It’s been a relentlessly wet and miserable day here in London town, so it only seemed right not to leave the house, make myself some nice food and settle down to watch lots of TV. Yesterday, I watched the first three episodes of Walter Presents’ new Norwegian import, Acquitted, and I enjoyed it. It was a multi-layered tale of a hotshot businessman, based in Malaysia, called back to his hometown of Lifjorden in Norway to save a company that was the lifeblood of the town. Nothing too dramatic about that, you might think, but there were big-old wrinkles to this story: Aksel Borgen was going back to a hometown he hadn’t visited for 20 years, since he was acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend, Karine. The CEO of the company he had been asked to save? His deceased girlfriend’s mother, who still thinks he’s guilty of the crime.
NB: This has spoilers in it, so if you haven’t seen it yet please don’t read
There was a moment in those first three episodes where Aksel threw a stone into the still waters of the enormous, calm fjord that Lifjorden looks out onto. In essence, this visual metaphor summed up the story: how one incident can cause ripples throughout the years and decades, and how someone at the centre of that incident can have such a dramatic effect on those who were left to pick up the pieces.
We saw this in those first three episodes: how his stoner brother Erik, bitter since his arrival, had been forced to care for their emotionally damaged mother; how their mother had had to cope with obscene abuse from locals who were convinced Aksel was guilty, to the point where she’s now terrified of letting anyone into her house; how Tonje, the ex-girlfriend who had supplied the alibi that secured his release from jail all those years ago, had still harboured feelings for him; how Eva and William, Karine’s parents, had kept up appearances all this time and now were falling apart; how Lars, Eva and William’s son and Karine’s brother, had grown into a timid man; and, crucially, how Aksel’s wife, Angeline and son Tim, had no clue about his volatile past.
That was all about to change.
If the first three episodes had taken its time to establish characters and play out the business side of the story, episode four started with a bomb-drop of potential conflict – Angeline and Tim had decided to surprise Aksel with a visit to Lifjorden. As soon as they got on the ferry, they were asked if they were the family of Aksel Nilsen. They said no, but alarm bells started to ring. (Aksel Nilsen? But our Aksel is called Aksel Borgen…)
Sure enough, the arrival of Angie and Tim signalled a change in pace and focus – thanks to pressure from Angie (a naturally inquisitive lawyer), secrets began to tumble out. Aksel’s arrest, incarceration and subsequent acquittal, his relationship with Tonje (past and present) and even what happened on that fateful night. Well, not quite.
At the end of episode five, Tim confronted his father after being goaded by a local teen about being the son of a murderer. Aksel finally broke. That cocksure, arrogant man who was used to making millions at the push of a button and getting whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, but had no clue how to deal with real people in real, emotional situations, broke down and wept in front of his wife and son, admitting that he didn’t remember what had happened the night Karine had died.
It was a pivotal moment in the story and for our perception of the character – suddenly he was vulnerable, likeable, even, but also one that couldn’t be trusted. It was a moment that also changed the piece from a slow-burning family drama with a bit of crime into a genuine whodunit – with our main character still a prime suspect. In essence, Aksel had decided to stick around and find out what had happened to Karine once and for all, even though he knew he could well be the person who did it. It was classic noir territory.
But there was so much more going on: Tim had fallen for Lars’s daughter, Heline, in a star cross’d lovers storyline; and Erik, still bitter at how life and his brother had treated him, was full of intrigue as his relationship with Åse played out.
Yes, some scenes were clunky, and yes, the actress playing Angie is a touch on the wooden side (apologies to Elaine Tan, who’s an experienced actress… and to be fair it’s not just her, all the English-speaking characters were. Perhaps that was something to do with the characters who spoke English), but there’s so much meat on the bone here while it explores believable human reactions to traumatic situations. It’s intriguing, it has depth and it’s a good story.
For our episodes 1-3 review, go here