🇩🇰 THE IDEALIST 🇩🇰
The Idealist aka Idealisten (2015) is a Danish thriller film. 1 hr 49min. 12 Cert U.K. Free Amazon Prime Video U.K.; free Kanopy, Flix USA; rent/buy GooglePlay, YouTube Aus;
“A whistleblower attempts to reveal the secret behind a nuclear disaster that occurred during the height of the Cold War.” IMDb
Peter Plaugborg as Poul Brink
Søren Malling as Marius Schmidt
Arly Jover as Estibaliz
Thomas Bo Larsen as Carl Dinesen
Nikolaj Cederholm as Pontoppidan – doctor
Henrik Birch as Ole Damgaard
Filippa Suenson as Eva – journalist
Jesper Hyldegaard as Lars Krogsgård
Claus Bue as Per Strandgaard Jensen
Director: Christina Rosendahl
Cinematographer: Laust Trier-Mørk
Writers: Lars Kristian Andersen, Simon Pasternak, Christina Rosendahl & Birgitte Stærmose
Editors: Olivier Bugge Coutté, Janus Billeskov Jansen & Molly Malene Stensgaard
Sound: Peter Albrechtsen
Music: Jonas Struck
More about Thule USAF Base:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thule_Air_Base
More about the crash at Thule Airbase: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Thule_Air_Base_B-52_crash
The radio bulletin in the film is identical to the actual bulletin from December 27th 1988.
⚠️ This review contains some unavoidable spoilers ⚠️
The Idealist is based on a true story and knowing this is the case colours everything whilst watching. Want to feel almost as irate and frustrated as the investigative journalist must have got during his dogged legwork to find the truth and justice? Watch this movie! I felt all these things and at points got very angry indeed.
The introduction to the film works well with a brief explanation as to the stance of Denmark re: nuclear weapons on its territory (banned). Also covered is the situation of Greenland at the time as a province of Denmark. On Greenland, itself (and it is still there) is the American Thule airforce base (see Notes).
I must say that the use of original footage and newsreel etc. intercut between the “now” is very effective. Starting this film with an interview of the pilot of the crashed B-52, which was carrying 4 nuclear missiles, followed by footage of the cleanup operation is perfect. It establishes immediately the historical context. There is also no problem following what is past and what is present as original footage is almost invariably used for anything relating to past events and actions.
When we switch to the here and now our first sight is of one of the “casualties” of the clean up which was conducted both by Danish and American servicemen and others. This victim, Carl Dinesen (Thomas Bo Larsen) is being treated for his skin lesions with mustard gas! We gradually find out how these men were decontaminated of detected radioactive contamination which involved stripping, being hosed down with water and given new clothes! No regular urine tests, no nasal swabs…
Had the investigative journalist, Poul Brink not picked up on the number of cases of cancers and other conditions related to radiation poisoning amongst the Danes who had worked on the clean up (6 of 30, when even 1 was unacceptable) then the cover-up would never have been disinterred. He also opened up to the public gaze the lies that had gone on in the late-1950s for political and diplomatic reasons by the then Prime Minister.
This is the power of true, brave investigative journalism. Poul Brink was a courageous, albeit obsessive journalist. Not everyone would persist in the face of closed doors, deliberate obfuscation, intimidatory behaviour (such as being followed in his car at night or while jogging) etc. The hours upon hours of research and phone calls… At the end of the film, stay beyond the start of the closing credits, please, as you will see an interview with Poul himself along with other clips and “updates”.
I loved all the performances in this, Peter Plauborg is great as Poul (and yes, very tall as one of the senior American officials says). Søren Malling is impressive (as per usual) as Marius Schmidt the retired model train and aircraft enthusiast. Thomas Bo Larsen has the quiet gravitas of a dying man.
The writing is very strong managing to explain the political complexities and machinations going on whilst keeping dramatic tension and pacing. Neither the Danish governments (more than one) nor the Americans come out of this looking very pretty, to be honest. There are a lot of shenanigans, especially regarding a missile “missing at sea”. (Yes, we start with 4, cannot find one, send down a submarine, see debris but then… hide all the findings and deny there is anything down there). Even less pretty is the financial settlement that is eventually reached with the survivors who are ultimately going to die from the effects of plutonium poisoning.
The sound design of The Idealist is truly outstanding, if you have watched Chernobyl you will know what I mean. Combined with an atmospheric music score the sounds we hear infuse the movie.
The direction and cinematography are excellent! Visually it is often beautiful, despite the subject matter and combined with the sound and music work extremely effectively.
This film is classy and honest, you can feel its passion and heart throughout. I knew exactly nothing about this incident or the political situation in Denmark in the 1950s. What I really appreciated was how The Idealist explained things but not in a way that broke the tension. It is also not completely dismissive of the pressures of the Cold War (we need to see this in a political context) which makes it all the stronger. But for the victims…it really matters that their story was told for all to hear. It is the deliberate lies that matter!
Finally, why is this film called The Idealist? You can see why in one of the final scenes… Poul Brink was a true idealist, others are realists and pragmatists (they have to be).
Highly recommended and definitely worth more than the 6.9/10 that it has on IMDb (I bet it REALLY ruffled some feathers in certain quarters though!)
4 wins and 15 nominations
Beijing International Film Festival (2016) Tiantian Award, Best Director ~ Christina Rosendahl
Bodil Awards (2016) Special Award ~ Peter Albrechtsen
Danish Film Awards (Robert, 2016) Best Sound ~ Peter Albrechtsen
Torino Film Festival (2015) Gandhi’s Glasses Award – Special Mention ~ Christina Rosendahl