But how do you tell this bizarre and almost unbelievable story? Jonas Åkerlund (Lords of Chaos, Polar) does it the only way you can: mix comedy with action and drama to create one hell of a ride.
In Stockholm’s Norrmalmstorg Square in August 1973, a whole nation held its breath as they watched a bank robbery unfold on live TV. Here the fate of a small group of hostages was held in the balance over five days as the police attempted to end the situation by every means possible. However, this bank robbery was far more complicated and bizarre than my initial description suggests. The perpetrator was Jan-Erik Olsson, a convicted criminal who had disappeared during a prison furlough gone wrong. Among Olsson’s demands was the bizarre request that Clark Olofsson, an old prison buddy, be brought to the bank with three million Kronor and a getaway car.
Believing Olofsson to be unaware of Olson’s plans, the police agreed to take him to the bank, where he was instructed to negotiate a peaceful resolution with Olson. The resulting debacle famously saw the hostages bond with their captors, and the psychological theory of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was born. By day five, Olson and Olofsson had surrendered, with Olofsson claiming the title of the hero before being sent back to prison, further cementing his celebrity status. Many would draw parallels with a similar event at the First Brooklyn Savings Bank in 1972, where Sonny Wortzik and two friends found themselves surrounded by police after their robbery plans went awry. Of course, this event would be brought to life in Sidney Lumet’s stunning film Dog Day Afternoon in 1975.
Bill Skarsgård as Clark (Eric Broms / Netflix)
Clark Olofsson had been in and out of prison since the age of sixteen, and his criminal CV was genuinely stranger than fiction. In 1965 he broke into the country house of then-Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander at Harpsund. In July 1966, he robbed a bicycle shop at Skjutsaregatan, an event which led to the death of a local police officer. During his multiple stays in prison, he would escape several times, travelling around Europe, robbing banks and hiding the money. By the late 1970s and 80s, Olofsson would take up drug smuggling before studying journalism in prison. This man had built his entire criminal career and persona on charm, excess, sex, addiction to danger and more than a dose of narcissism. As a result, you might expect Åkerlund’s Clark to be a gritty crime drama full of violence. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, as Olofsson wasn’t an ultra-violent gangster who ran amok. Instead, he was a charming liar who seduced a nation and fed off of the celebrity status he acquired.
Olofsson’s story is humorous, frivolous and unbelievable, a strange amalgamation of Ned Kelly, Dick Turpin and Robin Hood that is near impossible to unpick. As a result, Åkerlund’s mini-series never attempts to offer a psychological profile of the man behind the carefully constructed public image, opting instead to bathe in the unhinged reality of his life. The result is a tongue-in-cheek, often hilarious and occasionally dark exploration of a man who defied simple explanation – a rollercoaster ride of audacious crimes, confused relationships and countless sexual partners. But more than this, it is the unbelievable tale of a career criminal who could have only thrived in the social landscape of the 1960s and the 1970s. Olofsson was a criminal who based his entire character on the liberal values of fighting the political and social system while having no genuine interest in anyone other than himself.
The first three episodes of Clark are raucous and energetic, but as we progress, the cracks in his self-created persona begin to show as his troubled home life and youth come into view. Through flashbacks and delicate moments where Clark’s mask slips, Åkerlund encourages the audience to reflect on the building blocks of the man. Where did his need for attention come from? How did his childhood shape his journey? Was his charm a mere shield for his insecurities? Åkerlund never attempts to answer all of these questions or psychoanalyse Olofsson and his actions, leaving it up to you to draw your own conclusions. Maybe, Olofsson was simply a bright but troubled boy who never really grew up – his worldview stuck in the egotistical and insular world of the adolescent mind.
Lukas Wetterberg as Clark (Eric Broms / Netflix)
This show was bound to fly or fall based on the person chosen to play Olofsson, and Bill Skarsgård is nothing short of exceptional as he turns in a manic, sexy and charming award-worthy performance. For all the stunning set design, direction, ensemble performances and cinematography, Clark is Skarsgård’s show. Skarsgård somehow manages to capture the magnetism and the arrogance of Olofsson in a way few other actors could conjure. The result is an unhinged, hilarious, occasionally dark and always thoroughly engaging drama. One that perfectly reflects the character of the man at its heart as it bounces around like an out-of-control rubber ball on a set of steep steps. We may not get to know the real man behind the publicly created legend as some may wish, but we do get to bathe in the egotistical, bizarre and self-centred world he created, a world the public bought into hook, line and sinker.
LOCKWOOD & CO
For all the stunning set design, direction, ensemble performances and cinematography, Clark is Skarsgård’s show. Skarsgård somehow manages to capture the magnetism and the arrogance of Olofsson in a way few other actors could conjure. The result is an unhinged, hilarious, occasionally dark and always thoroughly engaging drama.