Occupied, the Jo Nesbø political thriller series that’s had the Russians up in arms, is set to premiere in Norway this weekend.

Occupied (Okkupert)
Occupied (Okkupert): (L-R) Henrik Mestad as Jesper Berg and Eldar Skar as Hans Martin – Image © Yellow Bird

Leave it to bestselling author Jo Nesbø (“Harry Hole” novels) to come up with the idea for a series that would raise the hackles of the Russians.

That’s exactly what happened with Occupied (Okkupert), whose 90 million kroner budget (£7 million/$10.7 million/€9.5 million) makes this political thriller Norway’s most expensive television series to date.

Set in the near future, Occupied depicts a Norway governed by a newly-elected extreme, green party, one so pro environment that it stops all oil and gas production in the North Sea. An energy crisis in the European Union ensues, as Norway is no bit player in providing fuel to EU countries. So Russia, in a secret deal with and on behalf of EU nations, invades and occupies a part of Norway to manage the re-started production and get the black gold flowing again. For most Norwegians, daily life goes on as usual and the occupation is more of an afterthought; for others, it’s a different story.

For Moscow, the storyline struck a nerve. The Russian Embassy in Oslo issued a statement carried by Russia’s official news agency TASS, which read:

“Though the series’ authors try to stress that this is a fictional plot that supposedly has nothing to do with reality, this film deals with perfectly real countries, and unfortunately, Russia is cast in the role of the aggressor. It is certainly a shame that, in the year of the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War II, the authors have seemingly forgotten the Soviet Army’s heroic contribution too [sic] the liberation off [sic] northern Norway from Nazi occupiers, decided, in the worst traditions of the Cold War, to scare Norwegian spectators with the nonexistent threat from the [E]ast.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Christopher Haug, the head of drama at Norway’s TV2, responded with a statement to the Associated Press, in which he said the Russian Embassy had been told about the series “at an early stage, three years ago, I believe,” and that Occupied is “foremost about Norway and Norwegians, not Russia or Russians.”

“I am surprised by the reaction. It is obviously a fiction, everyone can see that. […] (It’s) an engaging character drama about people put under great pressure. It doesn’t aim to reflect the current geopolitical situation in a realistic way.”

To wit: In Occupied the US is no longer a member of NATO.

In an interview with Nordisk Film & TV Fond, series’ co-creator and director of the two first episodes, Erik Skjoldbjærg, stated:

“The major question that is asked is, ‘What would you do if your democratic rights were at risk?’ In reality the answer is not black and white and most people would find various ways of dealing with the situation. Especially in the current days, people don’t want to put everything at risk. […] Occupied questions how people would react to radical change.

“I’ve been asked several times about our decision to choose Russia as aggressor and I know that there have been reactions from Russian media. For me it’s essential to stress that we had this idea before the conflict between Russia/Ukraine exploded and it is not made to mirror a specific situation.”

The history of Occupied goes back to 2008, when Nesbø conceived the series and wrote scripts for it. But his pitch received a lukewarm reception. In a 2014 interview with The Guardian he said, “When I presented this idea about two years ago, they said the problem is it’s a bit far-fetched.” Two years later Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, and the plot became plausible. But production of Occupied happened in fits and starts, until TV2 picked up the show from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, and Yellow Bird (Annika Bengtzon, Headhunters, Irene Huss, Millennium Trilogy, Wallander) and GTV (Blood on the Docks, Dolmen, Versailles) began production.

Created by Joe Nesbø and written by Erik Skjoldbjærg (Prozac Nation) and Karianne Lund, the ten-part drama stars Amanda Awards winners Henrik Mestad (Lilyhammer, Børning) and Ane Dahl Torp (The Sandhamn Murders, Codename Hunter), Eldar Skar (Mammon), and Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Mission: Impossible).

Shown in Norwegian, Russian, and English, Occupied premieres this Sunday, 4 October 2015, on TV2 in Norway. The series will screen on ARTE in France in November and Sky Arts in the UK (date TBA), as well as in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Germany, and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg).

Stay tuned for updates about if and when the series will screen in the US.

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Occupied: Jo Nesbø’s Norwegian Thriller Set to Premiere, Russians Not Thrilled
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