A question mark hung over American politics for months: What if the loose-cannon narcissism of Donald Trump is a symptom of a much more serious mental health disorder making his presence in the Oval Office a risk, with his fingers just inches away from the big red nuclear button? We may never know if the former President of the United States was ever given a psych evaluation, but the protagonist of ‘The Minister’, the fictitious Prime Minister of Iceland, does have a diagnosis for bipolar disorder, making him both a charismatic politician, and at the same time, someone on the verge of extreme destabilization.
Nevertheless, we gradually begin to find out more and more about his condition, but our story begins during the pre-election televised debate. Benedikt Ríkarosson is an imposing figure, and a sage: professor of theology, pianist, poet, prolific gardener… In this sense, our politician might be a close relative of another fictitious president, ‘West Wing’s’ Jed Bartlet. That said, and like all good Nordic shows, there isn’t the slightest hint of do-goodism oozing from the seven seasons of the series created by Aaron Sorkin, and neither does it fall into the same belligerent trap as ‘House of Cards’, ‘The Minister’ operates along a third, and truly realistic line. Iceland is slap bang and (give or take) halfway between the United States and England, and the media influence from both sides of the Atlantic are easily palpable.
In any case, Ríkarosson practices a variety of unequivocable populism: he believes there are no fundamental differences between the right and the left and sees himself as an outsider. And if that weren’t enough, he drops an impromptu bomb on the day of the debate, announcing an agreement with the leading party on the opposite end of the political spectrum, breaking with traditional tendencies, insofar as political pacts in Iceland are concerned and, ensures everyone he will only lead the country if he achieves a historical participation in the elections of over 90%. When his party’s old guard get wind of this zinger, they immediately unleash a critical tidal wave against him.
Soon, it becomes clear that Ríkarosson is suffering from some sort of disorder and this ignites a white-knuckled tug-o-war between those in the party who want to keep the information from becoming public opinion and those who feel they can use it to their benefit as leverage. As the parallel storylines develop, we find ourselves having to revisit and reevaluate scenes from previous episodes, through the newly applied filter of Benedikt’s mental health condition. And this leads us to reflect on the question of to what extent our decisions are borne of free will or from mere whims of our minds. Notwithstanding Ólafur Darri Ólafsson’s performance being generous and all-encompassing, there is also a more than subtle finesse to it and, apart from the odd oversimplification, mental health issues are treated with the complexity they deserve, avoiding falling into the caricature trap.
Casting one of the country’s leading lights in the main role undoubtedly contributes to this. Darri Ólafsson is known by fans of Nordic series for his role in the series ‘Trapped’, but he has also appeared in several Icelandic films, including ‘101 Reykjavik’ and American movies such as ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and ‘Zoolander 2’ . His on-screen wife, the daughter of a prominent industrialist who has disowned the couple, is played by an outstanding Anita Briem, a familiar face to fans of ‘The Tudors’ where she played Jane Seymour.
Despite the fact that there is a component of psychological portrait to the series, the screenwriters were interested in drawing a parallel between the bipolar nature of the character with that of the country itself. Birkir Blær Ingólfsson, one of the series creators, explained during the press launch for ‘The Minister’ at the French festival Série Series: “It’s a way of embodying in a character the characteristics of the Icelandic nation and the Icelandic soul. Because we are always oscillating between euphoria episode, followed by depression, and back again.”.
Even though the characters are fictional, ‘The Minister’ uses real-life Islandic political parties to tell the tale, a fact that adds a touch of authenticity to the project, not to mention a notable portrayal of the less than honorable apparatus linking the world of public governance with that of the media and fat-cat industrialists. Iceland is a small country, and size shapes politics, in that the circles of power overlap, impregnated with coincidental, cross-cutting information.
The series was bought by the AMC channel, and as such, is available in Spain on Movistar, Orange and Vodafone streaming platforms.