Alba August speaks about the Congregation and the timeless lure of cults
The Congregation is an atmospherically dark and psychologically stimulating Nordic noir series about a young woman who becomes involved in a religious cult in Sweden. The protagonist Anna is portrayed captivatingly by the actress Alba August (thousand hours), has a pure heart and a palpable naivety that lead them both down a harmful path. It’s a compelling combination for a suspense-packed series where viewers simultaneously cringe at Anna’s choices and yet fully understand her through the ingenuity of the storytelling. The temptation to put yourself in danger leads to murder in Anna’s case.
When Anna moves to a neighboring Swedish town called Knutby to fully immerse herself in a church community where she feels at home, she ends up becoming a nanny for the pastor and his wife and desires nothing more than to serve God near her . knitting sect. After growing up without her mother, whose death occurred when Anna was a little girl, Anna finally feels relief at having a seemingly safe place to belong.
Although things should be amazing from here on out, this isn’t the end of a fairy tale. It’s the beginning of Anna’s nightmarish journey filled with people with mysterious motivations and a twisted undercurrent of sexual manipulation. Within the communion there are both subtle deceptions and obvious demonstrations of power. The brainwashing is obvious to viewers due to the omniscient perspective, but only one character – the vicar’s wife, Kristina – seems to resist the temptations while Anna walks in blind faith.
Based on Jonas Bonnier’s novel, knutbyThis scripted series is inspired by true events that were also explored in the HBO documentary Pray, obey, kill. The Congregation Effectively and emotionally explores what drives someone to join a cult voluntarily. Worse still, how difficult it becomes for them to leave the group once the group’s true intentions are revealed. Alba August (daughter of famous director Bille August) sat down with MovieWeb to talk about it The Congregationnow streaming for the first time in the US, via Viaplay.
How Alba August became addicted to belonging
From her home in Stockholm, August shared a glimpse of what intrigued her about the role and — despite the inevitability of making the real-life events too sensational — what she hopes viewers will take to the series via immersive, captivating television be taken out.
“It all started when I read a book in Swedish about a real woman. Everyone called her ‘babysitter’,” August explained. “I read her story, called my agent and said, ‘We need to buy the rights to adapt this book.“
August’s agent then learned that a series was already in development with B-Reel Films and that the project would be based on Bonnier’s novel and not the book she had been so drawn to. Unlike the book August read which only focused on the nanny/babysitter, the series was about exploring that entire cult community in which the real Sara Svensson was trapped.
August’s response, however, remained excited and haunting. “Okay then,” the actor said. “Well, I need to get in touch with you. I’m so obsessed with this story and this character.”
From there, they shared August’s firm interest with the production company. Her reaction was positive and they asked her to play the role of Anna. While “Anna” and all names have been changed in the series, the plot follows the actual events.
August was happy to be part of it. “So that’s how it all started,” she explained. “And from there we kind of developed the whole project. It was super cool because the producers were so curious and open to my thoughts on everything. I was super involved from the start which was so nice.”
Alba August’s attraction to the Knutby reel
When asked what it was about the real-life character from Knutby that drew her so interested in the performance, August explained how she identified with the role. “She has this drive, yet she’s kind enough to want to please everyone. She’s super complex and I was just fascinated by her. And of course the other characters too.”
Speaking of her interest in the world of religious cults, August revealed, “I’ve always been very interested in psychology – I even wanted to be a therapist as a kid – and what the human mind is like and how we work and act together.” The idea of communities has always intrigued me.” She continued:
“In a way, I think I’ve always dreamed of being part of a group like that, of belonging to a community. It’s a longing to be a part of something, and I think that basically comes from feeling alone. I felt it.” I was lonely as a kid, and in a way I still am. I think I dreamed about community and the idea was interesting.
When asked if she found that fulfillment of belonging herself, August added nostalgically, “When I went to theater school in Copenhagen in my early 20s, I experienced a bit of community, and that too was like a cult. We felt like we were the most important people around the world, like what we were doing was magic. We felt like we were against the world.”
This is an interesting point for viewers. Don’t we all just want a place to belong, like Anna? Just the thought normalizes the character’s original intent, but August goes on to clarify that this viewing is not for the salvation of a cult.
The pitfalls of adaptation
It’s amazing how easily a group can be defined as a cult. Basically, it is a group of people united by shared beliefs about life. It requires leadership and great commitment from its members.
Then how can everything be so tragic? What is the cause of the error?
In addition to the real events that inspired The Congregation There are many notorious cults in the series. There was the People’s Temple (or Jonestown) cult, Scientology, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and thousands more around the world. If most people initially have positive intentions, how come they deviate from them so often? What triggers the horror stories we so often read about?
“I think this series is like a picture of how the human mind works. There will always be such cult communities in the world,” said August. “I think it’s impossible to get rid of them.” August points to the one universal fatal flaw of these cults, their common denominator: “People with power will always abuse them in some way. So this series is ultimately an exploration of how maybe we can all learn from it.”
While The Congregation As this is a highly intriguing series to entertain viewers, August added a careful reminder of the intended core of the production, namely the actual people on whom the story is based.
“I want to do some justice to the people involved,” August noted, “especially my character.” […] She’s been through so much and I just hope that if it’s possible, in some way this can give her her life back.
The Congregation was adapted for the screen by Fredrik Agetoft and also stars Aliette Opheim (Black crab) and Elinar Bredefeldt (dystopia). It premiered in the US on May 11 exclusively on streaming platform Viaplay, the Nordic home of gritty, suspenseful and psychologically immersive content, including scripted crime series and true-crime documentaries.