TV Series

The Minister

Politics and mental illness in Iceland.

Nov 25, 2020
Dimitris Passas

This show is the best Icelandic television export of the last few years and one of the most compelling political dramas ever filmed in the Nordic countries. Many reviewers saw The Minister as the Icelandic response to the popular Danish series, Borgen, but in reality, it is much more than that. Even though I enjoyed all three seasons of Borgen and I intend to watch the forthcoming fourth season when it will be broadcasted, I find the comparison to be unfair to this majestic production which features an engaging plotline, great photography, exceptional direction and a set of the most well-outlined characters ever portrayed in the genre. In the first four episodes, the audience observes the newly elected prime minister of Iceland's first steps in the government, his decisions and actions as well as their consequences to the lives of the simple people who may or may not have voted for him. In the second half though, the show changes its scope and we witness the descent of the most powerful man in the country into madness and paranoia and the grave implications for the nation and for those who are dearest to him. Keep in mind that there will be some spoilers in the lines that follow.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson gives the performance of his life as prime minister Benedikt Rikardsson and he certainly deserves an Emmy Award for his depiction of a man battling with bipolar disease and mental illness, while at the same time struggling to make the necessary, and sometimes unpopular, revisions in the nation's political life. The show tackles many crucial political issues such as the separation of state and church, the problem of the immigrant's integration into Icelandic society, the sprawling development of the tourism industry that disrespects the country's natural wealth, and others. The viewer can form a rather accurate picture of the Icelandic socio-political reality today while at the same time admiring the picturesque landscape that renders Iceland one of the most popular tourist destinations.

The character of Benedikt, leader of the Icelandic Independent Party, is the main focus of the show's creators and the audience is introduced to his exuberant persona in the first episode, during a pre-election debate along with his opponents. Benedikt is a jovial, good-natured politician who has a bold vision for the future of Iceland and he succeeds in winning the majority in the elections through a series of innovative ideas that he implements regardless of his party's reactions to them. He loves music and he has a knack for playing the piano and singing. Furthermore, he is married to Steinnun (Anita Briem) who is a supportive wife and a fierce proponent of her husband's decisions.

After Benedikt's landslide victory in the recent elections, he will begin to behave impulsively and erratically, causing particular concern to his party's top brass and his own family. His father, who is a vicar living in the northern town of Akureyri informs Steinnun that Benedikt's mother was a manic-depressive artist who committed suicide by hanging during a severe depressive episode. Steinnun is reluctant to realize the true extent of Benedikt's illness but she will soon have to reconsider as her spouse's behavior escalates from mercurial to full-blown manic. The ramifications of his volatile attitude for the people who support and believe in him will be devastating, especially as paranoia seems to get the better of him and isolate him from the environment.

Of course, the show features a high level of political intrigue as the ministers of the government will quickly comprehend that something is really wrong with Benedikt. They will conspire and form unholy alliances in order to topple him as prime minister. There is Grimur (Thor Kristjansson), the Speaker of the national parliament of Iceland (Althing), who believes that he was treated unfairly by Benedikt, the Ministers of Interior and Finance who are baffled with their prime minister's bizarre, unilateral rulings and the members of the opposition who are keen on retrieving their lost power.

The Minister is the best Nordic series that I've watched for this year and it is highly recommended for those who enjoy character-oriented political dramas. Fans of Borgen will instantly love it, but you have to be warned: this is a show that takes a truly sad and depressing turn, especially in the second half. So, if you are not in the mood for dealing with extreme mental and emotional states of mind, you should better watch something else. I hope that the story will continue for a second season as there are many loose ends left in the first season's finale.

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The Minister
TV Series
Arnór Pálmi Arnarson, Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir
Written by
Birkir Blær Ingólfsson, Jónas Margeir Ingólfsson, Björg Magnúsdóttir
Production Companies
Saga Film
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Anita Briem, Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir
8 ep/ 50 min

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