“When capital grows, do the middle and working classes inevitably have to grow poorer?” asks Salla Nurminen, a smart economics student delivering her PhD dissertation on the need to control money markets.
Two years later, having gotten a job with Finland’s Bank Inspectorate, which investigates financial skullduggery, she returns to her native town, Pello, in northern Finland, brought to its knees by a Finland’s 1991-93 banking crisis, she is spat upon in the street.
How did Finland get to this pretty pass? A Finnish “Margin Call” but spread out over six episodes and two years, the Fremantle-distributed “The Invincibles” asks why, providing a beginners guide to banking malpractice, such as “cornering” – when a bank seizes control of a company via a cohort of straw parties, offering control back to its original owner at a higher price.
Co-written with Mikko Reitala (“Blind Donna”), “The Invincibles” also exposes money market mechanisms which, unless subject to more comprehensive control, means that Finland’s banking crisis is destined to happen again.
Doing so, it points up a trend in current drama series production, flagged by Berlinale Series head Julia Fidel as prominent at this year’s upcoming selection: “The Invincibles” takes on a past which is so recent that it helps explain and is hugely relevant to the present.
Mixing real life figures, such as Christopher Wegelius, CEO of Finnish savings bank SKOP, with fiction – Nurminen, for instance – “The Invincibles” is ultimately fiction, driven by its characters.
“A person should only want one of three: Money, fame or power, and you should always know what the other side wants,” Wegelius proffers as advice to Nurminen, before her job interview with the Bank Inspectorate. Proclaiming her disinterest in earning good money, she gets the job.
But Numinen doesn’t say what drives her, and the series asks the same question of Wegelius. Elucidated by flashbacks to childhood in Numinen’s case, that question lies at the heart of this character thriller.
Wegelius is played by “Mister 8’s” Canneseries winner best actor winner Pekka Strang. Produced by Moskito Television Mari Kinnunen for Elisa Viihde, in association with Aurora Studios, “The Invincibles” also marks creator, co-writer and director Matti Kinnunen’s follow-up to “Cargo,” a standout nominee for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize in 2021. Variety talked to Kunninen as “The Invincibles” competes for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for best screenplay of a Nordic drama series, to be announced Feb. 2 at the Goteborg Festival’s TV Drama Vision.
The series’ heart is its characters. When Wegelius tells Salla that “a person should only want one of three: Money, fame or power, his observation asks what he and Salla really want and this, I feel, is the heart of the drama. Could you comment.
Matti Kinnunen: Yes, Wegelius here unknowingly gives Salla the keys, for which she will later find a use. And just like you say, through the statement Salla’s and Wegelius ́s own arcs can be observed in the story, as well as some other key characters and their motives. And you can always take the thought game to today ́s news.
”The Invincibles” is not documentary but part of its fascination is that it’s heavily documented. Its fiction is suffused by reality. Some of the drivers of Finland’s 1991-93 banking crisis also helped spark the global financial crisis of 2007-08, such as banks’ exposure to high-yield, high risk loans. Such referentces are often deftly drawn, such as when a SKOP official walks Salla through “cornering” or when Wegelius early on is eager to define SKOP as an investor, not a retail bank. Could you comment?
Kinnunen: We have faced many economic crises throughout history. Each of them has invariably ended in tragedy, like wars. But if we think about 2007-08, for example, the money with which banks and investment companies played has not disappeared anywhere, which is often forgotten. It lies in protected investment accounts and waits for a new opportunity. Wegelius stayed on the sinking ship until the end, which is rare.
What were the main challenges when writing “The Invincibles”?
Kinnunen: Bringing fact and fiction together. Everything depicted in the series happened 30 years ago, and there is a lot of resentment and opinions about the guilty and innocent still today. But as an author, you have to approach the subject first and foremost as a drama that should tell something universal about humanity.
The character of Salla also allows you to comment on what now seems like an extraordinarily patriarchal financial sector in the early 1990s, well within the lifetime of much of thes series audiences. Again, could you comment?
Kinnunen: I moved from northern Finland to Helsinki in the late 80s. I was 20 and like Salla, full of idealistic faith. In the evenings I studied for the entrance exams, and during the days I worked for a small newspaper company, where the men led and the women made coffee. In the University, where I got to, things were different. The atmosphere was modern and egalitarian. We were a new generation, the doors to the future were open to everyone. And they have been. I see Salla as a representative of her generation as well as her gender.
What were your guidelines when directing the series?
Kinnunen: When the actors came on set and we started to go through the scene, I kept it firmly in mind that it matters how we tell our story. The goal was a modern, timeless drama.
Do you think the series suggest any solution to what seems an endemic risk in capitalism?
I hope so. As Salla states at the end of the series, fortunately there are other things in the world than power, money and fame, that a person can desire.