More than a million Norwegians tuned in Sunday evening to the much-hyped premiere of the new television series based on Lar Saabye Christensen’s epic novel Halvbroren (The Half Brother). Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) aired the first two episodes back-to-back, and attracted a record-breaking audience.
“It becomes more than just a TV series with so many watching,” Per Olav Sørensen, who directed the series, told NRK on Monday. “It becomes a national event.”
Both, he, NRK officials and Christensen himself were delighted by the interest, and high ratings. Around 1,033,000 viewers tuned in and another 10,757 watched it on NRK.no. The latter number is expected to increase over the course of the week.
“We had expected around 750,000, maybe 850,000, and a million was our dream,” Sørensen said. “So I think this is just fantastic.”
Kristian Tolonen, analysis chief for NRK, said the viewership was historic as well. “This is the best opening a drama series on NRK has ever had,” Tolonen told NRK.no.
The high ratings were clearly aided by widespread media coverage of the series, promotion and rave reviews from critics in almost every major newspaper in the country. Among the superlatives bandied about, even by some of Norway’s most jaded film critics, were “genuine,” “excellent,” “well-acted” and “gripping,” with special praise for the costumes and scenes that capture the moods of the post-war periods in which Christensen’s family saga over four generations is set.
“Finally a Norwegian drama series that actually deserves to be shown in prime time,” wrote critic Reidar Spigseth in newspaper Dagsavisen.
Surprised by the success
Sørensen said he was actually surprised by the success of the series, because NRK’s drama department has been the target of much criticism in recent months and more than a decade has passed since Christensen’s book first came out. Now a new paperback version of the book is being released, since the TV series has revived interest in the book itself, which is considered the “lifework” of author Christensen and which won major literary prizes.
It took him 20 years to write and is mostly about the two half-brothers struggling to become individuals. It follows a Norwegian family over a period of nearly 50 years, depicting how they survive hardships and tragedy, interlaced with what publisher Cappelen Damm calls the “rather black humous of old women.” TV viewers see Oslo as it developed from the end of World War II, with scenes from other areas around the country as well.
Some viewers did complain via social media and online debate that the show was “dreary” and that dialogue among the actors was at times stilted and difficult to understand, because of dramatic mumbling often found in Norwegian productions. Texting could have helped the lack of enunciation, as will the subtitles that will be added when the series is shown abroad. It’s already been sold to several other countries including the US, Ireland, the Netherlands, four Balkan nations and all those in the Nordic area.
The cast contains several well-known names in Scandinavia, with Ghita Nørby playing the Danish grandmother and Agnes Kittelsen playing the girlfriend of the grown-up version of Barnum, one of the two half-brothers growing up with three generations of women. Actor Frank Kjosås has been widely reported to have made his breakthrough playing Barnum’s older brother Fred. All the actors have won glowing reviews, not least Jon Øigarden, who had to master the local dialect from the northern Norwegian island of Røst, where his character Arnold is from.
The series, set in the period from Norway’s Liberation Day in 1945 until 1990, consists of eight episodes of 45 minutes each. It’s due out on DVD in mid-February.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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