NOTE: This is a review based solely on the first episode of the 8-part Icelandic TV series "Blackport".
A phenomenal success in its native country, Blackport is one of the most anticipated Nordic television releases for 2023 and, since the beginning of the year, I frantically searched for a way to watch it. My enthusiasm was due to the creative team behind the production, consisting of Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir, Gísli Örn Garðarsson, and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, as well as the intriguing storyline that revolves around a critical historical period for Iceland that lasted from the beginning of the 1980s until 1991. Örn Garðarsson and Hlynur Haraldsson co-write the screenplay, direct, and also lead the cast, playing two of the most pivotal roles in the show. The writing trio is completed by Mikael Torfason, co-screenwriter of the popular Icelandic series The Valhalla Murders, while Dögg Filippusdóttir is both behind and in front of the camera, co-directing and portraying the ambiguous character of Harpa. Blackport is a co-production between the Icelandic theatre group Vesturport and the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV). The series won several notable awards, earning 16 nominations in Edda Awards and eventually winning in 9 categories, while also collecting the 2022 6th Nordisk Film and TV Fond Prize for Drama Writing at Göteborg.
The production's most outstanding achievement, though, was the 80% national audience approval, with the buzz among the local audience being reminiscent only to that generated by the first season of Baltasar Kormakur's legendary Trapped. And all that for a show that revolves around the enforcement of restricting fishing quotas several decades earlier. The story premise may sound a little off-putting at first, but the masterful work by all the departments of the production elevates the significance of the main theme that transports us back in time, more specifically during the 1980s decade when a dubious decision on behalf of the Icelandic government put the livelihoods of a large portion of the population at risk. Fishing was Iceland's most lucrative industry at the time, before tourism boomed after 2000, so the new regulations were considered as detrimental to the interests of the majority. It is within this context, that a Fargo-like plot unravels, focusing mainly on three characters whose lives intersect in a little, gloomy town in the Westfjords of Iceland.
The scent of corruption pervades the totality and constitutes the essence of the story in which the protagonists are not only plausible and three-dimensional but true to the bone in the sense that their actions and motivations deem them both good and bad, likable and unlikable, in a single word human. In an interview that he gave in the Variety magazine, co-screenwriter Gísli Örn Gardarsson said about the way in which the story's creators tackled the always demanding, aspect of characterization: So, our characters become the embodiment of the system. They become the system and the system becomes them. And through their personal journey we hopefully get a pretty clear view of what happened." In Blackport the world of family is infused with that of politics and from a point onward, the distinctions are so blurred that we start having doubts about our capacity for discerning which is which. The leading acting triplet delivers outstanding performances, proving that their -international- reputation is well-deserved. One of the things that make Blackport an unforgettable watching experience is the sardonic, vitriolic black humor that rears its head on a frequent basis, providing a counterbalance to the grittiness and violence of the plot.
In respect to the screenplay's playful element, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson said in Variety: "We always set on a kind of 50-50 balanced blend of darkness/drama vs. lightness/comedy. Also what we always aimed at was driving the story with a rather vast amount of tempo and energy." And it is true, the story moves forward at a brisk pace and with an unprecedented intensity, so lacking in the majority of the genre's productions originating from the other side of the Atlantic. This is a review based on me watching just the first episode but the pronounced qualities of this show can be readily observed, especially by those who have a few years of experience watching crime shows.