Hot issues in a cold climate: ‘Thin Ice’ is Nordic Noir at the top of its game.
By
Anthony Morris

22 Apr 2021 - 9:19 AM  UPDATED 22 Apr 2021 - 9:19 AM

Climate crisis, billions in oil profits, a conspiracy that’ll stop at nothing and killer polar bears: Thin Ice has it all. It’s Nordic Noir crossed with a high-stakes Hollywood thriller with an all-star cast and some truly stunning (and chilly) locations.

As both a global game of political brinkmanship and a gripping small-town mystery where a hard-edged female protagonist and a burnt-out middle-aged cop face off against a sinister threat, it’s consistently gripping viewing. Did we mention the polar bears?

Elsa Engström (Lena Endre) is a woman with a vision. A former climate researcher and environmental activist who is now Sweden’s foreign minister, she arrives in Greenland to head a summit held at the small village of Tasiilaq where she hopes the ministers in the Arctic Council will sign an agreement banning environmentally harmful oil drilling in the region once and for all.

She’s barely set foot on dry land when events overtake her plans. A ship owned by a large Swedish oil company is attacked off Greenland by what seems to be a terrorist group, with her political advisor Viktor Baker (Alexander Karim) on board and now in the middle of a hostage drama.

As a government minister, there’s only so much Elsa can do. Not so Viktor’s pregnant wife, intelligence officer Liv Hermanson (Bianca Kronlöf), who jumps on a plane to travel to Greenland to find her husband. When she arrives at Tasiilaq she’s denied permission to join the official investigation into the hijacking; local cop Enok Lynge (Angunnguaq Larsen) doesn’t seem that interested in helping her at first either, even though there’s clearly something big going on. It’s not long before the town’s phone and internet connection have been cut; whatever’s going on out at sea, it’s definitely spread to shore.

Elsa is left desperately trying to convince the other members of the Arctic Council to stay in Greenland and sign the treaty – no easy task when Russia, desperate to access newly discovered oil reserves, is offering Greenland independence in exchange for mining rights. And the more Liv investigates, the more it seems clear that somebody (or some country) is willing to stop at nothing to make sure that that treaty is not signed.

Even by Scandinavian standards, this is a big production. Filmed in Greenland during the coldest months of the year, fans of Nordic Noir’s chilly locations will find this series takes ice and snow to a whole new level with a range of truly stunning locations. Created by Endre, Søren Stærmose (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films) and Jóhann Grimsson (Stella Blómkvist), it was inspired in part by Endre’s work as a Greenpeace ambassador, and there’s plenty of chilling facts about the threat of global warming scattered in between the mystery’s twists and turns.

Endre is probably best known for her work in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies – unless you remember her as the Queen of Sweden in the last Kingsman movie – while Karim is the star of popular SBS series The Lawyer and We Got This. Larsen is a famous face from Borgen, and Nicolas Bro from The Bridge and The Killing (seen recently on SBS in DNA) plays the Danish Foreign Minister.

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It’s Kronlöf as the grittily determined Liv that grabs much of the spotlight. She’s as well known in her homeland as a comedian as an actor, but she’s not given a lot to laugh about here as a no-nonsense cop who’s also heavily pregnant – and being out and about on one of Greenland’s vast sheets of ice is the last place you’d want to experience any complications with your pregnancy. But while she’s tough on the job, she’s a sensitive soul in her private life… which also causes problems when she has a panic attack in a hospital later in the series.

Eventually she forms a double act with Enok, who has his own problems as a traditional Nordic Noir male protagonist (though in a twist, here it’s his wife that has the drinking problem). Beaten down and world-weary but still hanging onto his dignity, he’s the kind of small-town cop who gets things done, and his struggles to solve the crime that’s crushing his community (while dealing with his family problems at home) go a long way to giving this vast global conspiracy some all-too-human scale. 

Behind it all is the threat of global warming itself. The issues these politicians are arguing about suddenly don’t seem so abstract when you realise the stunning landscapes around them will be among the first to be destroyed by rising temperatures. They give Thin Ice an impact that goes far beyond the thriller plot: every time someone sets foot outside, we see exactly what’s at stake. 

Thin Ice is now streaming at SBS On Demand.

 

Follow the author @morrbeat

 

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