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“Are you sure about this?” a colleague asks Aksel Borgen (Nicolai Cleve Broch) at the start of Acquitted. “You know me,” comes the assured reply. “I’m always sure.”
What he’s sure about is returning to his home country – and, more specifically, his hometown in the Norwegian mountains and fjords. He hasn’t been there for 20 years, and the reason for that lengthy time away slowly becomes clear: it’s because two decades ago, he was accused of killing his high-school sweetheart, Karine. He was, however, acquitted of the crime, hence the title. It’s swiftly apparent, though, that not everyone believes his innocence.
Before you can say “innocent man fighting to clear his name”, though, hang about: this isn’t a French crime thriller or a US procedural. After taking us on a tour of the world in its first year, Walter Presents goes back to its roots with this Nordic noir, which is less concerned with who did it and more concerned with who felt it; this is slow, measured study of the trauma of the past colliding with the present, a ghost story more than a detective story, in which the spectre lingering over the remote society is the history.
You can see it in the pale, haunted faces of everyone Aksel meets, as old acquaintances turn white as a sheet, as if they’ve seen a ghost. That happens over and over in the opening hour, and it doesn’t get old. That’s a testament to the writing, which teases out details of Aksel’s back-story without spilling all the beans, and the direction, which takes you breathe away with the jaw-dropping scenery in opening helicopter shots (“It’s like Hobbit land down there!”) then doesn’t let you get it back again amid the claustrophobic, oppressive community. Most of all, though, the cast are fantastic, making both Aksel’s outsider and the left-behind world immediately believable.
Broch bristles at each shocked face, but manages to maintain enough of a composed surface to keep things intriguing; it really is hard to tell how much of his brief glimpses of shame and embarrassment are guilt or just general awkwardness. His interactions with his colleagues are equally engaging, as he steers his business to acquire failing local firm Solar Tech, headed up by Eva Hansteen (Lena Endre), the mother of Karine. How much of his decision is a mature gesture to put water under the bridge? And how much is a reckless race to prove that he’s either not bothered by their accusing stares, or that he’s innocent?
With his boss in Asia not even aware that he’s from Norway, there’s a clear line in his life that divides past and present – and Acquitted’s opening hour is a perfect demonstration of how to blur that line to maximum effect. The second when Eva and Aksel meet each other at his helicopter when he lands is the best thing in the episode, a moment without words that’s full of tension and confidence. Season 1 of the show became Norway’s biggest TV drama hit for the broadcaster TV 2 last year. With Season 2 since breaking that record, the confidence certainly seems justified. Are we sure about Walter Presents’ new show? Judging by this first episode, absolutely.
All episodes of Acquitted are available to stream exclusively for free on All 4’s Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.