This article first appeared on Reaction.Life.
It is, nowadays, almost de rigueur to be a fan of Scandinavian dramas. First, there was The Killing, then Borgen, then The Bridge. When we heard last week that Borgen is to return for a further series, I could almost hear the rejoicing in Islington from my billet in Norfolk.
One Scandi-drama which hasn’t received the critical acclaim it deserves is the dark political thriller Occupied. Spread over three seasons it tells the story of a Green Norwegian Prime Minister, Jesper Berg, who stops all oil and gas production in favour of a newly discovered form of renewable energy.
The EU is furious as it threatens its energy supplies and Brussels encourages the Russians to launch a soft invasion. The rather weak-minded Norwegian PM is eventually driven from office and flees the country. The three main characters are Berg, his security detail Martin Djupvik and the Russian Ambassador, Irina Sidorova. The resistance movement, “Free Norway”, launches various terror attacks to try to eject the Russians, and the storyline is largely based on the interaction between the main characters and “Free Norway”.
The fact that the series was ever made, given the light in which it portrays the EU, and indeed the Russians, is quite remarkable. Yes, parts of it are preposterous, but it won’t just appeal to those who like to think the worst of the EU’s motives.
There are some very dark scenes, which I won’t go into here, but it is gripping throughout. Some people are put off by subtitles in foreign dramas. They shouldn’t be. OK, you do have to concentrate, and you can’t tap away on your laptop while you’re watching, but that’s no bad thing. The portrayal of the main characters is incredibly well done, and sometimes you even end up sympathising with the ostensible baddies, like the Russian Ambassador Sidorova.
At the moment, it looks as if it is unlikely there will be a fourth season, which in many ways is a shame, but perhaps it has run its course. A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Last Ship in this column, a series about how a pandemic wipes out 80% of the world’s population. The first two seasons were superb, but the next three stretched the story out far too much. Sometimes, it is best to leave viewers wanting more.
Give Occupied a try. I guarantee afterwards my email inbox will be overflowing with you all thanking me for the recommendation.
Planet Normal, Telegraph podcasts
Political podcasts are two a penny at the moment. That’s not a bad thing; choice is always good. It is just that it is impossible to keep up with them all. There is, however, an increasing amount of diversity in the political podcast market.
If you want long-form interviews, panel debates, up to the minute’s news or documentaries you won’t find it hard to find what you’re looking for.
The left has upped its game in providing content for its own adherents, and this week saw the launch of a new podcast from Tribune, A World to Win, hosted by Grace Blakeley – first guest, Jeremy Corbyn.
The right has fewer podcasts aimed squarely at people on the right, but a relatively new arrival is the Telegraph’s Planet Normal, hosted by two of their columnists: Liam Halligan and Allison Pearson. Both are Brexiteers, both are on the right, but neither has any Conservative Party affiliation.
The podcast has high production values, almost too high. Why do I say that? Because I think podcasts should be markedly different from radio programmes. They don’t need “stings” or big intros. People are tuning in to hear the views of the two hosts – nothing more, nothing less.
In each episode of Planet Normal, the two hosts start by discussing issues in the week’s news and try to provide some of their own. This is followed up by either Halligan or Pearson interviewing a guest who’s in the news.
This week it was Alison Pearson interviewing Nigel Farage. It was a fifteen-minute-long conversation – yes, conversation, not interview. Farage was relaxed and far more forthcoming than he might have been had it been the usual sort of confrontational ding-dong.
The last part of the podcast was spent discussing what Farage had said. Halligan and Pearson are a good foil for each other, and both are engaging and personable characters. What Liam Halligan doesn’t know about Brexit or the economy isn’t worth knowing. Pearson complements him brilliantly. She’s got a populist edge to her views and is adept at coming across as “the voice of the ordinary woman”, even though by most standards she is far from ordinary. But she’s not a political hack, and in this medium, that’s a positive advantage.
In all honesty, I had wondered whether this podcast would work, given I don’t normally like spending 45 minutes listening to people who mostly agree with each other. But I’m pleased to say it does, and it’s now on my ever-burgeoning “regular listen” list.