Yle dives deep into historical waters

Five shipwrecks on the Baltic Sea floor hold incredible tales about our shared Nordic history. Until now, they have kept their secrets like undiscovered treasure chests. But that is set to change, as Yle embarks on a spectacular venture to present Nordic history in a completely new way.

Foto: Yle

The Saga of Our Common Sea – berättelsen om Östersjöns händelserika historia (the eventful history of the Baltic Sea) – is the title of this new documentary series. The working team will be assembled in 2019, and scriptwriting also starts soon. But the Finnish Factual department at Yle has already gained new insights.

‘“We need to think big,” says producer Ari Lehikoinen.


A stage for our shared Nordic history

In a sense, the Baltic Sea is an obvious choice for the study of Nordic history: directly connecting Scandinavia and Finland, these waters have been the setting for prosperous voyages as well as bloody naval battles and tragic events.

“The Nordic public service providers were looking for a genuinely pan-Nordic theme for the Factual category. And if there’s one thing that truly binds us together, it’s the Baltic Sea,” says Ari Lehikoinen.

He adds that while previous content covered the natural environment and the people around the Baltic Rim, there was still a need for an in-depth series on the great history hidden in these waters.

“We asked ourselves: how good have we been in the past at telling our common maritime history, so rich in exciting tales and colourful characters? We didn’t have to study the subject for long before realising what a treasure trove of stories we’d come across,” Ari Lehikoinen explains.


– The greatest battle in the history of the Baltic Sea
– The Swedish fleet was led by King Gustav III
– More than 10,000 lives were lost and nearly 100
ships sunk
– Considered Sweden’s greatest naval victory of all


Shipwrecks hold untold stories

The more the team explored, the more enthusiastic they became. One of Yle’s most spectacular documentary projects was underway – and now a five-episode factual series is being planned.

Five shipwrecks form the backbone of the story, each a source of moving tales hidden deep beneath the waves. One such event is the Battle of Svensksund, fought in 1790 outside the present day Finnish city of Kotka. The Swedish navy, led by King Gustav III, attempted to attack Saint Petersburg. Their efforts failed, and this event turned out to be the king’s final great war. It was also one of the biggest naval battles ever fought in the Baltic Sea.

Yle’s venture matches the huge scale of the historic clashes.

“Our starting point is ambitious,” says Ari Lehikoinen, slightly downplaying the subject.

“You need a lot of things to make a history series of this nature, including so-called VFX graphics and 3D modelling. We’ll be getting underway with this work during 2019. On top of that, we’ll obviously be looking for collaborative partners, we’ll get the financial ball rolling, and we’ll trawl through archives and polish the script. We also plan to do some of the filming before the end of the year,” he says.

Through the Nordvision partnership, Yle has sought to generate interest among the other public service companies. They also have their eye on the Baltic countries and Germany.


Nordvision is part of the project

According to Laura Vehkaoja, Executive Producer at Yle Fakta, this entire venture would be impossible without the Nordic partnership.

“Nordvision’s development funding has provided very valuable support. We – the Nordic public service companies – could perhaps even increase our focus on major joint ventures in the future. Yle’s teams want to relate our shared history, working together with the other companies,” she says.

The target audience is at once wide and narrow. In principle, Yle hopes to attract the interest of everyone aged 50 and under.

But they really want to reach a younger audience, and young men in particular. This requires a story good enough to hook the viewers, and Laura Vehkaoja believes that she has just that.

“Digitalisation allows us to build images in a completely different way than before. We can delve into worlds and eras that have left no pictorial evidence, except for paintings. Besides, we’ve started mapping out ideas for virtual reality content related to the series,” she says.


Famous role models

To begin with, the series will be produced in Swedish and hosted by a presenter.However, many other languages are spoken aroundthe Baltic Rim, and the plan is for the final product to reflect thislinguistic diversity. For instance, Empress

Catherine II of Russia will be speaking Russian.

This is an ambitious project indeed, not least where references are concerned.

“One of our role models is Game of Thrones, although that’s clearly a production in a different league,” says Laura Vehkaoja.

Yle’s series has to be magnificent and dramatised, yet rooted in reality.

In 2021, we will hopefully get to enjoy the final result – a whole new way of presenting our shared Nordic history.