🇩🇰 🇩🇪 🇸🇪 🇳🇴 1864 🇳🇴 🇸🇪 🇩🇪 🇩🇰
1864 the miniseries (2014) is a Danish history, fantasy, war drama. 8 x 1hr. Danish and German (some English) with subtitles. Available on Amazon Prime U.K. (£3.99 to buy); Masterpiece/Walter Presents via Amazon, AppleTV, GooglePlay US (to buy); SBS On Demand Aus;
Two brothers from a remote village Funen enlist in the Royal Danish Army just before the outbreak of war and experience the horrors of combat in Schleswig.
Pilou Asbæk as Didrich
Sarah-Sofie Boussnina as Claudia Henriksen
Bent Mejding as Severin
Marie Tourell Søderberg as Inge Juel
Jens Sætter-Lassen as Peter Jensen
Jakob Oftebro as Laust Jensen
Nicolas Bro as Ditlev Gothard Monrad
Søren Pilmark as Oberst E. A. Lundbye
Eva Josefíková as Sofia
Esben Dalgaard Andersen as Erasmus
Søren Malling as Johan
Sidse Babett Knudsen as Johanne Louise Knudsen
Carl-Christian Riestra as Einar
Rainer Bock as Otto von Bismarck
Johannes Lassen as Wilhelm Dinesen
Director: Ole Bornedal
Writers: Ole Bornedal & Tom Buk-Swienty
Cinematographer: Dan Laustsen
Composers: Marco Beltrami, Stanislav Klykov & Anna Drubich
Costume: Manon Rasmussen
Art & Production: Jette Lehmann & Niels Sejer
Dan Laustsen (cinematographer) is an Oscar- and BAFTA-nominated, Bodil and Robert award-winning photographer. He has worked on productions such as The Shape of Water, Crimson Peak, The Lion Woman, John Wick: Ch 2 and Ch3 and Headhunter.
Manon Rasmussen is a multi-award-winning costume designer. The art and production designers are also multi-award-winners.
The composer Marco Beltrami has been Oscar-nominated and won many awards such as Emmys. Anna Drubich is another multi-award-winner.
For those interested in reading in more depth about the historical characters and events of 1864 and the negative reaction this series generally received in Denmark here is a long but great peer-reviewed article by Erik Hedling:
This excerpt summarises my thoughts about 1864 the miniseries:
“Here, I think it is necessary to differ between the roles of academic historians and professional artists when dealing with history. The historian, in somewhat simplified terms, wishes to reconstruct and explain what really happened. The artist often wishes to present a personal and at best original interpretation; thus historical accuracy can be an artistic aim, but it is not a necessary dimension of successful historical fiction. Viewers and readers generally adore historical fictions – films, plays and novels – as can be gathered from film and literary history.” (Hedling, Erik (2015): The Battle of Dybbøl Revisited: The Danish Press Reception of the TV-series 1864. Kosmorama #261 (www.kosmorama.org)
⚠️ This review contains mild spoilers ⚠️
I had heard great things about 1864 the miniseries from those who tend to know about these things, and I was not disappointed. It is historical fiction and not a documentary – after all this is exactly the thing that Shakespeare did. This story also combines a “fantasy” element which I found intriguing (it certainly helps move the story along and adds to tension). It is an expansive story so I will only be concentrating on certain areas in this review.
One of the other main draws of 1864 is the immense cast! Look at just some of the names that appear on the cast list and you know you are about to watch many of the best actors from Denmark, Norway, Germany and Austria do their “stuff” (not forgetting the Czech, British etc. cast).
1864 the miniseries can be seen as a “play” in three acts (the analogy with a theatrical performance is used a lot!) The first sets the scene, the characters in their various locations and the historical and political context. This is not a dry, distanced retelling, this is one where we really get to know the key players. The second act is the horrific events of 1864, the preparations, skirmishes and assaults, and the final act is the aftermath. Interwoven throughout this is the “present-day” storyline involving the young bereaved Claudia and the elderly, blind Severin. It is this contemporary storyline that is not only affecting in itself but which brings into focus modern conflicts in which young men and women die.
On the baron’s estate, we are introduced to the young boys Peter (the academic, poetic) and his brother Laust (the practical one) their father (upon his return, injured from the 3 Years War) and their mother. We also meet the love of their lives, Inge, the daughter of the estate manager. The relationship and deep love they have never leaves them. This is a cause for conflict later. These are boys brought up with a strong moral compass and the love and affection of a father and mother. The level of acting from all these players is fantastic!
Another key character is that of Didrich. Every time you think Didrich might redeem himself… he mostly gets very drunk and does the opposite. He is a character marred by his mother’s death giving birth to him and the fury and absolutely no love or affection from his father. On top of that when we first meet him it is clear that he is suffering from some form of PTSD from the same conflict as the boys’ father. Pilou Asbæk certainly turns in an epic performance of this mostly pitiful, frequently loathsome man. But, you know, even Didrich has some small redemption by the end.
The Romany family in 1864 the miniseries is another part of the storyline which brings together all the characters mentioned so far through the daughter, Sofia. Again excellent performances from all.
Meanwhile in Copenhagen, a long way in many respects from the estate and certainly later from reality it is Monrad (unstable and a religious zealot) and the actress Heiberg who hold court on screen. The idea that the Danes (in this case) are God’s “chosen people” is a very common, nationalistic and dangerous one. We aren’t meant to like Monrad, and this works, he is repellant (brilliantly played mind). This is no mere piece of theatre!
At this point, I should mention the Germans or more correctly the Prussians. Leaving aside the historical context I was immensely impressed by the German and Austrian cast members but then knowing a lot of them already from other productions I thought “quality”. The Red Prince was amazing as was Bismarck and Moltke but the most affecting had to be Ludwig Trepte as Heinz (Deutschland 83 and 86).
Once we move towards preparing for possible/probable war other characters are introduced. I’ll just pick out the ones who particularly stood out for me (I think viewers will have their own favourites).
The adorable big bear of a man Erasmus is a wonderfully written and played lighter-relief (for the most part) character.
Johan the veteran, the seer, the healer, the hypnotist the legendary is one of the “fantasy” touched characters (more of this in a moment). He experiences and predicts future events and does his best to stave off the worst where he can (not always successfully).
And then we have Dinesen “the Immortal” the one who cannot die, that men want to stay close to. Described as “an animal” by at least one senior officer (not wrong) he is fully aware of his immortality and keeps those he cares about close to him. I don’t think I will ever forget the commando night raid on the “irritating” German band!
I mentioned returning to the “fantasy” elements. To some these will seem far-fetched but in tales of “war” and “warriors” it is common to find characters who are in some way touched by the different and who have certain gifts. Certainly “The Immortal” has figured and does figure strongly in these ancient and modern legends.
Moving away from characters and further forward into the main body of the second act there are the mass assaults and battles. This is perhaps the ideal moment to talk of the special effects and stunt work in this show. I will say I am totally baffled how the special effects did not get nominated for awards because these are probably the most astonishing, shocking, visceral and affecting battle scenes I have ever watched (this includes the like of Game of Thrones!) These scenes are so powerful, harrowing and haunting.
This series conveys the true destructive horror of war both during a major assault but also the aftermath and effects upon the survivors. Another area of production that leaps out is the sound design which (using a good sound system when watching) is absolutely fantastic! I liked also the contrast between incredibly loud scenes and then silence, or virtual silence broken by the song of a lark (this lark motif is used a lot throughout the show). Songs play a big part in 1864 the miniseries especially folk songs and those sung by soldiers.
Cinematography, well what can I say? Phenomenal! From aerials to shots at ground level, shaky cam to long tracking shots and everything in between. Even within the context of the trenches and battlefields, howitzer assaults, such stunning imagery! And that this series was written and directed by one man is, for me, an outstanding achievement regardless of how you may feel about the show’s historical veracity.
Love, simple twists of fate, betrayals, cowardice, courage, lies, truths, idiocy, over-confidence, life and death all these and more are examined in this series but above all, it is love and life that come through… that and the utter futility and sheer horrific waste of it all…
Some parts of 1864 had me looking through my fingers while holding my breath, other parts had me reduced to tears (there were a lot of those!) Can I recommend this miniseries, absolutely yes, but it is not an easy watch not only because of the horrific destruction and loss of life but also the infuriating lack of realism and poor decision making that went on in the political arena.
Awards for 1864 the miniseries:
8 nominations ~
Robert Award (2015) Best Danish TV Series; Best Actor – TV Series ~ Jens Sætter-Lassen; Best Actress – TV Series ~ Marie Tourell Søderberg; Best Supporting Actor – TV Series ~ Jakob Oftebro; Best Supporting Actress – TV Series ~ Sarah-Sofie Boussnina
Monte-Carlo TV Festival (2015) Best Miniseries; Outstanding Actress in a Mini-Series ~ Sarah-Sofie Boussnina; Outstanding Actor in a Mini-Series ~ Jens Sætter-Lassen
Interview with Søren Malling about the filming of 1864: