‘Ninjababy’ Team Reunites on ‘Punk’ Series ‘Power Play’ About Norway’s First Female PM: ‘She Was Good and They Hated That’

Gro Harlem Brundtland started out as a doctor. Climbing the ranks, she became Norway’s first female Prime Minister. Now, new show “Power Play” takes a closer look at her way to the top. 

“She is aware that we made it,” says showrunner Johan Fasting, who co-wrote with Silje Storstein and Kristin Grue. Currently in her eighties, Brundtland wasn’t involved in developing the series, however.  

“This story needed to be told, now. It wouldn’t make sense to wait just to be courteous.”

Playing in main competition at his year’s Canneseries, which runs April 14-19, “Power Play” is produced by Motlys and Novemberfilm, with REinvent International Sales handling international distribution.  

Brundtland served three terms as PM; she was also the director-general of the World Health Organization. Although she entered politics back in the 1970s, things are still rocky for high-profile female politicians. Recently, Jacinda Ardern resigned as PM of New Zealand, while Finland’s Sanna Marin lost the election at the beginning of April.  

“Things have changed, but they haven’t fully changed. Just think about the reaction to [Sanna Marin] dancing video. It was crazy! In that sense, it’s a very modern series,” notes Yngvild Sve Flikke, who directed four episodes, also mentioning Brundtland’s fight for abortion rights.

“It’s hard to persevere in politics, especially for women,” agrees Fasting. 

“We wanted to go behind the scenes of social democracy as well, see how it has dissolved and turned into what we have today. It felt like the right time to look at the mechanisms of power.” 

The stakes portrayed here are high, yet they decided to embrace a satirical approach. Just like in their pregnancy dramedy “Ninjababy,” awarded in Berlin and at the EFAs.  

“We like to tell serious stories and add humor to them. It’s the kind of challenge that scares you, but it keeps you going,” says Flikke, who directed the film, with Fasting adding: “I think we are trying to build on that previous collaboration, tone-wise. I knew that Yngvild would make it funny and she would make it work.”

While Armando Iannucci-like antics of politicians who fight hard and drink even harder could boost the show’s international prospects, the team was more interested in attracting a young audience.  

“Early on, some people went: ‘Well, this show is not going to travel.’ But Silje and Kristin’s pitch to NRK was full of youthful energy. We weren’t born when any of this was happening, so we are looking at things that are interesting to us today,” notes Fasting.

Flikke, albeit born in the 1970s, also tried to make it feel “younger.”  

“In Norway, everyone above 60 will watch this show anyway. But I want my teenage daughters to see it too, or any 18-year-old interested in politics. I want them to embrace it as a drama series that doesn’t feel like a history lesson. Fasting said: ‘We are not going to explain things. We aren’t teachers.’ Young people watch shows on their phones. If they are interested in something, they will just google it.” 

Although Brundtland has written books about her time in politics, the team never obsessed over details. Telling a story that’s “based on truth, lies and poor memory.”

“Katrine [Thorborg Johansen], who plays Gro, wanted to meet her at the beginning. But we weren’t trying to mimic anyone, we weren’t trying to make ‘The Crown.’ It’s not a period story – it’s timeless,” says Flikke, mentioning Elle Fanning starrer “The Great” as a “liberating” example.  

“When you are watching the news, everything is so serious. And yet these were real people who did absurd things. At the same time, you want to be respectful, because some of them are still alive and so are their children. It’s a balance.” 

Fasting adds: “It was one of our main ideas: to make it punk. There is something that happens to period stories when every detail is painstakingly recreated. We didn’t want that. We don’t need to know that the drapes are the exact same drapes they had in the office back then. I absolutely don’t care about the drapes! Also, if you are a punk, you can’t afford them anyway. You use whatever you can find on the streets.”  

While the show, spanning 12 episodes, starts in 1974 and ends in 1981, some characters reflect on the past in a mock-documentary fashion.

“We are bringing it into modern day, because we want people to think about who is telling this story and why. After a while, things don’t add up and even the characters stop and say: ‘I never said that!’,” he laughs.  

“Gro Harlem Brundtland had a great career, but when you only hear about it from her, it doesn’t make for a good TV show. It’s boring! The image built through her books, and through history, is that of a hero. The most interesting way to approach a character like via other people, although you can’t trust them either.” 

“She meant so much to me and my generation of women. She had the guts to say what she meant and do what she wanted. Still, it was interesting to look at her through the eyes of her colleagues,” observes Flikke.  

“If she was a man, they wouldn’t say the same things. She was good and they hated that.” 

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