Royal Central’s Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen, who is based in Oslo, talks us through the inaccuracies contained within Atlantic Crossing – an eight-part series looking at the plight of the Norwegian Crown Princess during World War II.
Atlantic Crossing is now airing on PBS in the United States and Canada. It is an eight-part mini-series, looking at the Crown Princess of Norway’s escape to safety in the United States alongside her children during the Second World War, as well as her friendship with American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. While some are enjoying this latest royal story encapsulated in to fictional life, for me this is a series full of mistakes that I fear will be the lasting image of the Norwegian Royal Family during World War II.
One thing that has been highly debated in Norway since the war is whether President Roosevelt had romantic feelings for Crown Princess Märtha. Whatever the truth about his feelings, they weren’t mutual, and the two did not have a relationship. The Norwegian historian Trond Isaksen has found documentation that Crown Princess Märtha spent all or part of 248 days with President Roosevelt in the period 1940–1945. The Crown Princess had unlimited access to Roosevelt, but the rumours that she was his mistress were part of a smear campaign against the president. At the end of episode 5. President Roosevelt tries to kiss the Crown Princess. There is of course no evidence whatsoever that this ever happened.
In fact, having watched the show, I discovered so many errors that I could have discussed around 100 of them, but I have selected 15 which I think highlight why historical drama series shouldn’t be treated as fact.
- Was Crown Princess Märtha actually offered cyanide by her brother Prince Carl during her flight to the United States? No, this didn’t happen. The story attracted a great deal of attention in both Norway and Sweden. There is no evidence for this anywhere and the director has admitted that this is something he invented for a dramatic effect.
- Were the Crown Prince’s children the subject of an attempted kidnapped by Eliza Forbes? No, the scene is fictional. The Norwegian-born Eliza Forbes was a Nazi sympathiser, but she never tried to kidnap the Norwegian royal children. It is true that Eliza Forbes drank tea with the Crown Princess once, but after it became known that she was a Nazi, the royals cut off all contact with her.
- Did Crown Prince Olav meet war pilots at a pub? The meeting is fictional, but the war pilot existed. Crown Prince Olav, later King Olav, never went to a pub. He quite simply did not enjoy this type of culture.
- Did Eleanor Roosevelt go to London to give Crown Prince Olav marriage advice? Eleanor Roosevelt went to London alone in 1942, but she never met Crown Prince Olav during this visit. It is fictional.
- Was the war sailor Alfred Isaksen at dinner with the Crown Princess and her guest of honour? No, it never happened because Isaksen is a fictional creation.
- Did Foreign Minister Trygve Lie provoke Crown Prince Olav in the council of state? No, this is a dramatization. It is known that several politicians held talks with the Crown Prince and that they disagreed at points, but it was considered extremely insulting to speak to a royal in this way. This never happened.
- Did Crown Prince Olav go on impulse to the United States to confront Märtha because he was jealous of her relationship with President Roosevelt? Crown Prince Olav visited the United States in December 1941, but the visit was carefully planned and the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had no confrontation despite what the series depicts.
- Did Crown Princess Märtha have a mental breakdown in the Norwegian Church in Baltimore? No, this is a dramatization. The Crown Princess visited a number of Norwegian churches in the USA during the war, she gave many speeches, but she did not have a breakdown. What really happened during the speech in Baltimore was that the Crown Princess experienced a nosebleed as a result of her struggling with migraines.
- Was Crown Prince Olav thanked by Ambassador Morgenstiern for the Crown Princess’ achievements while Crown Princess Märtha left the room in anger? No, this never happened.
- Was King Haakon annoyed that Crown Princess Märtha did not show up enough for the press? No, the King never had such outbursts, this is fiction.
- Is it true that Norwegian sailors visited Pook’s Hill? Yes, but they never spent the night there, as the series quite specifically insinuates.
- When the sailor Otto had a nightmare, was it the Crown Princess who calmed him down? No, this never happened, because no sailors ever spend the night on Pook’s Hill. Moreover, this war hero is also a fictional person who has never existed.
- Was Crown Prince Olav drunk at a bar in London? No, this is fiction. Olav was never at a bar in London. He was a royal who enjoyed etiquette and duty. This portrayal of Olav has created great anger among many Norwegian royalists
- Did Crown Princess Märtha storm into the bedroom of the dying President Roosevelt? No, this is fiction. According to President Roosevelt’s calendar, Crown Princess Märtha and President Franklin did not meet much in the last days of his life.
- Did Crown Princess Märtha want to stay in the United States after the war? No, this is fiction. The Crown Princess’ love for Norway, and her desire to return home is well documented.
After watching this series after reading a number of academic books on the subject, I could find fault in all the episodes, some more serious than others. My concern is that most people have not read any books about the Norwegian royal family before watching this series. I therefore fear that this series will be the’ “accurate” perception of Norwegian history. I hope the series inspires people to read up on the correct story after they have become interested by the series, although I fear most people will settle for the series and accept the inaccurate story it has created.