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NRK ready to declare €8.7 million Heavy Water War


- The Norwegian pubcaster is launching one of its most expensive TV drama series, which has already been sold to several territories, including the US

NRK ready to declare €8.7 million Heavy Water War
The Heavy Water War (© Filmkameratene AS/Jiri Hanzl)

When Norwegian director Per-Olav Sørensen’s World War II series The Heavy Water War is aired by Norwegian pubcaster NRK from 4 January 2015, the main character will be Norwegian professor Leif Tronstad (played by Espen Klouman-Høiner). He is not usually credited as the real hero of the 27-28 February 1943 attack on Norsk Hydro’s Rjukan plant, in the Allies' efforts to keep the atomic bomb out of Hitler's clutches.

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“When we started working on the script, we realised that Tronstad, who originally constructed the factory for heavy water at Vemork, and later planned and directed the sabotage from London, had not been given the place he deserved in this story,” said veteran Norwegian producer John M Jacobsen, of Filmkameratene. “Here, he is the natural protagonist.” 

Svensk Filmindustri’s Stockholm-based SF International has reported strong international interest for the production with NRK, Headline Pictures (UK) and Sebasto Film (Denmark), which has so far been sold to the US (MHZ Networks), France (Entertainment One), Benelux (Lumière), Spain (A Contracorriente), Poland (Kino Swiat) and the former Yugoslavia (Stas Media), while several deals are in negotiation.

Scripted by Petter Rosenlund, “who has for the first time dramatised the whole story, moving between Germany, England, Denmark and Norway”, according to Jacobsen, The Heavy Water War follows Nazi Germany and German scientist Werner Heisenberg’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, for which they needed the heavy water from Rjukan, accessible after the 1940 occupation of Norway.

The first TV drama series by Jacobsen, who has produced more than 25 features, including local blockbusters Max Manus: Man of War [+see also:
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(2008) and, most recently, Børning (2014), describes how the Allies launched several operations to destroy the facility. In 1942, 41 soldiers were killed in a glider that had to make an emergency landing in Rogaland; the survivors were executed by the Germans.

In the 1943 Operation Gunnerside – later assessed by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as the most successful act of sabotage during WW2 – a group of SOE-trained Norwegian commandos demolished the factory. After it was followed up by several air raids, the Germans decided to stop production and remove the remaining heavy water on the ferry, SF Hydro, which was subsequently sunk by the Norwegian resistance.

Sørensen, who directed last year’s The Half Brother for NRK, has worked with an international cast comprising Christoph Bach, Peri Baumeister (Germany) Anna Friel, Pip Torrens (UK), Maibritt Saerens and Søren Pilmark (Denmark), in addition to local actors Christian Rubeck, Frank Kjosås, Tobias Santelmann, Benjamin Helstad, Stein Winge and Dennis Storhøi

The raid on Norsk Hydro was filmed for the first time in 1947-1948 by Norwegian director Titus Vibe-Müller and French director Jean Dreville; the main parts in The Fight for the Atomic Bomb were played by real-life participants in the WW2 events. In 1965, US director Anthony Mann depicted the attack in The Heroes of Telemark, with Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris in the leads.

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