els bastards

The return of the Telemark heroes

The Second World War gave rise to numerous wartime anecdotes. One of the most celebrated is what took place in Vermok, in the Norwegian region of Telemark. It was here that the allies carried out a series of military operations to destroy the Nors Hydro industrial complex, the only plant producing a regular supply of heavy water, the key element in German research into atomic energy. In the end it was thanks to a squad of Norwegian commandos who managed to prevent the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction that could have changed history.

Most people will only remember the heroic actions of the commandos thanks to the war film The Heroes of Telemark (Michael Mann, 1965), starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris. However, the film does not avoid the Hollywood tendency to spruce up real events. In fact, it has taken until now for the operation to get a true dose of realism in Kampen om tungtvannet (The Heavy Water War), an ambitious production from Norway's NRK channel, which has so far managed to captivate large Scandinavian audiences. The six-episode mini-series is by Per-Olaf Sorensen (Halvbroren) and includes a heavy-hitting line-up of stars from Norwegian TV, which has already produced a number of cult hit series that have travelled beyond the country's borders, such as Borgen and Forbrydelsen.

In order to provide a rounded vision of the events, Kampen om tungtvannet is divided into a number of narrative lines, in the style of filmmaker D.W. Griffith, who popularised the technique of parallel scenes. There are four major settings: the allied base in Scotland from which operations are directed and where Leif Hans Tronstad trains his troops, in Germany, where we follow the research of the ambiguous scientist Werner Heinsberg (who couldn't be further from the lead star of Breaking bad), a Jew charged with carrying out the Nazi plan to develop an atomic bomb, In Vermok, where the Norwegian businessmen feel pressured into increasing the production of heavy water to satisfy Nazi demands, and in the white desert, where the soldiers prepare for the operation and where the most intriguing action sequences take place.

The Heavy Water War is a good series, a referential companion to Band of Brothers and the German series Generation War. While it does not benefit from the same sort of budget as the Spielberg series, it knows how to play its strong suit of classical authenticity. It is this that has produced a series that is more drama than war, following the traditions established by British TV drama. One feature of the series is its use of original languages, from Norwegian to English, via German, depending on the characters or situations on screen. It also deals well with action, providing tense scenes –in particular the chases through the snow– while the actors do well bringing to life a group of characters that are not all cut from the same cloth. In all, Kampen om tungtvannet earns its place among the best of Norwegian TV productions.

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