From fact to fiction
M. MICHAEL BRADY
Not to be confused with the waves of Norwegian immigration to the United States, this Atlantic Crossing is an eight-episode Norwegian TV series named after the westbound voyage in August 1940 of the SS American Legion, a passenger and cargo vessel bearing the name of the organization of U.S. war veterans. The purpose of that voyage, from Petsamo, Finland, to New York, was to repatriate American citizens and to provide safe transport for Crown Princess Märtha and her three children, who had fled Norway when it was invaded by Germany in April 1940. Märtha’s husband, Crown Prince Olav, and his father King Haakon VII, had fled to England where they established the wartime Norwegian Government in Exile. The voyage had come about at the incentive of President Roosevelt, with whom the Crown Prince and Princess had become friends when they visited the United States in 1939.
Aside from that main mission, the series chronicles the significant happenings of the era it portrays. At the time, the United States was a neutral nation. But as detailed in the fourth episode of the series, America implemented a policy to provide aid to Great Britain and other Allied nations with food, oil, and material. Denmark also had been invaded by Germany in April 1940, which led to Danish-American pianist and comedian Victor Borge being among the passengers on the SS American Legion in August 1940. It would be the last neutral ship to sail from Petsamo.
The story of Atlantic Crossing unfolds as experienced by Crown Princess Märtha, a historical occurrence commemorated by a statue of her just south of Asker Church, near the Skaugum Estate, since 1930 the residence of the Norwegian Crown Prince and Princess. The statue depicts her standing, with her 3-year-old son Harald (the current King Harald V) perched on her left arm. In the TV series, crown Princess Märtha is portrayed by actress Sofia Helin, who like the crown princess, is Swedish. Moreover, also like the crown princess she portrays, Helin is fluent in six languages. She has acted in at least five of them: English and German, in addition to the Scandinavian trio (Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish). That helped her become a theatrical chameleon with an ability to match character to that of a role played.
That also entails separating acted roles from personal ones. For example, in her personal life, she is devout Christian, married to Daniel Götschenhjelm, a minister in the Church of Sweden, and has a daughter (age 17 in 2020) and a son (age 11). Yet in 2011 she played Swedish homicide detective Saga Norén in The Bridge, a Nordic noir crime TV series set in Malmö and Copenhagen and named for the Öresund Bridge that connects them. Saga is blunt, socially awkward, and wears no makeup, attributes that endeared her to viewers, first in Scandinavia, and then in more than 100 countries around the world. Of the success of the series, Helin optimistically remarks that it is a sign that “the world is mature enough to embrace new types of women in films and television.”
Lamentably, the TV series is flawed. In its Nov. 18 edition, Oslo’s leading newspaper Aftenposten pointed out in a critique of it that “NRK gir seerne en grunnleggende usann fortelling” (“NRK gives viewers a fundamentally untrue story”), print edition pp. 24-25, online edition at: www.aftenposten.no/meninger/kronikk/i/86BQr2/nrk-gir-seerne-en-grunnleggende-usann-fortelling-om-krigen.
- The Princess and the President by Scott Larsen, The Norwegian American, March 27, 2015.
- The American story of a norsk princess by Christine Foster Meloni, The Norwegian American, June 15, 2018.
- Affair between FDR and a crown princess? There’s no there, there by Scott Larsen, The Norwegian American, March 12, 2021.
- Midway through Atlantic Crossing by Lori Ann Reinhall, The Norwegian American, May 5, 2021.
- Beyond Atlantic Crossing by Courtney Olsen, The Norwegian American, June 17, 2021.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 25, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.