Directed by: Per-Olav Sørensen
Starring: Christoph Bach, Anna Friel, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Pip Torens, Marc Benjamin Puch, Espen Klouman Høiner
Saboteurs is a six part tv series from Norway, detailing the crucial mission to destroy Germany's ability to produce Heavy Water, needed for their experiments into nuclear fission, and thereby halt their attempts to make an atomic bomb.
The series does an excellent job of establishing the scene: starting in 1933, with Professor Heisenberg being awarded the Nobel Prize, only to be interrogated shortly thereafter by the Nazis who accuse him of being a homosexual. He's almost forced into the army, but connections with the upper echelons of the party save him at the last minute. Instead, he's inaugurated into a team of scientists working for the military.
The reason heavy water is important is because it boils at a much higher temperature than normal water, so it can be used to bathe the uranium and keep it cooler longer. The trouble is, heavy water is hard to come by. It's a by-product of the manufacture of ammonia, and only one factory in Occupied Europe has it - in Rjukan, Norway.
Saboteurs puts a human face on many different aspects of the story. Heisenberg, for example, is an idealist who convinces himself that the military is serving science, rather than vice versa. He's not unaware of the potential huge cost in lives that his research might result in, but believes that it isn't his responsibility if his work is used as a weapon or not. All he cares about is that he has the resources he needs and the respect of his peers.
Bjørn Henriksen is the man sent by Hydro to run the factory and ensure the supply of heavy water is uninterrupted. Henriksen is an interesting character. He could have simply been portrayed as a collaborator with the Germans, but his loyalties purely lie with Hydro, and maintaining their reputation. As the story develops, he's almost like Lando Calrissian, trying to make the best of a bad situation and knowing that he has to keep the German's involvement as low as possible. When things finally become impossible for him to make a difference one way or another, his relationship with Nazi officer Major Decker allows him a way to maintain his reputation.
Captain Julie Smith is another interesting character, a tough as nails woman who has the respect of her superiors. She can also outshoot just about anyone, as she demonstrates after the Norwegian's poor display on the firing range. And although there does develop a closeness between her and Leif, she never betrays her own ideals.
The Saboteurs themselves are an interesting bunch. Led by Leif Tronsdat, a young physicist who escaped to England, they are all very young, eager and totally naïve about what they are getting into. This can be best scene when one of them shows off his pistol spinning skills, only to shoot himself in the foot!
However there is no denying how hardy these people are. The Grouse team, who are sent in advance of the rest, have to endure a harsh winter with very little food. At one point they end up having to eat a soup made of moss! And then there is the execution of the mission itself.
The series takes its time getting to the actual mission. There's a lot of build-up but the series never gets lost in the details. The Saboteurs really brings home the importance of this mission and just how close Germany came to achieving the building of a nuclear weapon. The show spends a whole episode detailing the mission, building tension by showing Leif in England, watching the clock and awaiting news.
As mentioned above, The Saboteurs puts a human face on all aspects of the situation. This means that the final mission, the sinking of a passenger ferry carrying the remaining supply of heavy water, is portrayed in such a way that the audience is forced to count the cost of success.
As fantastical some of the elements of this series are, just about every aspect of this story actually happened (some characters are composites of others). This series is truly compelling from start to finish, and is brilliantly acted throughout. The subtitles are well written and easy to read, and the way the episodes are presented on the disc allow for watching multiple episodes almost seamlessly (the lack of "previously..." segments at the beginning of each episode is really refreshing in this regard).
This is a great series by any country's standards. Highly recommended.
9 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)