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Saboteurs review – complex drama of wartime nuclear collaboration

Meet Heisenberg –not Walter White, but the original: Werner the German theoretical physicist, he of the uncertainty principle. Here he is collecting his Nobel prize, in 1932. And later, at the outset of war, being accused by a scary SS officer of terrible crimes such as not hating Jews, and camping and swimming with other boys in his youth, before being signed up to the German nuclear weapons project. Saboteurs (More4) has Heisenberg as a somewhat reluctant member of the Uranium Club.

He is not a saboteur, of course. They’re the people who are going to wreck the plant in occupied Norway whose heavy water Heisenberg and his bomb-making chums want. In Norway, Leif Tronstad, scientist, heavy-water expert and soon to be intelligence officer, is going to be a saboteur. And in London, Colonel John Wilson and Captain Julie Smith are going to be saboteurs. Captain Julie (Anna Friel, below) will attack the enemy with a hockey stick, probably.

That’s where we’re heading here, I think: Operations Grouse, Freshmen and Gunnerside; plucky allied heroes gliding by night into icy northern places; heroes of Telemark, possibly. Certainly, I’m expecting/hoping for cross-country Scandinavian skiing. And because this six-part television mini-series, like those wartime operations, is a collaboration – Norwegian, Danish, British – it looks at those events from a broad perspective. Not just goodies (allies) v baddies (Germans), it paints a more complex, interesting picture.

It’s probably the show’s Nordicness that allows it to focus on characters, and even a little light quantum physics, rather than just diving into the action. There is a raid, at the start, but it turns out to be a practice run. Then it’s back a few years, to Germany and Norway, to find out what it was all about.

I’ll leave it to people who are more in the know to approve, or contest, Saboteurs’ historical accuracy. As TV, though, it’s intriguing, exciting and involving, even in three different languages. My only moan is a minor one, about a prop. The Austin FX4 London cab came into service in 1958. So what the hell is one doing dropping Leif off here, 17 years earlier? Taxi for whoever’s responsible. Otherwise very good, carry on.


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