John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: An oil industry drama outside the norm

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"State of Happiness" (Topic)

The oil industry is no stranger to being the backdrop of a nighttime drama, but the focus of "State of Happiness" is far away from "Dallas," and the characters don't adhere to stock conceptions at all. Known as "Lykkeland" in its native Norway, "State of Happiness" embraces a "Mad Men"-like retro vibe as it portrays the arrival of the oil industry in that country in 1969.

It also has a grain of the film "Local Hero" in it, beginning its focus with Phillips Petroleum troubleshooter Jonathan Kay (Bart Edwards), who's in the country to set up a drilling deal with the government. In the sleepy little city of Stavanger, he takes meetings and eyes the ladies, and the stories of the people who come into his orbit unfold, notably that of the Nyman family, who owns the town's biggest employer, a fish canning company. It also introduces Kay to town hall secretary Anna Kellevik (Anne Regine Ellingsaeter), who happens to be engaged to the fish canning heir and also happens to have some political cunning of her own as she tries to steer the people around her into better opportunities based on her readings of the negotiations going on around her.

The hesitant relationship between those two is part of "State of Happiness," but so are all the dramas of the various members of the Nyman family, as well as an unwed mother and former fish cannery employee Toril Torstensen (Malene Wadel), who offers a gateway to witness the effects of the burgeoning oil boom on the working people of the city.

"State of Happiness" swirls around the personal stories but places them directly within the political intrigue inherent in the negotiations, in which Norwegian bureaucrats suddenly see an opportunity to make something of their careers after their previous expectations of quiet lives and uneventful governance. You'll learn a lot about the political life of Norway as well as some details of the setting up an oil industry as you take in the drama — that's something "Dallas" never quite achieved and I appreciate the solid informational foundation on which the dramatics of "State of Happiness" are built.

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"Against the Law" (Amazon, Britbox)

Capturing an era in England when homosexuality was not only a crime but one that seemed to energize the police to enforce it with gross vigor, this British telefilm packs a punch with its unusual structure. Part of it dramatizes the story of journalist Peter Wildeblood (Daniel Mays), who was put on trial in the 1950s, and part of it is a parade of testimonials by actual men who lived through the era. Together they create a full emotional picture that does well in explaining what the victims faced in terms that even the straightest of the straight can absorb and feel.

Wildeblood entered into a relationship with a soldier and was discovered through letters. A private man, Wildeblood found himself in a very public situation along with two other men, friends of his, in a sweep that revealed to the journalist that the world was much more complicated than he had thought when it came to his personal behavior. Alternately defiant and terrified, Wildeblood did his best to juggle honesty with self-preservation, and the film follows the affair, the trial, his jail time, and the aftermath, all anchored by an affecting performance by Mays.

Interspersed throughout the film are the gentlemen who, as young gay men at the time, lived the lives that the film depicts. Speaking in personal and personable terms, these are all remarkable men with beautiful aged faces that reflect the conflicts they've faced because of the British laws against homosexuality, even half a century later. I could easily have watched an entire film of these men talking, and they are the major reason to watch "Against the Law," providing much-needed examples that historical homophobia happened to real people, and terrorized them in ways any of us can understand if we open ourselves up to the experience. "Against the Law" also reveals that an oppressive society can damage people, but they can still endure, overcome, and in the end, embrace love as their central tenet of life.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me.


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