I do love a good impostor story: Josephine Tey’s 1949 novel Brat Farrar, say, or Daniel Vigne’s 1982 film The Return of Martin Guerre, starring Gérard Depardieu. But you don’t need to be borderline-obsessed with the particular creepiness that comes with identity theft to find the new Norwegian drama Twin (4 April, 9pm) addictive. Oh, the look of the thing! It’s set in Lofoten, a northern archipelago famous for its dramatic peaks, beaches and bays – and if, marooned at home, you’re desperate for the sight of the blue-black sea or some jagged mountains dusted lightly with snow, well, here they are in abundance. Breathe in deeply, and just imagine all those gorgeous negative ions filling up your lungs.
This, however, isn’t even the half of it. If you really want to feast your eyes on something, take a look at its star, Kristofer Hivju. Blimey. I can’t think when I last saw a beard so luxuriant or so fiery – and I do a Pilates class in hipster Hoxton (or, I used to…). Every time he appears, I find myself thinking – no sniggering – of Moses and his burning bush: all that red and orange blazing against the greys and the greens. Hivju, best known and much-praised for his comic role as Tormund Giantsbane in Game of Thrones, is a hugely charismatic actor, bringing a kind of twitchy conviction even to lines that are perfectly ordinary. Nevertheless, it’s his beard that’s his USP, his theatrical superpower. Glowing like the midnight sun, it throws everyone else in the shade; next to him, the blonde are suddenly dun-coloured.
In Twin, he plays both Erik and Adam: identical twins who used to be close but have not seen each other for 15 years when the series opens. Dead ringers for one another physically, in every other way they could not be more different. Erik is a permanently broke surf bum whose home is a rented caravan on a beach; Adam, solid and reliable, lives with his wife Ingrid (Rebekka Nystabakk) and their two children up in town, where he runs a clapboard boutique hotel that caters for the kind of international tourists who like deep sea fishing and Poul Henningsen lamp shades.
But then, calamity! Erik, suddenly homeless, pitches up at Adam’s, hoping to be allowed to crash in one of his chi-chi cabins. When Adam refuses him, Erik attempts to steal his boat, and they have a terrible punch-up, in the course of which – here’s your spoiler alert – Ingrid, hoping to separate them, accidentally bashes Adam over the head with an oar, at which point Erik races off out into the fjords with his bleeding, unconscious brother. What happens next is blurry, but at some point, Adam falls off the boat, and into the sea. The next day, Ingrid sets sail herself, and eventually she finds Erik shivering on a shingle beach, suffering from shock and hypothermia.
What happens next is brilliantly plotted. Erik lost his home (long story short) when it fell into the sea while he was behind the wheel. The police, then, are already looking for a body – and when they find one, they naturally assume it to be that of Erik, not Adam. Which is mighty convenient for Ingrid, who now begins frantically plotting. Terrified of being accused of murder, she asks Erik to impersonate Adam “just for a few days”. Reluctant though he is, this is easy at first. Friends, neighbours and even Adam’s children take him, at first sight, for Adam – for who else can this hulking Viking of a man possibly be, given that Erik is dead? But we sense that this will soon get much harder for him; that the biggest challenge will not be getting caught out, but pretending to be someone he is not.
It’s all magnificently intriguing. Will he work as hard as Adam did? Or will he keep skiving off for a day’s surfing? Will he come to love “his” children? Above all, how far will he go with Ingrid? Kristoffer Metcalfe, the creator of Twin and its principal writer, has done such a fine job setting up this drama; I’ve seen two episodes, and so far there has not been a single moment of implausibility. But yes, if you’re wondering, it does come with the requisite fey Scandi pop music. This is the only thing I can find to dislike about it at all.
This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special