A pedestrian stops and lays a rose on June 10, 2020 at the plaque marking the site where Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot and killed on February 28, 1986 in the centrr of Stockholm.

The Unlikely Murderer: love Nordic noir? Prepare to fall hard for this Netflix series

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Netflix’s The Unlikely Murderer, a five-part Swedish series, is based on a true crime case that has intrigued people for more than 34 years. 

From The Chestnut Man to Young Royals, Netflix has confirmed that a bevy of Scandi dramas is due to hit the streaming platform over the next 12 months.

Among them, of course, is The Unlikely Murderer – which isn’t just an adaptation of Thomas Pettersson’s award-winning book of the same name, but is inspired by a challenging true crime case, too.

Here’s everything you need to know about the series.

What’s the plot of The Unlikely Murderer?

On a snowy evening in February 1986, Sweden’s prime minister, Olof Palme, decided to go and see a film at the Grand Cinema with his wife, Lisbeth. It was a last-minute decision, so Palme was without personal bodyguard protection.

The couple enjoyed their movie from the best seats in the house, and then walked home together – chatting and occasionally looking in shop windows as they passed them by. 

Just before midnight, they were approached by a lone gunman, who shot Palme at point-blank range and fired a second shot at Lisbeth.

Lisbeth was only slightly wounded in the attack. Palme, however, was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. 

Prime Minister Olof Palme
Olof Palme was killed on 28 February 1986 while walking home from the cinema.

The Unlikely Murderer, then, serves as a fictional interpretation of how Stig Engström, the graphic designer who was named as Palme’s probable murderer, managed to elude justice right up to his death through a combination of audacity, luck and a perplexed police force.

“What do we know about Stig Engström? How could the police let him get away, despite being on his track?” asks the official Netflix synopsis.

“The murder was not planned well, Engström did everything wrong from the beginning and almost no one believed his lies about what he actually did during that fateful night in 1986 in Stockholm, Sweden.” 

Who stars in The Unlikely Murderer?

Actor and comedian Robert Gustafsson, who fans might know from his performance in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, will star as Stig Engström.

“It’s an exciting challenge and a great responsibility to portray Stig Engström, but also, in a way, a form of therapy,” Gustafsson has said of the role.

“Since I was at the same cinema as Olof Palme on the night of the murder, this case has always felt like an abscess that never disappears, and I’m not alone in feeling that. The theory about Engström is the most logical one and the one that the latest Palme investigation group has concluded as the right one.

“It is also the theory I believe, and now there is a chance for me to understand the event and examine Stig Engström’s character. It is an exciting and tragic story that affects Sweden and the Swedish people very much… [and] I feel it will lead me to inner peace on these events.” 

Eva Melander, Mikael Persbrandt, and Peter Andersson will also star in the series, alongside Joel Spira, Emil Almén, Shanti Roney, Torkel Petterson, Henrik Norlén, Lia Boysen, Magnus Krepper, Björn Bengtsson, Peter Viitanen and Cilla Thorell.

Who is working behind-the-scenes on The Unlikely Murderer?

Wilhelm Behrman and Niklas Rockström, who have previously worked on Caliphate and Before We Die, have written the script for The Unlikely Murderer.

The Witcher’s Charlotte Brändström is the show’s conceptual director. 

What are people saying about The Unlikely Murderer?

Speaking about the project, Brändström explains: “Certain events in the life of a nation can be considered seminal, changing the mindset and the trajectory of a country thereafter. I certainly remember the immense national trauma caused by the assassination of Olof Palme in February 1986, a trauma that still quietly rumbles on today.

“As such I leapt at the opportunity to return home to Sweden to direct the first two episodes of The Unlikely Murderer. The series is a powerful character study and poses a serious and credible hypothesis regarding the man who most likely killed Palme on that snowy winter night when the prime minister left a cinema in central Stockholm and was walking home.

“The very fact that Sweden’s head of government could, back then, live like any other citizen and eschewed chauffeur-driven vehicles or bodyguards in favour of public transport speaks to a now lost innocence in our national life.” 

A view of the cinema Grand on Sveavagen in central Stockholm, where late Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and his wife Lisbeth have been before Palme's assassination in February 1986.
The cinema Grand on Sveavagen in central Stockholm, which was visited by the late Olof Palme shortly before his death.

Brändström continues: “What makes someone a murderer – and one who felt compelled to target a prime minister for assassination? How did this sad, solipsistic figure elude police detection?

“Our series attempts to provide answers to these questions and poses certain conjectures. Just as it is a compelling and psychologically dense attempt to unravel a crime that shook a proudly stable and pacific social democracy to its core. Could it be that the murder of Olof Palme, the greatest real-life whodunit in Swedish history, has a shockingly simple explanation?”

When will The Unlikely Murderer be available to stream on Netflix?

No official release date has been confirmed for The Unlikely Murderer, although it’s expected that the Netflix series will become available for streaming in autumn 2021.

We will bring you more details as and when they become available. 

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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