Disclaimer: This review of Atlantic Crossing is based on the first two episodes that were screened at the Cannes International Series Festival.
In the past few weeks I think I have written “Being apolitical will lead to the death of democracy” dozens of times in the last few weeks because the lack of clarity among apolitical people usually goes in the favour of the oppressors. Yes, according to Wikipedia, being apolitical refers to “situations in which people take an unbiased position in regard to political matters”, but as comic-book artist Sanitary Panels has rightly said, being apolitical, especially now, basically means that one is privileged and unaffected, if not benefitting, from current politics. When there are people out there who are relentlessly killing people in large numbers and there are people out there who are trying to stop that, being apolitical means you are basically siding with the murdering fascists. And, in my opinion, this notion hasn’t been beautifully depicted in the Norwegian series, Atlantic Crossing.
The show is directed by Alexander Eik, and written by Eik, and Linda May Kallestein. The cinematography is by Carl Sundberg, editing by Silje Nordseth and Morten Rørvig, and score by Raymond Enoksen. The cast features Kyle MacLachlan, Sofia Helin, Tobias Santelmann, Harriet Sansom Harris, Daniel Betts, and Søren Pilmark. The official synopsis states, “In the turmoil of WWII, exiled Norwegian crown princess Märtha sheds her obligations as princess and mother to become an influential figure in world politics, doing everything she can to influence President Roosevelt’s decision to enter the war, which would ultimately lead to its end”. Atlantic Crossing opens in 1939 with the Crown Prince and Princess travelling to America to meet Roosevelt. One year later, they find themselves back at home and trying to decide if they let Germany walk all over them or make a stand and bring an end to the fascists.
I don’t think this will be any kind of spoiler for the show because, well, it’s history. During World War II, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, among many others, declared themselves to be neutral. Denmark and Norway got invaded and civil rule was assumed by the Reichskommissariat Norwegen which served as a pro-German puppet because Norway focused more on being apolitical and saving the royal family than standing their ground. While the Crown Princess went to her home in Sweden, the Crown Prince and King Haakon VII escaped to London to act as a government in exile. The first two episodes largely focuses on the apolitical stand of Sweden and how its King practically sided with Adolf Hitler in order to keep his country untouched. And I think that’s a brilliant reminder of what apoliticism can lead to when fascism is on the rise and how idiotic apolitical people look like while trying to avoid any argument or discussion about the state of the world even though everything is burning around them.
Apart from giving this macro perspective, Atlantic Crossing does a brilliant job of providing these ground-level (I mean, they aren’t exactly “ground-level” because they’re royalty. But they’re grounded enough to help you empathise with their plight) perspectives on what went during the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. By creating well-defined characters in the form of Olav (Santelmann) and Märta (Helin), the show forces apolitical people to understand that their neutral stand isn’t going to stop fascism and is actually going to lead to the deaths of real, actual people. And for what? So that you can have your fu*king champagne and play tennis? In addition to all that, the production design and costume design of the show is astounding. The cinematography is beautiful and the editing lets each and every single one of these scenes breathe. Since it’s not unnecessarily gory, the showrunners let the anxiety emerge from the acting, although there are a few action-heavy scenes scattered throughout the show that you might have to white-knuckle your way through. The acting overall is brilliant, especially that of Santelmann and Helin, with a superb supporting act by MacLachlan.
I am not the biggest fan of period pieces because for the longest time, they tended to be Oscar-bait and a vehicle for traditional love stories. But, of late, they’ve turned into relevant projects that remind us about what humanity has been through and, given the rise of Right-Wing politics all over the world, if we aren’t very careful, how we can end up repeating our past. Some of the best and recent examples are Chernobyl, 1917, World on Fire, and Hunters. And, in my very honest opinion, Atlantic Crossing is an excellent addition to this list. I think everyone should watch it and realise how privileged they’re to be sitting on their high horses and thinking that the river of venom that’s consuming everything around them isn’t going to reach them. That (And this show) is just a long-winded way of saying that stop being apolitical. Pick the side that won’t lead to the death of democracy and civilisation.
Cover image courtesy: Canneseries/YouTube