Series Review: Bill Skarsgård is a smooth criminal in ‘Clark’

Clark. Image courtesy Eric Broms / Netflix
Clark. Image courtesy Eric Broms / Netflix /

Raunchy, rude, and surprisingly heartfelt; Bill Skarsgård steals the show in this Swedish miniseries about a charming bank robber credited with sparking the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’

Clark Olofsson’s life was made for the small screen. A handsome, charming Swedish gangster; his flurry of flirtatious mischief spanned decades — not to mention miles. Clark, Netflix’s 6-part Catch Me If You Can-esque Swedish-language miniseries is touted as a fictional take on the controversial personality. It is stylistically slick and chock full of gritty, flashy, and over-the-top sequences that are sure to make you blush. Shot on location over a span of several months, the show is a veritable love letter to the good, the bad, and the grime of 1970s Eastern Europe. For his part, star Bill Skarsgård manages to portray a criminal so charismatic, that it’s not hard to believe he could get away with decades of crime with a simple wink and a smile.

I’m going to level with you: the opening sequence of this show is one of the weirdest things I’ve seen in a while. One scene, in particular, featuring Skarsgård’s adult head superimposed on the body of an unborn fetus, cranks the “WTF?” meter up to a thousand before the opening credits even role. While it is jarring from the get-go, you get used to the show’s crass nature quickly, and (much like, well, Stockholm Syndrome) you become strangely drawn to it.

As a whole, the series is a tale of two parts. The first half focuses on Olofsson’s troubled childhood (boosted by solid supporting performances by Sandra Ilar and Peter Viitanen, who play his parents) and descent into criminality. It also serves as a setup to what the series promises to unveil: the event that spawned the ubiquitous term “Stockholm Syndrome.” That pivotal day in Olofsson’s life is recreated in episode 4 (titled Let The Party Begin) — and its clever writing, outstanding cast, and seamless mix of drama and humor make it arguably the best episode in the entire series. I just wish they had gotten to the “meat and potatoes” of the story sooner, instead of spending hours recounting Olofsson’s sexual escapades to a point where I almost lost interest.

Each installment is prefaced with the statement “based on truth and lies”, as the story is plucked not from historical accuracy but from Oloffson’s biography, Vafan var det som hände? In case you’re wondering, this translates to What the hell happened? in English. While we may never know the full extent of Oloffson’s shenanigans — director Jonas Åkerlund holds nothing back when telling the tale (seriously… you don’t want to watch this one with your parents), and Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Clark makes it actually seem plausible that Olofsson himself, for all his flaws, could have left a trail of broken hearts in his wake. It’s a performance that is impressively nuanced, and we see the character of Clark and his oversexed, slimy exterior slip into emotional depths that show the human being behind the career criminal.

It won’t be for everyone, but Clark is Bill Skarsgård at his best — and a big win for Netflix Nordic.

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