Crime thriller reflects global politics

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You can add “Cold Courage” to the crowded genre of “Nordic crime thrillers,” but this one has a twist: it’s set in London.

The eight-episode series, which premiered last May on the Nordic streaming network Viaplay, is adapted from Pekka Hiltunen’s series of crime novels and debuts March 11 on AMC+. It takes some time to hit its stride but, once it does, “Cold Courage” presents an intriguing story of two Finnish women fighting for a common cause — while dealing with a myriad of personal issues woven throughout the multi-layered storyline.

As the series opens we meet Lia (Sofia Pekkari), who arrived penniless in England from Finland several years before and now works as a graphic designer for New Level, a left-wing British magazine (she has no political interests but it pays the bills). To earn extra money, Lia is designing leaflets, on the sly, for Arthur Fried (John Simm), a bombastic, agitating far-right politician who heads the nationalistic Fair Rule party (its rallying cry: “Putting the Great Back in Great Britain”). It’s a scenario familiar to political climates here and abroad.

Pihla Viitala as Mari and Sofia Pekkari as Lia in "Cold Courage."
Mari (Pihla Viitala, left) and Lia (Sofia Pekkari) join forces to take down a politician and solve a murder.
Bernard Walsh/AMC

As “Cold Courage” opens in London, it’s six weeks before the national elections. Fried stages a fiery campaign rally directly across from a Muslim community center, resulting in violence and leaving a young Muslim boy critically injured. It also draws Lia, unwittingly, into “The Studio,” a shadowy, rogue organization fighting for the disenfranchised. Its main priority: topple Fried. The Studio is headed by Finnish-born Mira (Pihla Viitala), a psychologist who’s burdened with some heavy emotional baggage and has a remarkable ability to “read people.” Meanwhile, Lia’s best friend, Nina (Toni O’Rourke), disappears; when a horribly mangled, disfigured body is discovered shortly thereafter, she’s the suspected victim (dubbed “The Faceless Woman” by the British press).

If this all sounds a bit complicated, it is — and that’s only the tip of the dramatic iceberg. As Lia, working with The Studio, embeds herself in Fried’s campaign, we learn more about her back story, which includes an abusive stalker (Elmer Black) and flashbacks to her relationship with Nina. Mira’s past is also explored, most notably in her ties to her father and brother back home in Finland.

“Cold Courage” has a Nordic pedigree but the dialogue is mostly in English (there are subtitles when/where necessary). It features a solid behind-the-scenes lineup including its co-writers — BAFTA-nominated David Joss Buckley and Brendan Foley — and directors Agneta Fagerstrom-Olsson (“Wallander”) and Kadir Ferati Balci (“A Good Year”) — and was shot on location in London, Antwerp, Dublin, Helsinki and Finland, lending an air of authenticity to a series with an international flavor.

Pikkari and Viitala turn in strong performances, both adding fine nuance and shading to Lia and Mira, and the series’ political backdrop provides a “deja vu all over again” feeling — with action, tension and an air of mystery providing the key ingredients needed to season this dependable thriller.

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