Clark arrives on Netflix on May 5th.
Sometimes true crime stories are far more bizarre than anything in fiction, and the life of Clark Olofsson is one of those stories. This is a story of an intelligent, criminal-minded, opportunistic egomaniac who wooed a nation, and in the hands of director Jonas Åkerlund (Lords of Chaos, Polar), it is one hell of a ride.
Let me begin by taking you back to Stockholm’s Norrmalmstorg Square in August 1973. Here a whole nation held its breath as they watched a bank robbery unfold on live TV, the fate of a small group of hostages held in the balance over five days as the police attempted to end the situation by every means possible. However, this bank robbery was a far more complicated and bizarre event than my initial description suggests. The perpetrator was one Jan-Erik Olsson, a convicted criminal who disappeared during a prison furlough where he had been locked up with the notorious criminal Clark Olofsson. Among Olsson’s demands was the bizarre request that Olofsson should be brought to the bank with three million Kronor and a getaway car.
Bill Skarsgård as Clark (Eric Broms / Netflix)
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 holding hostages and surrounded by police after their robbery plans went awry. Of course, this event would be brought to life in Sidney Lumet’s stunning Dog Day Afternoon in 1975.
However, what makes the Norrmalmstorg Square robbery utterly fascinating is the man brought in by the police at the request of Olson. Clark Olofsson had been in and out of prison since he was sixteen. However, it’s his criminal CV that is genuinely stranger than fiction. In 1965 he broke into the country house of Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander at Harpsund. In July 1966, he robbed a bicycle shop at Skjutsaregatan, leading to the death of a police officer. Later, he would escape prison several times and travel around Europe robbing banks. By the late 1970s and 80s, Olofsson would also take up drug smuggling while later studying journalism in prison. Olofsson built his entire criminal career on excess, sex, addiction to danger and narcissism, with little regard for anyone around him despite his magnetic personality and charm.
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You may be expecting me to describe Åkerlund’s Clark as 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. His story is humorous, frivolous and at times unbelievable. Like Ned Kelly and Dick Turpin, he is a tapestry of myths and media tales that is difficult to unpick. Here Åkerlund’s mini-series never attempts to fully unpick the carefully constructed character that hides the real man, choosing 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 the 1960s and the 1970s offered. Here we have 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.
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The first three episodes are raucous and energetic, but as we progress, the cracks in Clark’s created demeanour begin to show, as we are provided with more flashbacks to his troubled home life and youth. Here Åkerlund gently encourages the audience to reflect on the building blocks of the man; his need for attention, escape and freedom hard-baked into him during his youth. However, Åkerlund also leaves these discussions firmly in the hands of the viewer, never attempting to psychoanalyse Olofsson or his actions. Here it is up to you to decide whether Olofsson was a dangerous and unstable criminal or a boy who never really grew up – his worldview forever stuck in the egotistical and insular world of the adolescent.
Lukas Wetterberg as Clark (Eric Broms / Netflix)
Finding someone who could embody Olofsson’s complex personality was always going to be a challenge, but with Bill Skarsgård, we have an award-worthy central performance. Please make no mistake, for all the stunning design, direction, performances, cinematography and sound on offer, Clark is Skarsgård’s show. His take on Olofsson brims with charm, charisma, danger and sex appeal; you can’t take your eyes off him! Skarsgård beautifully captures the magnetism and arrogance of Olofsson in a way few other actors could manage in a six-hour tour-de-force that is utterly riveting.
Clark is unhinged, hilarious, occasionally dark and always thoroughly engaging, just like the man at the story’s heart. 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 brought into hook, line and sinker.
Clark is unhinged, hilarious, occasionally dark, and thoroughly engaging, just like the man at the story’s heart.