I have to start this review by mentioning the real-life case of Birna Brjánsdóttir, the 20-year-old Icelandic woman who was found dead on Sunday. Up until that tragic, heartbreaking moment it was a missing person’s case that had gripped the island and beyond. Like me, those following the case – where new pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were being revealed each day – were intensely emotionally involved, not only because a missing person’s case that points to something darker is strangely addictive but also because Iceland only experiences, on average, two murders a year. In many ways, its burgeoning crime drama output does not mirror real life, but Birna’s case proved one thing: that a country with as small a population as Iceland really feels it when one of their own is taken from them. I mention Birna’s tragic story because not only is it on my mind at the moment, but Case – the new Icelandic crime drama on Channel 4 and Walter Presents – examines what happens to a community when a young woman is murdered. That’s not to confuse real-life tragedy and a piece of souped-up, labyrinthine fiction, but the fact that this drama starts and finishes with the community makes you think of Birna.
It should be noted that this series is a spin-off of Rettúr, a legal drama that was hugely popular in Iceland. Two of the characters featured in that show – lawyers Logi (Magnús Jónsson) and Brynhildur (Jóhanna Vigdís Arnardóttir), both from different sides of the moral tracks – had previous in that series, and now they’re involved in a new case: that of the death of young student and promising ballerina Lára, who was found hanging lifelessly from the stage at the local theatre.
Assigned to the investigation is Gabríela (Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir) and her taciturn partner Högni (Þorsteinn Bachmann). (It should also be noted that Þorsteinsdóttir and Bachmann are just two of a large number of Trapped alumni who pop up in Case.) They go about their business: they interview Lára’s parents, Jónas and Guðný, who, we soon find out, are her adoptive parents. Lára was prized away from her birth parents Pálmi and Soffiá by lawyer Brynhildur, a friend of Jónas and Guðný, after complaints of alcoholism and mistreatment, the latter the birth parents still bitterly deny.
As Gabríela and Högni do the rounds, Pálmi and Soffiá employ Logi – an ashen-faced, spluttering, heavy-drinking and smoking long streak of a bearded man – to do some digging. They also get in touch with horrid gangster (it seemed to me as if he was a gangster, at any rate) Þór, and plead with him to help them. After all they had helped him in the past and hadn’t asked for anything in return. In response, Þór takes a trip to a branch of the supermarket Bonus, to meet with Lára’s birth sister Hanna, and proceeds to stick his hand into her trousers, brazenly sexually assaulting her at her workplace, telling her to keep her mouth shut.
Disgusting behaviour that took my breath away, but Þór wasn’t the only one telling a young woman to keep her mouth shut: Lára’s best friend Elfa Dögg was in love with school warden Julius, who had asked to lie.
So already we had a lot of things going on in this first episode: lots of characters and lots of potential secrets to unlock. With Logi and hacker girlfriend Ilmur getting to work on the case on Pálmi and Soffiá’s behalf, and Brynhildur also beginning to get into things on Jónas and Guðný’s behalf (the post-mortem report concluded that Lára had had intercourse before she died, which they couldn’t and wouldn’t believe), Case presented one, ahem, case that was being investigated by three different sets of people. This tells me this is going to go all over the shop, and there will be plenty of twists and turns to come.
Gabríela doesn’t believe it’s the cut-and-dried suicide it appears, and with only one episode of 10 gone, it’s safe to assume that she’s correct.
One thing to mention that I felt set Case apart from other crime dramas was that the direction – from Trapped’s Baldvin Z – and the writing, from Þorleifur Örn Arnarsson, was exemplary. It moved at a glacial pace while still managing to pack in a lot of information (this is a blance that Nordic Noirs pull off so well time and time again), and was incredibly lean with next to no exposition. Characters came and went with nary an explanation. Sometimes it was hard to keep up, but I like that because it trusts us, the audience, to stick with it, to concentrate and to let the characters and the story develop naturally. In that sense, Case never felt forced.
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The full series of Case is now available to watch on Walter Presents.