Jo Nesbø is synonymous with being one of Norway’s greatest ‘Handyman’: A former footballer, writer, musician, economist, and reporter – A CV so broad I already feel a juxtaposition of shame and ambition. Most recently he has been associated with literary crime fiction, with his Harry Hole series selling a reported of 20 million copies over 10 books. From a Nordic-Noir perspective it’s one of the most sold fiction series alongside The Millennium series. His recent fame has come from another novel Headhunters (Hodejegerne). written in 2008, it proved to be a hit not only in Norway but around the world when it was remade in 2011 for the big screen. Staring Game Of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the film follows big business headhunter Roger, whose other risqué passion is art theft. He later discovers that stealing from an ex-military client was probably not the best of ideas.
So with Nesbø at the height of popularity around the world, it’s no surprise to see more and more of his individual publications being re-made for film and TV. The latest adaptation is the TV series Okkupert.
Occupied (translated from its original title Okkupert) follows an alternate future where oil and gas has become a scarce and valuable resource. Out of the European states, Norway still has the means for production but has isolated itself focusing on provided energy for its citizens. Because of this, Prime Minister Jesper Berg (Henrik Mestad) unveils a new power station to produce energy from Thorium – a type of mineral capable of powering the world just as fossil fuels have done. However, this type of energy would mean all cars, houses and energy facilities would have to be converted to process this Thorium – a task that Europe does not have time to complete. The inciting incident comes when Jesper is kidnapped by Russian troops, under the guidance of the EU, and forced to re-start the oil exportation. Failure to do so would incite a war between Norway and the rest of Europe. Over the next 10 episodes (which are titled by the month in which they occur) we explore the slow but developing ‘invasion’ by Russia.
The series doesn’t just focus on the Prime Minister. Following one of his bodyguards Hans Martin Djupvik (Eldar Skar), Occupied shows the effort used to squash any controversy that could provoke a full-scale war with Russia. This is shown in Episode 1 when a royal guards assassination attempt of Russian Ambassador Irina Sidorova (Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė) is prevented by Djupvik. Whilst it is not his job to protect Irinia, Djupvik understands the importance of keeping the peace in such a precarious situation.
We are also introduced to reporter Thomas Eriksen (Vegar Hoel) who begins to identify the increasing Russian presence in Norway as a sign of a much darker kind of arrangement. After speaking to the Prime Minster, he begins to verbally attack him on news programmes about how easily he has been manipulated to return to exporting fossil fuels – a policy which his party directly opposes.
This series can ultimately be defined as a ‘Cold War’ drama. Norway can’t risk provoking a war between Europe and so the best course of action is to comply with Russian and EU demands. Throughout the coming episodes we are faced with situations that strain the two countries relationship, forcing the two sides to compromise when possible. However, when discussing certain issues with the Russian Ambassador Irina Sidorova, the conversation are anything but fair.
It’s also interesting to see the media’s attitudes toward the increasing Russian presence. From their perspective it’s as if there hasn’t been an invasion at all, but that Jesper Berg has formed an alliance for the purpose of improving the economy of Norway. This becomes problematic when trying to hide the true intentions of the Russian occupation and the power that they have over the Prime Ministers actions.
Occupied has gained a lot of attention over it’s portrayal of Russia in this series and finds itself under fire from the Russian government in what they think is a prejudice attack on their country. This Eastern European ‘bad guy’ persona has been a prevalent portrayal for many years in American and UK cinemas that only increased during the cold war era in the 70’s and 80’s. In light of that, Russia should never comment of fictitious events such as these as their sole intent is for entertainment. There has to be a bad guy in these situations, and Russia is unfortunately and easy target.
Occupied is a slow-burning drama that not only echoes the stylistic Scandinavian giants like Borgen but adds to that with a plethora of expensive action sequences. We have a multi-narrative political series that focuses on the big-wig government and explores the impact the invasion has on every Norwegian citizen. Occupied creates a bigger universe for itself by involving many other European countries, and even tries to favour BBC World News over any other TV broadcast when possible (which shows how important the issue of Norway and its oil is). Will I keep watching? Most certainly. The world it has created can be explored vividly through many different sectors of the government. It can provide so many thematically and ethically challenging scenarios that we will challenge ourselves to come up with a better solution than the Prime Minister’s. It’s almost as if ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ could be the alternate title to this series.
Occupied is currently on Sky Arts in the UK and available on Netflix in the US.