TV mini(?)series review: White Wall (SVT/YLE, 2020)
tl;dr Pace may be glacial but this (ostensibly supernatural but actually sci-fi) mystery drama is intriguing.
Sometimes ITV surprises me. That’s the network that brought Jordskott and Ängelby to the UK, and they’ve followed them up with bringing over White Wall, a co-production between Sweden’s SVT and Finland’s YLE. At the time of production, it was the most expensive Finnish TV series ever made.
A disused mine somewhere in the wilderness of the north of Sweden is being converted into long-term storage of nuclear waste. The head of the nuclear storage facility (Karen Bryson) is eager for it to open. Environmental activists (e.g. Anna Paavilainen and Staffan Göthe) are not.
Down in the mine a detonation is accidentally set off, killing one of the miners and through the rubble the miners notice what looks like a flat, white stone, but it’s made of an unidentified material. They cordon off the area and try to figure out what it is, keeping a secret until they know more so as to not risk jeopardising opening day. It turns out to be a wall. A big, solid, white wall. What’s it made of, how did it get there, and if it’s a wall, what’s hiding behind it?
The white wall intrigues Lars Ruud (Aksel Hennie), whose family is back in Stockholm. His wife (Mirja Turestedt) is basically estranged at this point, her husband being away for months at a time. It could also be because Lars is having an affair with his co-worker Helen Wikberg (Vera Vitali), single mother of Axel (Zacharias Boustedt), a quiet boy who at least appears to present as autistic. As more of the wall is uncovered, he starts obsessively building something using only white LEGO …
When I searched for information about whether there would be a series two (doesn’t seem like it?), the main criticism of this show is that it’s slow. That’s entirely fair. It’s definitely a slow burner of a show, but events still develop and things continuously happen so it doesn’t feel as if nothing happens. It’s just that there’s very little action, so if you go in expecting guns and explosions, it’s not that kind of show. I guess you could say there’s a stillness about it, partly because of it being filmed in a mine, and around snow-covered woods. There is a stillness to snow-covered woods you can’t possibly explain to someone who has never experienced it.
The mine they filmed in is in Pyhäjärvi municipality in the middle of Finland (not northern Sweden), and it’s apparently the deepest base metal (zinc and copper) mine in Europe. That they actually filmed it in a mine instead of a studio gives it a more authentic, and slightly oppressive, feel. It pairs well with the openness of the wide, snowy vistas. The latter making me slightly homesick, despite being from a very different geography.
There is a rich cast of characters. There’s the surly guard Atte (Eero Milonoff) and his younger co-worker Oskar (Einar Bredefeldt), neither of whom you can be really sure whose side they’re on. Ditto peculiar scientist (Claes Ljungmark) and experienced miners Said (Ardalan Esmaili) and Henrik (Rolf Degerlund), who know something is going on but not what. There’s also a local radio DJ (Catrine Lundell), whose only function in the show seems to be to work as a sort of ominous narrator of proceedings. Another miner, Magnus (Mattias Nordkvist), becomes increasingly deranged/convinced the wall is somehow evil.
If you don’t like stories where you never find out what the Big Mystery actually is (looking at you, Lost), don’t worry, you do find out what the wall is, if not exactly who put it there. It raises a lot of other (more or less interesting) questions, though, which is why a second season would have been cool. But as a standalone miniseries, it’s thought-provoking and we enjoyed watching it. Would you want to live next to a nuclear waste storage facility? Can you keep a secret? How important is family? And so on.
High octane action it ain’t. An introspective Nordic drama which also happens to feature a mysterious white wall of unknown origin? That’s what this is. You could say it has a kind of glacial pace (pun intended), but it’s never actually boring.
4 out of 5 crashed drones.