Her story: The princess and the president in 'Atlantic Crossing'

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Kyla Brewer / TV Media
Sofia Helin stars in "Atlantic Crossing"

Sofia Helin stars in "Atlantic Crossing"

While there is no shortage of stories about World War II, that doesn't mean that every story has already been told. In fact, a new miniseries explores the little-known story of two high-profile historical figures, and it's coming to North American audiences.

Sofia Helin ("The Bridge") stars as Crown Princess Martha of Norway, who flees to the United States during World War II in "Atlantic Crossing," premiering Sunday, April 4, on PBS Masterpiece. The eight-part drama series also stars Kyle MacLachlan ("Twin Peaks") as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who invites Princess Martha and her three children to live at the White House as the war rages on in Europe.

Inspired by true events, the program explores the relationship between Martha and Roosevelt as she struggles to convince the president to join the war effort at a time when many Americans were against becoming involved in another war. Separated from her husband, Norwegian Crown Prince Olav (Tobias Santelmann, "Kon Tiki"), who stayed behind in England, Martha tries to find a way to help her country from afar. For his part, Roosevelt seems to be infatuated with the princess, testing the patience of those around him, including that of his wife, Eleanor (Harriet Sansom Harris, "Desperate Housewives").

"Atlantic Crossing" has been billed as "a true story of passion and politics" in an official PBS release about the series, but it is important to note that the drama is just that — a drama. It is a fictionalized account of the events written by Alexander Eik, who also directed the series, and screenwriter Linda May Kallestein. They spent eight years researching the project, piecing the story together using letters between the princess and the president and by speaking to various sources. In an October interview with Annika Pham for, Eik talked about the challenge of weaving historical facts with fiction.

"Writing fictional drama inspired by true events is always a delicate balancing act between staying true to history and at the same time creating a compelling dramatization, and, not least, remaining respectful to the subjects, many of whom are still alive today," Eik explained. "The main challenge was to imagine what went on behind closed doors."

In the PBS series, Roosevelt first meets Princess Martha in 1939 when she and Prince Olav visit the United States just months before Nazi Germany invades Norway. Eik and Kallestein claim there is some evidence that Roosevelt had feelings for the princess, but little seems to be known about how she might have felt about him. Regardless of the nuances of their relationship, it does seem that Princess Martha used her influence to convince Roosevelt to get involved.

During PBS's Winter TCA Press Tour, Helin talked about her reasons for accepting the role of Martha, who, like her, was Swedish. The princess's story is not widely known, even in her homeland. According to a February article by Indiewire's Kristen Lopez, Helin said: "Heroes don't take any credit for what they do. The character instantly came to me, but no one in Sweden knew about her."

Sofia Helin and Kyle MacLachlan in "Atlantic Crossing"

Sofia Helin and Kyle MacLachlan in "Atlantic Crossing"

Helin's early career credits include the films "At Point Blank" (2003), "Masjavlar" (2004) and "Arn" (2007). She gained more widespread fame when she starred in the TV series "The Bridge," a co-production between Sweden and Denmark. More recently, she starred in the Australian crime drama "Mystery Road."

Her "Atlantic Crossing" co-star is likely more familiar to American audiences. MacLachlan was cast in director David Lynch's films "Dune" (1984) and "Blue Velvet" (1987) before landing the leading role of special agent Dale Cooper in Lynch's acclaimed TV series "Twin Peaks" in 1990, a role that solidified his star status. He's also known for his work in such movies as "The Doors" (1991) and "The Flintstones" (1994) and the TV series "Desperate Housewives," "Sex and the City" and "Portlandia."

In addition to Santelmann as Prince Olav and Harris as the first lady, "Atlantic Crossing's" main cast also includes Søren Pilmark ("Downsizing") as Olav's father, King Haakon VII; Daniel Betts ("The Crown") as foreign policy adviser Harry Hopkins; and Suzanne Bertish ("The Wife") as diplomat Florence Jaffray Harriman. Lucy Russell ("Wolf Hall") appears as presidential secretary and rumored FDR mistress Marguerite "Missy" LeHand.

The series is a co-production between Beta Film for NRK and PBS's Masterpiece, but it wasn't originally in contention for the Masterpiece slate this season. During the TCA Winter Press Tour, Masterpiece Theatre executive producer Susanne Simpson admitted she had been aware of the Norwegian production of "Atlantic Crossing" months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit but hadn't pursued it. When massive shutdowns led to delays in five other productions, however, she took a closer look for things to bring to North American audiences.

"Once I was able to see the show, it wasn't a very hard decision," Simpson said.

With acclaimed performers portraying historical figures, lavish period sets and costumes, and hundreds of special effects depicting one of the most memorable eras in modern history, the program will likely strike a chord with viewers on this side of the Atlantic as well. Don't miss the premiere of "Atlantic Crossing," airing Sunday, April 4, on PBS Masterpiece Theatre.