In an era in which Russia is embroiled in a territorial dispute with a European neighbour and is at the centre of international events, Occupied looks like a fast-turnaround drama inspired by real-life. It is in fact a thriller from the mind of best-selling novelist Jo Nesbø, the inspiration for which predates anything happening in the real world.
The drama follows events in the close future when Russia has, on behalf of the EU, invaded Norway in order to take control of its oil resources.
Nesbø came up with the idea with Yellow Bird executive producer Marianne Gray when they were working on Headhunters, but Karrianne Lund, writer of Norwegian series AF1, was the lead writer on the series.
The series producers, Yellow Bird (Wallander, the Millennium film trilogy) and GTV, are both part of Zodiak Media, and its content sales arm will launch the show at MIPCOM. Former BBC Worldwide head of drama Caroline Torrance joined Zodiak earlier this year and inherited the project.
“When people first talked about Occupied it seemed like a fantasy that Russia would invade another country, but now it is very topical,” she says. “It’s almost a [sales] hook, when you talk about the story the parallels become obvious.”
She adds: “In the series the Norwegians almost invite Russia in – it is a ‘silk glove’ invasion – and supposed to be temporary, but the Russians get more entrenched and involved and in episode five it becomes clear that they are here to stay. Occupied is about how different people and characters react to living in an occupied country.”
The cast of characters spans the upper reaches of government, journalists and members of the public. Filmed in Norwegian, Russian and English – the Russians and Norwegians speak in their own tongues and in English when talking to one another – and audiences are increasingly more interested in the story rather than the language in which a drama series is made, Torrance says.
Occupied is in production ahead of hitting Arte in France and TV2 in Norway next year. Zodiak travels to MIPCOM with the first finished episodes and English-language scripts for buyers interested in formats.
Torrance says: “The scripts are there: broadcasters could take them and think how they could be adapted. It does not have to be oil at the centre of it, it could be another vital resource, so we could see different versions.”
The show: Occupied
The producer: Yellow Bird, GTV
The distributor: Zodiak Rights
The broadcasters: TV2 (Norway), Arte (France)
The concept: Scandi drama from Jo Nesbø about a Russian invasion of Norway