The Norwegian crime drama Eyewitness is a tricksy little fiend before we even start. I’ve been looking forward to this for literally months. Walter Iuzzolino (of Channel 4 Walter Presents fame) mentioned it as one to watch back at the end of last year at the live event in Birmingham Literary Festival in October. I might have been writing this blog for 18 months now, but I still have much to learn about what ‘coming soon’ means in the world of television. Soon wasn’t soon enough, and while constantly refreshing the Walter Presents schedule I was getting antsy. Surely lovely Walter wouldn’t fail me. The days and weeks ticked by and winter became spring. It wasn’t in any listings for shows coming soon until suddenly I saw an advert for it two weeks before the air date. Unfortunately for me, three weeks before the air date I’d bought it. In a dark moment of desperation I gave up on Walter and got the DVD. Lesson being, trust Walter and don’t worry. He’ll see you right.
Eyewitness aka Øyevitne if you speak the langauge is a drama from 2014, produced by Norway’s NRK. And it’s a big deal, procuring the country’s first ever International Emmy Award. Unusually for Nordic noir, the twist is right at the beginning – the viewer sees the vicious crime through the eyes of two teenage boys. We know who dunnit. The police are in the dark. There’s friction between the Olso cops; the undercover Special Operations team who seem to be way too close to their subjects, and the countryside sheriff Helen Sikkeland (Anneke von der Lippe). She’s more experienced than she looks, having moved to Myson for the quite life after 8 years in homicide in big city. Currently harness racing (horses pulling their ‘drivers’ around in little two-wheeled carts) is the most adrenaline-fulled pass time she has, but that’s all about to change. She thought she was out, but they’re pulling her back in!
The two 15-year-old boys – Philip and Henning – we meet at the start are central to the story, both unhappy and confused by their identities. Floppy-haired Henning is seemingly a normal untroubled teenager. He’s quite macho and loves motocross which is why he hangs out in secluded areas, perfect for gang-land shootout, if your villains are willing to travel. Philip is the more sensitive and shy of the pair. He’s adjusting to a new life in the country with his foster parents Sheriff Helen and her husband Sven. His mother is an addict in rehab, who he is desperately trying to have a relationship with despite these new boundaries. Clearly Philip adores Henning, and one night in a shack in the sand quarry they fool around. Their young love is brutally interrupted by gangsters and an ensuing bloodbath. The killer escapes, despite being hit in the face by a frying pan, in comedy fashion (klannnng!). The boys are terrified of him tracking them down, and rightly so. Well, Philip is scared of the murderer, but Henning is mainly scared of being labeled as gay. He’s NOT GAY! Okay?!! Each time Philip gets close, Henning pushes him away, until he needs something from him again. Poor Philip.
And on the side of the law we have equally messed up personal problems with one undercover police officer. Camilla’s brother-in-law is the unfortunate informant who dies alongside his fellow bike gang members in the quarry. Her sister has little choice but to get closer to the gang who say they want to support her and her child. There’s plenty of money and friendship of a sort, as long as she’s willing to do them some favours; keep hold of some items, stay loyal, maybe set up your sister and plants drugs in her house. Small favours become large and saying no to these violent people is not an option.
The plot nips along at a decent pace, and the characters introduced so far are interesting, although maybe a few too many to get a handle on yet. It was hard to get a good sense of the colours and the lighting as the camerawork throughout the first episode was jerky and rapidly moving. This style isn’t usually a problem for me, but it’s difficult when reading subtitles. Essentially part of the screen stays still, part of it moves quickly and you have to pay close attention to both. It made me feel quite sick! I hope the director calms down a little for the sake of international viewers, but I understand we’re unlikely to be the chief concern.
Was it worth pipping Walter to the post and paying for? I don’t know. So far, I’m intrigued and with the gang element there’s plenty of scope for widening the investigation into the city. The Emmy makes me confident that it’ll be quality throughout the six episode run. Also in a fairly new tradition of intentional dramas being picked up in America the remake was cancelled after one series. Maybe that’s a mark of quality too?
Check out Eyewitness now on Walter Presents – all episodes are available to stream from the Channel 4 site.