First it was the Danes, then the Swedes, now the Norwegians are colonising the UK with their superlative television. Written and directed by Jarl Emsell Larsen, Eyewitness (Øyevitne) is a taut, dark and engrossing thriller sure to satisfy fans with a craving for international crime drama.
Teens Henning and Philip (Odin Waage and Axel Bøyum) witness the brutal murder of a biker gang by a man in a car trunk. Saying nothing, fearing reprisals from the killer and the unmasking of their tentative sexual liaison, they struggle to cope with what they have seen. Meanwhile Helen Sikkeland, (Anneke von der Lippe) former legendary cop, current small-town Sheriff and, coincidentally, Philip’s foster mother, investigates the crime. Uncovering confidential informants, gang warfare and paedophilia that extend beyond Mysen to Oslo and abroad, the case comes closer to home than Sikkeland could ever imagine.
The series’ premise is smartly conceived, with Philip and Henning’s continued silence both dramatically plausible and thematically refreshing. Henning, an alpha male motocross champion, seems more terrified by his family and peers discovering his sexuality than he is of the killer. In keeping quiet Philip protects his lover but entrenches his already complicated relationship with his foster family. Trust, the lack of it and betrayal of it run throughout the series, but most effectively with its young leads. Philip’s turbulent past and uncertain present allow us to empathise with his often petulant behaviour even at its most extreme. The characterisation and performances are strong, with sensitive writing and acting avoiding teenage clichés.
Sikkeland instantly joins the growing pantheon of iconic Scandinavian crime heroines, matching the determination of Sarah Lund and the detective genius of Saga Norėn. Frequently underestimated by her big city colleagues, her sharp mind cuts through their game-playing to arrive at the truth. But unlike her Danish and Swedish predecessors, the pressure on Sikkeland takes a more noticeable emotional toll. An investigation with no leads, political manoeuvrings and a fraught home life with an unsettled foster son push Helen close to breaking point. Von der Lippe invests the role with warmth, humanity and vulnerability, skilfully balancing Helen’s faultless police work with her more flawed, somewhat reluctant assumption of maternal responsibilities.
At six episodes Eyewitness is much shorter than previous Nordic Noir imports, and whilst the story occasionally diverts into narrative dead ends or one too many red herrings, it maintains a consistently thrilling pace, culminating in a gripping and shocking finale. Danish cinematographer Lars Vestergaard’s impressive camerawork and excellent lighting contributes to the series’ highly polished aesthetic and effectively atmospheric tone. Dark and tense but never grim, Eyewitness is another welcome addition to the Scandi crime stable.
Eyewitness (Øyevitne) will be released on DVD on 14 September courtesy of Simply Media.