28 Sep 2016

Review: Occupied

From Widescreen, 9:36 am on 28 September 2016

Teetering between preposterous and plausible, Norway’s most expensive television production ever gripped reviewer Dan Slevin.

Henrik Mestad plays a Norwegian prime minister consistently outflanked by the Russians and the European Union in Occupied.

Henrik Mestad plays a Norwegian prime minister consistently outflanked by the Russians and the European Union in Occupied. Photo: Madman

I should’ve guessed that the new Norwegian geopolitical thriller Occupied would in the end prove frustrating. After all, doesn’t the presence of a prominent “Series 1” on the box of the DVD imply that your eight hours of tension, drama and intrigue will only end in a cliff-hanger. Cliffhanger, eh? Even sounds like a Norwegian word.

The Greens have won power in Norway and Prime Minister Jesper Berg (Henrik Mestad) is making good on his party’s promise to convert their energy economy from carbon to clean (nuclear) Thorium and then make that technology available to anyone who wants it. The European Union decides that a unilateral turning off of the gas tap is too great a risk to their member states but that direct intervention would be a bad look.

However Russia, Norway’s almost-totalitarian neighbour to the North-east, isn’t very concerned about looking bad and is able to apply considerable pressure to the naïve politician – firstly in the form of simple kidnapping and then thuggery, threats and – in the form of ambassador Sidorova (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) –  a little bit of charm.

There’s a lesson here for the United Kingdom post-Brexit. If you’re not at the table you can never really know for sure what people are saying about you and that’s a problem when the table is saying, in effect, we need a regime change.

The show plays the drama out over a ten-month period, ten episodes representing a month each. Characters are nicely drawn on all sides – Mestad’s out-of-his-depth and out-manouevred prime minister is the central character but we also get to know a police chief with a terminal illness, a bodyguard with conflicted loyalties, a restaurateur making a small fortune from the wealthy Russians visitors and her husband, the investigative journalist finding out how deep the scandal goes.

Occupied cover

The show says a lot about Norway and Norwegian character. For the most part, they all seem hell-bent on assuming the best of intentions; that everyone – especially the Americans – are ultimately going to behave honourably and ‘do the right thing’ by them only to be serially abandoned. They are a small, proudly independent and wealthy country, surrounded by nations doing worse with less and they are discovering that nobody around them gives a monkey’s how nice and civilised they are.

The show teeters between preposterous and plausible but by the second half of the season we were watching three episodes a night so it would be fair to say we were gripped and the final episode ended so abruptly that my wife and I started searching the box for missing discs. It turns out that we’ll have to wait until the third quarter of next year – at the earliest – to find out what happens next.

Occupied is available now on Madman DVD and Blu-ray.