Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott head up an effective adaptation of JT Rogers’ play Oslo, which sacrifices wordiness for cinematic verve
“Now we are approaching the hour of the waffles”
JT Rogers’ Tony-winning play Oslo was a hit at the National and in the West End but it was still a little bit of a surprise to see it receiving the televisual treatment, not least with Steven Spielberg named among its executive producers. Fortunately though, Rogers remained fully involved in writing the adapted screenplay and the play’s director Bartlett Sher has kept his hand on the directorial tiller, going for some luxe casting with Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott and broadening the canvas to include flashback scenes and some gorgeous Scandinavian location work.
Oslo recounts a dramatised version of the true-life, secret back-channel negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization which led to the then-pivotal 1990s Oslo Peace Accords. Wilson plays junior minister Mona Juul and Scott her husband Terje Rød-Larsen, a Norwegian couple who find themselves in the position to bring the two opposing sides to the same table on neutral territory, reinvigorating a non-existent peace process but under absolute secrecy. They’re both terrific, fighting the need to be non-interventionalist until there’s nothing to do but close your eyes and jump in.
Rogers’ play tracks the painstaking process of building any kind of relationship between the two – “I have never met an Israeli face to face” says the PLO’s finance minister early on, whilst the Israelis merely ask “for you to acknowledge the legitimacy of our existence”. And as the ball is slowly kicked up the chain of command, reaching closer to the people who need to give the nod and eventually press the flesh out on the White House lawn (Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin), contrasting and yet comparable worlds of pain are explored through the attempts at negotiation.
The ongoing complexity of the interactions between the Palestinians and the Israelis does mean that Oslo is a tough watch, one that can’t help but be downbeat in the final analysis, whether looking at what happened just a couple of years later or indeed the present day situation. And it is certainly a Western-centred narrative, more concerned with conflict resolution than an examination of why that conflict truly exists. There’s no roadmap to automatic peace here, but rather a quiet hope that individual efforts can help steer closer to a path for the future.