Promoted on the Croisette by director AJ Annila (The Eternal Road, Jade Warrior), co-writer Katri Manninen and co-stars Emmi Parviainen and Olavi Uusivirta, the Finnish premium show attracted a lot of interest from all types of buyers, according to global distributor About Premium Content. “Now that we’ve launched the show, we will share screeners with world buyers, but it looks extremely promising,” said Laurent Boissel, joint CEO of the boutique global distributor.  

“The spy thriller set in the 1950s successfully mixes genres; it’s both humorous and dark, original and edgy, and the production value is extremely high. It stands out on the market, which is essential in today’s saturated market. We expect to do as well with it as we did with the Norwegian show Valkyrien”, asserts Boissel.

Set in Helsinki in the 1950s, the thriller follows a secret intelligence team whose mission is to defend Finland’s independence, while the KGB and CIA are trying to meddle in the local presidential elections. Helena (Emmi Parviainen), a student freshly returned from the US, joins the secret Finnish task force. But hidden truths about her own past start to resurface, colliding with her job.

The 10x45’ series was written by established writer Kirsti Manninen and her daughter Katri Manninen. Annila is directing together with Alli Haapasalo (Love & Fury). Teea Hyytiä is producing for Zodiak Finland and leading streamer Elisa Viihde.

At this week’s MIPCOM in Cannes, discussed the show with Annila, Hyytiä, Katri Manninen, and Elisa Viihde Commissioner and executive producer Alan Sim. 

Katri, how did you and your mother Kirsti come up with the idea for the show?
Katri Manninen:
We heard that Elisa Viihde was looking for a drama with international potential. I had spent a lot of time watching spy dramas on TV - Homeland etc. and felt an urge to tackle that genre. We didn’t want to do a contemporary spy thriller and my mum who has a solid knowledge and education in history, felt the 1950s was the most exciting era. When the producers contacted us, we immediately thought this concept could work both at home and internationally.

You have to explain historical facts to the audience, without being too didactic. Was it difficult to find that balance?
My mum is highly skilled in this area. She has written one of Finland’s most popular book series and several TV shows where she combines fiction and reality.

The show is also highly relevant, with themes such as election tampering, US and Russia pulling strings…
In 2016, while we were watching the US general elections, my mum explained to me how the CIA and KGB where supporting different candidates at the 1955 presidential elections in Finland. We felt…this is crazy! Nothing has changed!

Has this particular time period already been portrayed on screen in Finland?
Not really. Plus in Finland we’re not used to spy thrillers. We have often felt that historical films or TV series had to stick to reality. But Elisa Viihde has changed this and allowed us to think outside of the box and to be brave. They have liberated our creativity.

Alan Sim: We had the idea of doing a series about former president Urho Kaleva Kekkonen and when Kirsti and Katri pitched this idea, we said YES in a heartbeat. It was messing with reality, unconventional and entertaining, a no brainer for us.

The series is totally relevant both in Finland as people obviously know about the political environment of the time and internationally, it’s an East versus West story and about people pulling the strings in an election. It’s happening right now!

Teea, can you explain how you put the team together?
Teea Hyytiä:
I had worked with both writers and was very familiar with their work. We also had Elisa Viihde on board and were trying to find a director. Then one summer night, I pitched the idea to AJ and he said: it sounds crazy…I want to do it. Sometimes, when you do a period drama, it’s too serious, especially if it’s you own history-but then with AJ, who was able to play with history, and add a dose of irreverence, it was a perfect mix.
KM: We worked closely with AJ. We laughed a lot during the shooting and that joyfulness is most probably visible on screen.

AJ What was your initial reaction when you were pitched the idea, then when you read the script?
AJ Annila:
This was my very first TV series so just this felt super exciting. My first reaction before I read the script was: this is superb. Then when I read the script, I was totally hooked. I rarely get a script with this quality level. I was laughing, crying, I was entertained, engaged. I had also just done a historical film [The Eternal Road]. It’s such a pleasure to work with period costumes, sets etc. Plus the 50s is such a beautiful era. It was like a dream come true.

Yes the mix of genres and tones was a perfect fit with your own filmmaking style…
AJA: I loved the fact that this series didn’t take itself seriously, but at the same time, the emotional drama is intact and strong. This was my first series and when people ask: what’s the difference with a feature film? I answer: there isn’t any difference, beside the length. You want to create layers, breathing time, rhythm. For the style, I was inspired by Todd Haynes’ film Carole. I found fascinating the secretive atmosphere that creeps in.

How did you put the cast together?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have Hannu-Pekka Björkman as leader of the spy group. I worked with him on The Eternal Road. For the main part, we needed a rising young talent. We are extremely pleased to have found Emmi Parviainen. Olavi Uusivirta [famous rock/pop singer] is also superb.

The show opened October 4. How was it received?
I was worried in particular about how history buffs would react. But reactions have been amazing.

Has a season 2 been confirmed?
AS: Hopefully yes-we’d loved to do it. It’s been a massive hit with the audience and industry people at MIPCOM.  

To see the trailer CLICK HERE.