The Heavy Water War (2015)

21 Nov
heavy water war
Imagine if Hitler’s Nazi Germany had built an atomic bomb. Whilst this may sound like something straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel it was in fact the very real nightmare scenario facing the Allies during World War Two. The threat was considered so serious that no less than four separate missions were undertaken to stop the Nazi atomic weapons program. The Heavy Water War recounts the Allies missions to destroy the Norwegian Norsk Hydro power plant which produced the dueterium oxide (heavy water), vital to the production of uranium.

Although the Heavy Water War had potentially global consequences it is the more intimate, personal stories which define this largely unknown conflict and the moral dilemmas each character has to battle with help elevate what could have easily been a rote, by-the-numbers tale, into something far more intriguing. In an effort to provide objectivity the story is presented from multiple viewpoints. Focusing primarily on Leif Trontsad, the Norwegian scientist who fled to England to assist British Intelligence, German physicist Werner Heisenberg provides the opposing perspective, whilst Hydro plant director Erik Henriksen and his wife Ellen allow us to follow the events from ground zero.
Those hoping for a glorified all-out action war story might be somewhat put off by the deliberate pacing of The Heavy Water War, however the commando raids don’t disappoint and are made much more captivating through a gradual ratcheting up in tension as the missions unfold.
The leads Espen Klauman Hoiner (Tronstad) and Christoph Bach (Heisneberg) both deliver excellent performances but it is the female characters Maibritt Saerens (Ellen Henriksen), Peri Baumeister (Elisabeth Heisenberg) and Anna Friel (Julie Smith) who really give the series a solid foundation. From a technical standpoint it is also worth noting that the cinematography is brilliant and the Norwegian scenery is absolutely stunning making The Heavy Water War a visual treat to watch. A lasting image for me being Heisenberg left standing in friends garden, isolated and alone in a metaphorical labyrinth.
Whilst the daring missions may take centre-stage it is the personal stories that underpin the series and what makes The Heavy Water War so compelling. Highly recommended.
Norway, 270 min TV series 6 x 45 min episodes, 2015.
Norwegian/German/English with English subtitles.
By Roger Beatson

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