This October, Channel 4 and Walter Presents will be welcoming you to settle in and enjoy the intrigue offered by Witch Hunt, an award-winning corporate crime drama from Norway. The programme originally aired in its homeland last year, but from the revised time of midnight on Monday 15 November, you’ll be able to watch it on Channel 4 in the UK, or stream the box set on Walter Presents.
The key figure in the story is Ida Waage, played by Ingrid Bolsø Berdal. She’s the chief financial officer in a successful Oslo law firm called Biermann and Gude. Ida is a by-the-book operator, and the firm’s senior partners are principled enough to recognise that something shifty is going on when a witness in a case against one of their clients goes missing.
Ida’s problems begin when an invoice from an untraceable consultancy lands on her desk. It’s for €450,000, so it’s not peanuts. She asks Jan Gunnar Askeland (Preben Hodneland), the litigator who works on the Peer Eggen account, to supply the supporting paperwork. At first he’s evasive, then aggressive, then apologetic, but eventually he waves a document in front of her which seems enough to sign off the invoice.
Still, things don’t add up. When Ida talks to a junior solicitor on the account, he doesn’t know anything about the company being paid on behalf of the client, Peer Eggen. She begins to suspect that her normally respectable firm is laundering money for Eggen and that Jan Gunnar is the bad apple. It would certainly appear to be so. We see Jan Gunnar try to force himself onto another woman lawyer at a company function, and he has various threats to throw at Ida. After all, she has signed off the first invoice and is therefore complicit in the money laundering.
But there is a wider backdrop of events taking place. Peer Eggen is the client who has just had a fraud case against him dropped because a witness failed to testify, and an Oslo fraud cop called Eirik Bråthen (Fridtjov Såheim) knows in his bones that Eggen has been breaking the law. The justice minister Katinka Bakke Nilsen (Janne Heltberg) wants to introduce legislation giving the government more insight into the financial dealings of Norway’s big companies. And journalist Aida Salim (Sara Khorami) is digging for stories on Eggen.
We know from the the very first scenes of episode one that Jan Gunnar is in Eggen’s pocket, and that Eggen has plans to purchase the state energy company through a deal that might not be strictly legal.
Witch Hunt – or Heksejakt in Norwegian – is a well-made and very well acted crime drama that pulls away the facade of elegance, decadence and propriety of big business in Scandinavia to reveal some of the spreadsheet skulduggery that can take place. Ingrid Bolsø Berdal won best actress at Norway’s Golden Screen awards for her role as Ida and it’s easy to see why. There are good performances across the cast.
As the series progresses, Ida’s compromised position means she has tough choices to make. The same goes for some of the other characters, who feel under pressure to keep their jobs while at the same time wanting to do the right thing. Of course, the moral choices and sacrifices made by a whistleblower aren’t quite as gripping or terrifying as you’d get, for example, with a serial killer story. However, as the series progresses we move from highly irritating corporate crime to bigger things – including murder. We’d be interested to know your thoughts in the comments below.
Witch Hunt comprises eight, 45-minute episodes. It’s a while since we’ve seen a Norwegian corporate crime show – try Acquitted from a few years back. The Danish programme Follow the Money is also an excellent example of financial crime that turns deadly. We’ll never forget the hitman dubbed The Swede, for example.
If you are in the US, you can watch Witch Hunt on PBS Masterpiece via Amazon Prime.