Oslo (R16, 113mins) Directed by Bartlett Sher ***½
Two years of multi-national negotiations have achieved nothing.
Trapped in a process incapable of building trust, the Israeli government and Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials cannot find common ground, in order to end their increasingly deadly conflict.
But while much of the rest of the world has seemingly washed their hands of the pair’s inability to end the cycle of violence and enmity, two Norwegians believe they can help find a solution. Having witnessed first-hand events in the Middle-East during postings there, married diplomats Mona Juul (Ruth Wilson) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Andrew Scott) believe the way forward is to facilitate intimate discussions between people from both sides.
* The best TV shows of the year so far (and where you can watch them right now)
* The Rock at 25: Bay-hem begins, Nicolas Uncaged and Connery’s last big crusade
* Ten terrific British sitcoms (and where you can watch them)
* We Are Lady Parts: Neon’s entertaining and endlessly hilarious new UK sitcom
* The best movies of the year so far (and where you can watch them)
However, with the Israelis having declared it against the law for anyone from their government to meet with the PLO, initial meetings need to be held in secret and using other members of “the small country’s intelligentsia”. Yair Hirschfeld (Dov Glickman) is a professor of economics who sees many benefits in a negotiated peace and, after an initial London-based chat with the PLO’s Ahmed Queri (Slim Daw) goes well, Juul and Rød-Larsen decide to up the ante, by inviting them both and others to an informal summit at a remote country house near Oslo.
There are those within the couple’s own government though, who believe their optimism is foolhardy and their goal simply unachievable. “In the last few years, the Berlin War has fallen, Russia has broken up, what better time to attempt the impossible?” Rød-Larsen retorts.
While the prospect of near two hours of “drama” focused around real-life conflict resolution and political negotiations from almost 30 years ago may fill many a potential viewer with dread, Oslo manages to skilfully wring plenty of compelling tension out of the premise.
Of course, it helps that screenwriter J.T. Rogers’ tale was already a Tony Award-winning play. Like Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, this does a great job of re-creating the stage version’s tensest and thought-provoking moments, while attempting to craft something more cinematic.
Director Bartlett Sher is best known for capturing Met Opera productions and there are certainly some eye-catching and well choreographed scenes, while the production design and costuming is top-notch.
Not everything gels though, some of the flashbacks to Juul’s time on streets of Gaza feel a little manipulative and forced, while the shared names of significant women in two of the main protagonists lives weirdly reminds one of Batman vs Superman.
Scott (Fleabag’s Hot Priest) and Wilson (The Affair, His Dark Materials) are solid, if unspectacular as the leads, the likes of Daw and Munich’s Igal Nagor (who plays the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ legal advisor) providing most of the verbal fireworks.
Perhaps the true scene-stealer though is Geraldine Alexander’s Toril, the Norwegian house’s cook who manages to defuse increasing tensions via her addictive waffles (having earlier threatened disaster by suggesting putting roast pork on the menu).
Despite not always being truly engrossing, Oslo does manage the impressive feat of making a photocopier jam a moment of almost unbearable intensity.
Oslo debuts on SoHo at 8.30pm on Sunday, July 11. It will be available to stream on Neon from July 17.