Based on a best­selling se­ries of nov­els by Anne Holt, Modus is a ma­jor new Nordic Noir that’s been snapped up by the BBC. We jour­neyed to Stockholm to wit­ness the mak­ing of the creepi­est Scandi ex­port since The Killing…


Stockholm dur­ing mid-sum­mer is a de­light to be­hold. Crys­tal-clear wa­ters shim­mer be­neath the colour­ful boats bob­bing in the city’s har­bour, its el­e­gant, gabled build­ings are dap­pled with sunlight, and stu­dents sit sip­ping cold beers in idyl­lic, seem­ingly hid­den squares. This picture-per­fect sum­mer scene hardly looks like the set­ting for the lat­est ici­cle of se­ri­ously chill­ing, ap­pro­pri­ately snowy Nordic Noir. How­ever, that’s what it’s be­come through the magic of film­mak­ing…

Crime Scene is crouched be­side the mon­i­tor in­side a non­de­script of­fice block in sub­ur­ban Stockholm. The win­dows have been blacked out, block­ing out the gor­geous morn­ing sun, and the crew’s con­structed a suit­ably Sty­gian in­te­rior for the main char­ac­ter’s apart­ment in mid­win­ter. It’s a truly dark set­ting for a truly dark drama. Wel­come to Modus.

De­spite the fact that Czech-aus­trian-British ac­tor Marek Oravec ( Our Kind Of Traitor, Foyle’s War) knew he would be play­ing an un­hinged killer and spend­ing

most of the shoot cooped up in the apart­ment, out of the sunlight, or skulk­ing in the snow when film­ing much fur­ther north, he didn’t hes­i­tate to ac­cept the part.

“I didn’t need much con­vinc­ing to say yes to this,” Oravec en­thuses. “I just love these Scandi dra­mas!”

Oravec isn’t alone. Since BBC Four en­joyed a break­out hit with The Killing five years ago, Scandi drama – aka Nordic Noir – has taken the UK by storm. Modus may well be equally suc­cess­ful. Adapted from Nor­we­gian au­thor (and for­mer Min­is­ter of Jus­tice) Anne Holt’s best­sellers, the se­ries is shot in Swe­den by Miso, the pro­duc­tion com­pany re­spon­si­ble for the likes of 1864, Dicte and Those Who Kill.

Peter Bose, the co-founder of Miso and Modus’ ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, thinks that the Nordic Noir genre is edgier than your run-of-the-mill British, Amer­i­can or Ger­man pro­ce­du­rals.

“Some­times Scandi drama is more free and pre­pared to do things a lit­tle more over the edge than more tra­di­tional dra­mas,” he tells Crime Scene. “That’s what I think peo­ple in other coun­tries like about the Scandi shows. Our crime dra­mas re­flect so­ci­ety and show real peo­ple, com­pared to some other coun­tries, whose shows are a lit­tle bit ‘nicer’ and not that edgy.”

Modus cen­tres upon Pro­fes­sor Inger Jo­hanne Vik (Melinda Kin­na­man), a Swedish psy­chol­o­gist and pro­filer who, af­ter work­ing for the FBI in Amer­ica, re­turns home to be­come an aca­demic. Ini­tially, Vik has no in­ten­tion of work­ing for the Swedish po­lice, pre­fer­ring to con­cen­trate on her chil­dren (her el­dest daugh­ter, Stina, has autism). But over a Christ­mas sea­son, she’s drawn into a mul­ti­ple mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter Stina (Es­mer­alda Struwe) wit­nesses a killing.

Vik part­ners with Ing­var Ny­man (Hen­rik Nor­lén), a de­tec­tive with the Swedish na­tional po­lice force who’s sent to Upp­sala on Christ­mas Eve, to look into a dis­turb­ing mur­der. Mean­while, back in Stockholm, the killings keep oc­cur­ring and Vik soon dis­cerns a pat­tern. As with all of the best Nordic Noirs, Modus is much more than a pro­ce­dural crime story, it’s a com­pelling tale that throws up per­ti­nent ques­tions about re­li­gion, hu­man rights, tol­er­ance and even the na­ture of love it­self.

Pro­ducer San­dra Harms adds that this is typ­i­cal of Nordic Noir, in that it in­ves­ti­gates so­ci­ety as much as crime it­self.

“I wouldn’t say this is a cop show per se,” she rea­sons, “we don’t cen­tre it around an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Our lead char­ac­ter is a psy­chol­o­gist, so we fo­cus on the peo­ple rather than the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. One of the choices we made at the be­gin­ning was that we weren’t go­ing to have a po­lice sta­tion. We don’t have the en­gine of ‘who did it?’, it is more a ques­tion of ‘why?’, ‘who is next?’, ‘how does this all fit to­gether?’, ‘who are his helpers?’ and ‘what is the mis­sion he is on?’ We also are try­ing to raise the ques­tion of what cre­ates a killer, what stirs up this anger and in­tol­er­ance.

“In writ­ing her crime nov­els, Anne Holt is cre­at­ing a story that peo­ple want, but that still has some­thing per­ti­nent to say about the prob­lems in so­ci­ety. We still have a big prob­lem with racism and stereo­types to­wards mi­nori­ties. I think that it’s an in­ter­est­ing topic for a crime show, putting Scan­di­navia into a big­ger con­text.”

Modus, which also fea­tures Kris­ter Hen­riks­son, who’s best known for play­ing the lead in the orig­i­nal Swedish se­ries of Wal­lan­der, is told from Vik’s over­all point of view. Like many Scandi dra­mas, Modus has a strong fe­male char­ac­ter at its core,

Our crime dra­mas re­flect so­ci­ety and show real peo­ple

which at­tracted Kin­na­man to the role of the con­flicted psy­chol­o­gist.

“When they asked me about the part, I was re­ally fas­ci­nated by it,” con­fesses Kin­na­man, who also ap­peared in Se­ries 3 of The Bridge. “I can re­late to be­ing so pas­sion­ate about work, but also hav­ing the con­flict of want­ing to be a good mother. I felt that whole thing about try­ing to get your work and fam­ily life in bal­ance.

“Modus has a more hu­man­is­tic an­gle than the av­er­age cop show. We’re not al­lowed to say too much about the mur­derer, but I can say that he’s not a crazy se­rial killer. There’s a so­cial rel­e­vance to our story. I have to say I’m quite tired of sex­ual killings – there is so much of that in TV se­ries these days. So it’s good that this takes an­other an­gle.”

Kin­na­man has been as­sid­u­ous in re­search­ing the role of Vik. “I met a fan­tas­tic wo­man at the Swedish na­tional po­lice,” she says. “She’s been great. She’s read the script, and she has helped me to find out how Inger Jo­hanne thinks, what she is look­ing for, and what kind of lan­guage she uses. I re­ally ad­mire this wo­man. She’s so ex­pe­ri­enced, but she doesn’t make any as­sump­tions. She says, ‘When I started 30 years ago, I was a lot surer of my­self and things were much more black and white. But the older I get and the more ex­pe­ri­ence I get, the more the grey ar­eas just ex­pand.’ You have to keep your­self open to every pos­si­bil­ity.”

An­other strength of Modus is its gen­uinely un­set­tling vil­lain, the aptly named Richard For­rester (Marek Oravec), who spends much of the drama liv­ing wild, in a snow-cov­ered for­est. He re­ally en­joyed the “star­ing-act­ing” the role de­manded.

“It’s such a treat as an ac­tor to have those days when Richard is just by him­self, gut­ting a deer, cook­ing its meat, run­ning alone in the for­est,” Oravec ex­plains. “He is a lost soul who has be­come in­volved in a right-wing evan­ge­list church. How much he be­lieves the ide­ol­ogy and how much is him just look­ing for a pur­pose – that was re­ally a ques­tion for me.”

The London-based ac­tor says that the ex­trem­ity of the char­ac­ter was tough for him to get a han­dle on.

“When I first read the part, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is a case for a psy­chol­o­gist, not an ac­tor!’” he says, “but though Richard does some pretty bad things and is mo­ti­vated by some ter­ri­ble ide­olo­gies, there is some­thing very sad about him. He needs this ide­ol­ogy. He fol­lows it be­cause he doesn’t have any­thing else, and he’s quite bro­ken – if that makes sense, for some­one who does such hor­ri­ble things. So I’m try­ing to give him a lit­tle bit of hu­man­ity – not that I want the au­di­ence to sym­pa­thise with him be­cause I know his ac­tions are sick. But I’m try­ing to un­der­stand where he’s com­ing from – and that has been a huge chal­lenge.”

For all that, the ac­tor ad­mits that af­ter play­ing him for sev­eral months, For­rester has got into his head.

“It’s a long pe­riod of time to be so dark,” says Oravec. “He’s an in­tense guy to be with. I’m lucky, in a way, be­cause I fly back and forth be­tween Stockholm and London, and here I have what is like a lit­tle shrine to Richard to help me get back into the role. In London, I can still go out and so­cialise, and hang out with my girl­friend, but here I’m in a lit­tle Modus bub­ble.”

So Modus ticks all the req­ui­site Nordic Noir boxes – it can be summed up by ad­jec­tives that all be­gin with the let­ter ‘d’, namely dark, dis­con­cert­ing, dis­ori­en­tat­ing and deeply dis­turb­ing. And the good news is that fur­ther se­ries of Modus are planned.

“We’re just start­ing to build the Anne Holt uni­verse,” says Pro­ducer San­dra Harms. For our part, Crime Scene can’t wait for Modus’s next voy­age into the heart of Scan­di­na­vian dark­ness.

Modus Se­ries 1 will air on BBC Four in De­cem­ber.

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