Review: Eyewitness – the new Nordic Noir drama that thrills and unsettles

Barry Forshaw

Feeling withdrawal symptoms after the last few Scandicrime dramas? Eyewitness is the gripping new Nordic Noir guaranteed to satisfy.

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The nation's addiction to Nordic Noir 

There is a question much bandied about among aficionados of the dark and compelling dramas of Nordic Noir: when will it end? When will the flow of first-rate TV drama and novels sweeping in from the Scandinavian countries finally abate?

Not that dedicated fans—and there are a lot of us—are in a particular hurry to see the limitless supply dry up. On the evidence of such highly impressive new shows as Eyewitness, those compelling dramas aren't disappearing anytime soon.

Those viewers who avidly consumed The Killing andThe Bridge can now settle down with a series from the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that grips from the first frame.


Eyewitness (Øyevitne)

This six-part thriller has an extremely arresting opening. Two teenage boys, Philip and Henning, are struggling to come to terms with the fact that they are in love with each other and meet in a hut in a secluded quarry. But they are decidedly unlucky, as their tryst is interrupted when they unwittingly witness a bloody mass killing.

A nearly naked man is bundled out of the boot of a car by a vicious-looking motorcycle gang, and it is clear that he is to be executed. One of the gang is actually a special operations informant and arranges the condemned man's escape—only to die along with everyone else at the hands of the ruthless ex-captive. The latter is the sole survivor, as the two boys look on in horror.

Without knowing whether the murderer has seen them clearly, they vow to keep silent about what they’ve just seen. Unluckily for him, Philip’s foster mother is the local police chief and put in charge of the investigation. She does not know that her son is an important witness, or even that he is gay.

Anneke von der Lippe stars as the police chief, and her performance moves this already compelling drama to another level.

Helen Eyewitness

Yes, we've seen dedicated middle-aged policewomen before, and there are strong echoes here of both the Coen Brothers’ Fargo and The Killing, with the dogged female copper up against some truly nasty individuals. Influences aside, there is the usual atmospheric charge running through this as well as the kind of exemplary playing (von der Lippe in particular) that we expect in Scandicrime.

Another strength of Eyewitness lies in the fact that this is not just a crime drama. One family's conflicts are at the centre of the unfolding events, and they remain as riveting as the sense of threat following the slaughter at the beginning.

What further differentiates the show from other dramas in the field is not just its high-gloss cinematic qualities but the abrupt and staccato cutting and editing which gives everything a more edgy and unsettling quality than the customary slow burn we expect from the genre.

One more point in favour of Eyewitness (if you still need convincing!): the plotting is audacious and surprising. Don't worry, you won't find spoilers in this piece, just an assurance that if you think you have figured out the direction the narrative is heading in, you will almost certainly be wrong.

Barry Forshaw is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and ex-vice-chair of the Crime Writers Association. He won the Keating Award for Non-Fiction for British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia.

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