Show of the Week: Estonia

Estonia

Fact-based eight-part drama series diving into the true events of the sinking of the MS Estonia off the coast of Finland in 1994.

Caught in a catastrophic storm, the ship sank within 30 minutes, claiming the lives of 852 people – despite a dramatic rescue attempt under the most difficult of conditions.

This dramatised version of events explores not only the tragedy, but what followed as investigators from Finland, Sweden and Estonia – each caught in the political maneuverings of their respective countries – set out to discover how the vessel sank in the first place.

“The sinking of MS Estonia was the most memorable event in my adolescence, just after the Chernobyl accident,” reveals Miikko Oikkonen, the series’ creator and showrunner.

“When in 2019, 25 years after the catastrophe, open questions of MS Estonia conquered every headline once again here in Finland, Sweden and Estonia, it was obvious that the case is a huge open wound in our society still today.”

Oikkonen tells TBI that when investigating the MS Estonia “no-one has made any noteworthy fictional drama about the subject,” and that “MTV3 Finland and TV4 Sweden jumped quickly aboard after pitching the main idea” leading him to believe “the time might be ready for this series.”

The show follows experienced marine engineer – and novice inquirer – Henri Peltonen, as he sets out to uncover the cause of the disaster. As conflicting interests and suspicions of a cover-up emerge, the grief of the survivors and the bereaved is at risk to be forgotten. Eventually, Henri, as the only remaining investigator, continues to fight tirelessly for satisfactory explanations.

“Everybody can remember here in the north where they were, when the accident of MS Estonia happened. It is our common recollection. But almost no-one knows nothing about the three year long investigation, which followed the accident,” says Oikkonen.

“And – this is actually the main question of the series – how [was it] possible that after three years of investigations there wasn’t anyone accountable for the accident? How it is possible that over 850 people lost their lives and still today there isn’t anyone, who is responsible of that? To these questions our series tries to give an intriguing answer.”

To bring the tragedy to life, Oikkonen says that the MS Estonia was recreated in three different places – in the Lites water stage in Brussels, in a rented passenger vessel in Istanbul and with visual effects.

“With the real ship and VFX extensions we can show the scope of MS Estonia and with several real size set-pieces in the water studio we could show the rapid tilting and sinking of the ship.

“We built the full-scale sundeck, corridors and cabins, which we could both tilt and hoist down into water during the shooting. Belgians claimed that these sets were the biggest ones that the local crew has ever built in their studio.”

Justus Riesenkampff, EVP of the Nordics & Benelux at the series distribuor Beta Film, adds that while the story will be familiar to Finnish, Swedish and Estonian audiences, the series tells a “universal story of sudden sorrow, loss and grief.”

He explains: “Estonia isn’t just a catastrophe series – it also tells a wider story of the aftermath, which always follows the accidents. It shows how we human beings can cope together and learn from the past.”

 

Producer: Fisher King, in co-production with Panache Productions, Amrion Oü and Kärnfilm

Distributor: Beta Film

Broadcaster: TV4, Cmore, MTV and ProSiebenSat.1

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