Based on Thomas Engström’s best-selling series of books, Swedish-German series “West of Liberty” hopes to impress at this year’s Berlinale Drama Series Days.
Directed by Barbara Eder, the series was co-created by Sara Heldt and Gunnar Carlsson, with Heldt co-writing alongside Donna Sharpe.
Sold by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, the series’ six episodes turn on Ludwig Licht (Wotan Wilke Möhring), a retired secret service agent who now runs a bar in Berlin. Contacted by his former bosses, he begins working on the case of a corrupt whistle-blower at the fictional website Hydraleaks.
The series stars three time German Television Award nominee and one time winner Wilke Möhring, “Dunkirk’s” Mathew Marsh, “Babylon Berlin’s” Lars Eidinger and “Darling” lead Michelle Meadows.
“West of Liberty” is produced by Sweden’s Anagram and Germany’s Network Movie. It’s scheduled to debut later this year on ZDF in Germany and SVT in Sweden.
“When I visited the set in Bonn last year, I was really impressed, but nothing could have prepared me for the end result,” said Engström after binging Season 1. “I find myself biting my fingernails while watching, even though I know pretty much where the story is going; and it’s all because of the superb details you guys have put in.”
“I was a bit afraid,” he continued, “That a lot of the ‘good stuff’ would be eliminated throughout, as a matter of storytelling efficiency. But none of my fears have come to pass. They have made the story and the characters better, more gripping and more fascinating than I could ever have hoped.”
Variety talked with series co-creator and producer Gunnar Carlsson and producer Bettina Wente about adapting the popular literary series to the small screen, matching the seasons to the books, and adding something to it to keep book-readers guessing.
“West of Liberty” is based on the first of a series of books. Are you hoping then to continue the show in future seasons with the other books from the set?
Carlsson: Yes, we have the options and the intention to turn all of the books into seasons.
Wente: To make a season out of each novel is the approach we have chosen. And, as we have invented some additional content in adapting the novel as a TV series, there may be some surprises for the readers.
What did Thomas Engström’s overwhelming support of the end product mean to you?
Carlsson: Very much. When you transform a novel into a film or TV-series, you have to change a lot. Even so, the aim is to preserve the soul of the book, and Thomas’ support after having seen all the episodes proves that we managed to do so. That’s very important to us.
What did it mean to the production, in practical terms, to have two major broadcasters on-board so early on in development?
Carlsson: It meant a lot, and not only in terms of budget. To know that strong broadcasters really want what you are developing, and have commissioning editors who really care, means a lot. You work better!
Scandinavian TV has been packed with politically-charged thrillers over the past few years. What did the team behind “West of Liberty” do to set it apart from other shows?
Carlsson: The fact that the show is very much character driven, makes a difference. But the visual style is also important. Its more naturalistic and realistic and differs quite a lot from the more conceptual shows we often see.
Wente: As Gunnar pointed out from the beginning: it is time for all of us to leave local or national perspectives behind and share a common view and on what’s happening in Europe. West of Liberty also takes a female approach on the spy genre – which hasn’t been done recently.