CANNES — Premiered at a Monday Mipcom Screening, “The Lawyer,” co-created by “The Bridge”’s Hans Rosenfeldt, is the first series to emerge from Studiocanal’s development pact with Scandi major SF Studios. It is also a flagship show from The Modern Times Group’s Viaplay, the ambitious Nordic SVOD service which is consolidating as a Canal Plus of the North: Committed to localized European drama with a social edge and international appeal.
Distributed internationally by Studiocanal, and billed as Nordic Noir, it is also a statement of where Nordic Noir is today. “Nordic Noir is diluted, everywhere so nowhere. Thrillers in every market seem to be influenced by dark settings,” The Wit’s Bertrand Villegas argued just before Mipcom.
Certainly, to be successful, these days Nordic Noir has to be noir and more. Also created by Jens Lapidus (“Easy Money”) and Michael Hjort (“Sebastian Bergman”), “The Lawyer” certainly begins with a murder and is a dark thriller. In a near immediate flashback in Ep. 1, lit with retro colors, a young boy is seen happily bouncing a small rubber ball on the tarmac outside a restaurant as he walks towards the car his parents have just got into.
A split second later, as the boy is joined by his slightly older sister, the car explodes in smithereens.
Cut to two decades later. The boy, Frank Nordling (Alexander Krim), is now an outwardly suave, confident and successful Malmo defense attorney, his sister a police officer. But Nordling discovers his local firm’s most important client is responsible for the murder of his parents. As he becomes obsessed with revenge, he gets sucked into the violence of the Copenhagen underworld.
But there is much more to the series. “‘The Lawyer’ is “a story about revenge and such stories, whether ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Elektra,’ pack moral dilemmas,” said Niklas Wikström Nicastro, producer at SF Studios, whose credits include this year’s “A Man Called Ove,” which scored two Academy Award nominations.
Both Frank and his sister begin the series as upstanding figures in their communities. Once scrupulously ethical – Frank rejects horse-trading nil compensation for a client’s incarceration even if that means taking on the costs of an appeal from the prosecution – he crosses multiple red lines to see justice served; which begs the question of how law abiding lawyers may be.
“When we look into new projects, it’s important for us that there is heart in them and that they are local but can travel globally. But the most important thing is that they have a local heart,” said Ira Gladinoff, appointed head of Viaplay this June.
“The Lawyer” drops the curtain on a world of the comfortably off in Malmo and Copenhagen, the lonely commute over the iconic bridge between the two cities, and Copenhagen’s luxury restaurants and yatchs, ostentatious mansions and criminal underbelly. This is world of privilege, adultery, solitide and crime.
But there’s a large international element to “The Lawyer.” “‘The Lawyer’s’ global heart is that it’s about two siblings. There is nothing more international than a brother and sister,” says Rola Bauer, Studiocanal head of TV.
This is a also a story of deep hurt. If Frank goes into law, it’s out of a visceral sense of injustice in his own life, the series suggests, even in its first episode. In constructing a confident, persuasive public persona as a defense attorney, Frank is also able to hide to himself just how hurt he really is by his parents’ murder.
Frank is still numbed, emotionally, even physically, by his tragic past. Scratch him, as a boxer does at his gym, hitting his eardrum, still damaged from the car bomb explosion, and his wrath wells immediately.
Frank also shies away from commitment and hasn’t spoken to his sister in six months when the series begins. He doesn’t need to. Both put into a foster home, then adopted, only his sister shares with him the most intimate of his emotions: a hidden suffering.
Playing Frank, Krim said at Mipcom that the largest challenges was “trying to show someone who doesn’t want to show anything.” To achieve this sense of containment, he performed multiple push-ups before shooting a scene then tried not to show the fatigue. “I wanted to have something physical to fight,” Krim added.
Once Frank discovers the identity of his parents’ killer, the tautness of the thriller is more or less guaranteed because, on his road to revenge, Frank – and it’s a terrible indictment – has nothing in his past life to distract him.