Movie Review: Oslo

Oslo is a historical political drama based on the award-winning stage play, which deals with the Oslo Peace Accords. The pivotal and secret meetings laid the platform for constructive discussions and attempts at drafting a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in the 1990s. Brokered by a Norwegian couple, the drama comes to focus on their covert facilitation of a dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians as they try to limit hostility and create a neutral environment for progress. Directed by ,, the Tony award-winning American theatre and opera director takes his years of experience with the stage production into this film adaptation.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine continues today, which makes Oslo an important reminder of how much was achieved a few decades ago. Still a divisive and contentious global issue, Oslo is sensitive in its handling much like the conduits who initiated the backroom discussions. Presenting a fairly balanced dramatic account of the situation without taking sides, it also serves as a smart, concise and reflective overview of the major issues facing Israel and Palestine today. While Oslo focuses on the heated Israel/Palestine debate, generating intensity, fury and surprising levity from its dramatic situation, there is an undercurrent of universality.

When it comes to prejudice and the concept of “the other”, Oslo is applicable to any conflict or discrimination between cultures, nations, races or identifications. When people are at odds, seeing one another as constructs rather than humans, it’s easy to make broad generalisations and derogatory stereotypes. It’s when we come to know each other on a more intimate level that we soon discover commonalities, which disarm our preconceived notions and fear of the unknown. Sharing a meal, a few drinks and realising the inherent value of every life can bring the shields down. This powerful concept is timely in today’s bipolar world where people aren’t comfortable with the grey area, geared or steered towards black-and-white thinking. If sworn enemies of this magnitude are able to come to some form of agreement without the pressure or publicity of formal peace talks, perhaps there is hope for us all.

While set in the 1990s, this chronicle of the Oslo Peace Accords has a here-and-now vibration, keeping an air of suspense to the negotiations. It’s similar to The Journey, which dealt with a turning point in the Northern Ireland peace process, capturing the historical road trip between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. Both films enable audiences to get a tour of the big issues, discovering that beneath the politics and prejudice lie ordinary people, hardened by circumstance and tasked with finding a way forward in extraordinary times.

oslo ruth wilson andrew scott

“Writing is rewriting… history.”

As a stage play adaptation, it bristles with intensity offering a more cinematic treatment of the events and groundbreaking discussions. Centred predominantly at one location, Sher keeps things from stagnating, focusing on the performances while immersing us in the creature comforts of a stately Norwegian residence. Oslo co-stars Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott as Mona Juul and Terje Rød-Larsen respectively. Wilson and Scott are fine and proven actors, playing characters who are called to lead from behind. Whilst they don’t have all that much to work with in terms of characterisation, Oslo makes for a curious marriage portrait. Salim Dau, Waleed Zuaiter and Igal Naor are the pick of the supporting cast, offering well-balanced performances that ground their fiery characters.

Taken from the perspective of Juul’s life and ultimately world-changing wartime experience, Oslo pivots off this moment through flashbacks as the couple try to keep a lid on this potboiler political drama. This chronological break keeps the drama from becoming too fixated on utterances adding meaning through visuals of a dusty wartime scenario. The palatial set gives the drama scale as these undercover peace talks play out against a completely different culture and heritage. Aided by a compelling classical soundtrack, Oslo remains a fine production with enough film finesse to smooth over some of its bumpier stage transition elements.

The 12 Angry Men style drama is gripping, yet as important as it is, this intellectual seesawing and issues-driven narrative is quite slow-moving. Using words over actions, it’s good to know the focus is on refined drama, which has had a long time to gestate as a stage production. As an ensemble drama, it’s more concerned with the issues than the characters, which does create some distance. Yet it remains fiercely relevant by virtue of its timely nature and universal undertow. Laden with a powerful message, Oslo is current and thought-provoking for anyone faced with a seemingly insurmountable conflict on any scale.

The bottom line: Gripping