The Battle of Dybbøl Revisited: The Danish Press Reception of the TV-series 1864

17 november 2015 / Erik Hedling
Peer reviewed
“What on earth just happened in the rotten kingdom of Denmark?” This may well have been Hamlet’s reaction had he witnessed the fierce debate in the Danish media occasioned by the television series 1864, Ole Bornedal’s historical drama set during the Second Schleswig War. The series spawned more than 800 articles, reviews and interviews in the press. Kosmorama has asked Erik Hedling (Professor of Film Studies at Lund University, Sweden) to take advantage of his distance from all the Danish polemic in order to review the press reception of 1864 and the series itself – the most expensive production in Scandinavian film and television history.
800+ newspaper clippings from the collection at the Danish Film Institute’s Library.

1. Introduction

1.1 Background

It was during a conference visit to Prague in the latter part of June 2013 that I first heard of the making of a TV-series about the dramatic events during the Second Schleswig War (1864) between Denmark and the German Confederation, represented by its two most powerful members Prussia and Austria. The war, of course, proved a devastating loss for Denmark. At the time of my visit to Prague, the city was hit by an oppressive heat wave, with temperatures rising above the 40 degree centigrade mark. Along with my Danish colleague, Casper Tybjerg of the University of Copenhagen, I sought refuge from the exasperating sunlight in the coolness of a Czech alehouse. He told me that the Danes were making a TV-series about the war, re-staging the famous Battle of Dybbøl, and that the shooting was going on outside Prague just as we were talking. He also informed me that the Danish press right at that moment featured many articles depicting the situation, and how it described actors and extras fainting from sunstroke, filming war scenes in thick, woollen uniforms, duplicating the ones worn by Danish and Prussian soldiers in the 1860s (more of this later).

As a history buff and avid fan of Danish cinema and television, I was intrigued, vividly remembering a tourist visit to Dybbøl in southern Jutland more than 40 years ago. To say the least, great expectations started to take shape in me. More than a year later, in the autumn of 2014, I heard from Danish colleagues that the series was being broadcast in Denmark (as a Swede living in the extreme south of Sweden we used to receive terrestrial Danish television – with digitization, this disappeared unless you buy a dedicated package from the right cable company – mine is not). To my surprise I could sense bad feelings; the series was not appreciated among those I talked to, and I was also told that a fierce press debate was raging, a fact that also reached me by way of some small notices in the Swedish press telling about the harsh critique levelled at 1864. I also knew that the Swedish commercial television company TV4 was contributing to the funding of the series and that it would eventually be screened on TV also in Sweden. 1864 was screened in Sweden in June and July 2015, without eliciting much critical attention. In fact, the only more substantial feature to be written in the arts section of a Swedish newspaper at the time of broadcasting was supplied by myself (Hedling, 2015a).

The editor of this journal asked me whether I would be interested in writing a study of the phenomenon of 1864. Since I am a Swede, he thought that I would not subscribe to any particular bias regarding internal Danish politics and discussion, which is, I think, a reasonable assumption. I did readily accept out of sheer curiosity, even if I cannot claim to be totally unbiased or “objective”. I do prefer certain aesthetics, I have a conception of history, and I do subscribe to political views, but they do not really pertain to Denmark, neither in particular, nor in general. I am just interested in Danish culture, even if the only academic work I have done with a direct connection to Denmark had to do with the Swedish reception of the film Flammen og Citronen (Flame & Citron, Ole Christian Madsen, 2008); the discussion of this was necessarily short, since the film was never even shown in Swedish cinemas (Hedling, 2015b: 33–46). As a regular contributor to Swedish national papers, like Svenska Dagbladet and Sydsvenska Dagbladet, I have written several articles on Danish cinema post Lars von Trier.

Here, I will try to study both the TV-series 1864 and the inflamed Danish press reception of it. I have seen all the individual episodes of the series on Blu-ray Disc again and again and I have read all the articles on 1864 published in the Danish press – that is, all more or less daily papers with national coverage – from 2010 to 2014. The first article appeared already in June 2010 (Krasnik, 2010), even before it was decided to actually produce the series, and the latest one in my corpus in December 2014 (Bo, 2014a), a couple of weeks after the final episode of the series was broadcast (the series was screened on DR1 on Sunday nights at 20. 00, prime time Danish television, between October 12 and November 30, 2014). A few, odd articles have appeared subsequently, but I needed to establish precise limits to my investigation – the number of views expressed on the series in the press in the period indicated was quite overwhelming. With a few exceptions (like two articles in Weekendavisen), I have, as stated, only read the articles in the major, national, daily Danish papers: Berlingske (independent, conservative), Politiken (independent, social liberal), Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten (independent, conservative), B. T. (independent, popular, conservative), Ekstra-Bladet (independent, popular, social-liberal) Kristeligt Dagblad (independent), and Information (independent). (The descriptions of the papers’ politics have been taken from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Factsheet Denmark). It should be stated that at the same time as the press debate raged, there was a related and huge discussion going on in the social media. I have for various reasons disregarded this outburst on the Internet, and instead concentrated on the press, where articles are generally editorially checked for quality. This does not automatically mean that they are more interesting than the various responses on Facebook or Twitter, where 1864 became the target of what Trine-Maria Kristensen in an interview calls “hate watching” (Giese and Stilling, 2014). As I am not much of a user of social media myself, I feel that my competence here is just too limited, and the material from the press is certainly sufficient enough – according to the librarians at the Danish Film Institute more than 800 individual items – for a study in this format. Thus, this investigation intentionally covers only a part of the reception, but the one that (still) probably would be most relevant in the general public sphere.

One thing has to be established already at the beginning. Nearly all commentators agree that the events of 1864 still carry substantial meaning for Denmark and the Danes. The war caused Denmark to lose a third of its territory and the population decreased from 2.6 to 1.6 million. According to one of the articles on the matter (Müller, 2014), Denmark was, prior to 1864, a medium-sized European, multi-cultural empire, which besides the Danish mainland also contained the German Duchies, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and colonies in the West Indies. Denmark also possessed one of Europe’s largest fleets. After 1864, it became what one perceived as a decisively small nation. But new social and cultural meanings were soon construed: being small was something good, big was evil, a mentality that according to several scholars still prevails.
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1.2 The Scope and Disposition of the Study

As a film scholar sometimes specializing in the representation of history in films, that is precisely what I aim to analyse, whether it will be from a historical, ideological/political or aesthetic point of view. Thus, I will look at the various interpretations of the series and discuss them critically, drawing on my previous knowledge of other films and TV-series. History will be an important part of the discussion, since I see the debate as an expression of different conceptions of history, different historical understandings and even as a struggle for interpretive prerogative. Even if I have read many books on the Danish history of the relevant period – the 1840s to the 1860s – I cannot for obvious reasons normally argue with Danish historical experts, of which quite a few were involved in this debate, regarding matters of history (except for a few minor points). But I can discuss their way of applying their knowledge in understanding how a fictional TV-series works. Similarly, even if the series was angrily attacked by several prominent Danish politicians when it was first screened, I will not engage in political arguments regarding Denmark’s internal affairs. But again, I can comment on their reading of a dramatic representation of Denmark on TV. Regarding the various aesthetic assessments of the series, the most common aspect of the reception, I can as I see it comment on anything I like. Besides my analytical aims, I hope to be able to describe the production of the series, as the story was told in the press, as well as the reception itself, even in detail. This is, however, purely a qualitative study – I will not count the articles or transform my readings of them into numbers.

I will divide this study into in eight parts. After this introduction (1), there will follow a summary of the historical events that the series was based on (2), that is, the Second Schleswig War in 1864, and what led up to it, and its consequences, as I need a coherent background to refer to regarding the historical issues that 1864 raised. This is by no means the easiest part, since there are diverging opinions, and the entire sequence of happenings is not immediately comprehensible to an outsider. Thus, I have decided to base this summary on two historians who generally have received high praise for their work in the press – Rasmus Glenthøj (2014a) and Tom Buk-Swienty (2008, 2010) – during the relevant period (diverging views from Glenthøj can, however, be found in Mikkelsen, 2014a, and criticism of Buk-Swienty is articulated by Jes Fabricius Møller in Henriksen, 2013). Glenthøj was, as we shall see, the most active professional historian criticizing 1864. Buk-Swienty was the one whose exceptional literary works, 1864: Slagtebænk Dybbøl and 1864: Dommedag Als, constituted the historical background to the series; he was also the historical consultant during the production (see, for example, Fauerholdt, 2013, Fyhn Christensen, 2013 and Blüdnikow, 2014). It should be noted that Glenthøj and Buk-Swienty, of course, subscribe to different views when it comes to the historical explanation of the events of 1864.

Books by Tom Buk-Swienty (2008, 2010) and Rasmus Glenthøj (2014a) published by Gyldendal og Gad.

After this, another part will trace how the production came into being (3), how it received its formidable funding, and how it was executed in 2013 and 2014, as well as how the press followed this development, gradually more intensely, all the way up to the premiere on TV in October 2014. I will then present a plot summary of 1864, as it unfolds on the television screen. (4). After that, so to speak, all hell breaks loose. The reception as such will be approached from the point of view of the three different major themes that characterized it: history (5), politics (6) and aesthetics (7). Here, in the course of argument with the press articles, I will also provide my own readings as well as my estimation of 1864 as television art. In a final part of this article I hope to be able to present some possible conclusions (8). (1) Finally, I must state that even if I am used to reading Danish, I do of course not have a native Dane’s command of the language. I might misread words, and the translations I have made from the Danish into English could possibly appear a bit odd. For this, I do apologize in advance. But I should hopefully have understood the general tenor of everything that I have read.
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2. The Historical Background to and Development of the Second Schleswig War

This short and rudimentary summary is, as stated, based on the development of events as presented by Glenthøj (2014a: 370–429) and Buk-Swienty (2008: 105–134, 2010: 107–207). These books contain very detailed and thorough accounts of a very complex historical process, to which I will also return later in this article.

Historically, the king of Denmark was also hereditary ruler – Duke – of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein; to this was added the small Duchy of Lauenburg at the Vienna Congress in 1814 as compensation for Denmark’s loss of Norway to Sweden. In Holstein and Lauenburg, the common language was German; in Schleswig there was a mix of German and Danish (the former mainly in the southern part, and the latter in the northern). Lauenburg and Holstein were, beside their allegiance to the Danish monarch, members of the German Confederation. Schleswig was not, but strong forces in the Duchy wanted a general orientation towards their various German countrymen – Germans at the time lived in an abundance of small or big states, but their common denominator was the German Confederation, created at the Vienna congress as a substitute for the Holy Roman Empire, which ceased to exist in 1806.

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Historical map: Slesvig-Holsten before 1864 (Wikipedia /Share alike/CC licens).

In the wake of nationalist feeling and liberal ethos sweeping over Europe in the 1830s and 1840s, the German part of Schleswig, aided by Holsteiners, rebelled in arms against Denmark in 1848. The rebels wanted to decrease central government from Copenhagen, tie Schleswig closer to Holstein, and also make the former a member of the German Confederation. The Schleswig-Holstein rebels were eventually strongly supported by the German Confederation in the shape of Prussia, even with an army, and could temporarily drive the Danes back. The European major powers – here, Great Britain and Russia – pressured the Prussians to hold back; both Great Britain and Russia feared Prussian expansion on the European continent. In 1850, the Danish army won several battles against the Schleswig-Holstein army, who, lacking Prussian support, suffered a series of defeats. The war ended in a treaty, signed by all parts, including the major European powers, in London in 1852, where Denmark was agreed to constitute four equal parts. The king was king over one part, and duke of the three others. Through this war, later called the First Schleswig War, emerged in Denmark a myth of Danish military prowess, as well as a sense that the Danes would always be protected by powerful European allies.

At the same time, Denmark had gone through its own social revolution, where royal autocracy had been exchanged for a liberal constitution, in which the king and the elected representatives of the people shared executive political power (people given the right to vote constituted, however, only 15 percent of the Danish population). This “democratic” constitution, though, pertained only to the Danish kingdom; the duchies were excluded. There were strong forces in Denmark wishing to include Schleswig in the lands ruled by the new constitution, while similar forces in the duchies tended towards the German Confederation and a greater degree of Germanification. All this was, of course, a major political problem for the central government in Copenhagen.

On 13 November 1863, the Danish parliament accepted what was to be called the November Protocol, a law that tied Schleswig closer to Denmark, while excluding Holstein (and Lauenburg). Denmark itself, according to the National Liberal party, dominant in Parliament since 1857, should cover southern Jutland, including Schleswig, all the way to the river Eider. The new king, Christian IX, reluctantly ratified the protocol (the king wished Denmark and the duchies to remain as they were). All this caused considerable consternation in the German Confederation, as it was regarded as a break with the agreement reached in London in 1852.

In a written communication to the Danish government, Prussian Minister President Otto von Bismarck threatened war unless the November protocol was revoked. On 31 December 1863, Ditlev Gothard Monrad became the new Council President (prime minister) in Copenhagen; Monrad, a National Liberal, had been the main author behind the Constitution of 1849. The Danes refused to comply, even after an ultimatum on 18 January which declared that if Denmark did not revoke its actions within the next 48 hours, the German Confederation, represented by Prussia and Austria, would take the duchies as a pledge, pending an international conference to settle the issue. Monrad was willing to back down, but it was too late, in spite of serious British attempts to mediate.

Ditlev Gothard Monrad and Christian de Meza (Rudolph Striegler, The Royal Library).

The Danish strategy of war was to use its superior naval power in order to blockade enemy ports and also to move troops around briskly between the Danish islands in order to compensate for the inferior strength of its army, which at the time of the outbreak of the Second Schleswig War numbered 42,000 men. The army was to take a stand at Dannevirke, a 70 km long, fortified defence line north of the Eider. After the Danes had declined a German ultimatum to evacuate Schleswig, 60,000 Prussians and Austrians crossed the Eider on 1 February 1864. The battle plan, devised by Lieutenant General Helmuth von Moltke, formerly a Danish officer, but now in the service of Prussia, was to confront and defeat the Danish army in open battle as quickly as possible. The aged Field Marshal von Wrangel, a veteran from the First Schleswig War, commanded the Prussian army; “The Red Prince”, Lieutenant General Friedrich Karl of Hohenzollern, appeared as a corps commander. The Danes, in their turn, were commanded by another veteran of the First Schleswig War: the eccentric Lieutenant General Christian de Meza.

Dannevirke today (Joachim Müllerchen, Wikipedia).  

The first battle of the war was on 2 February at Missunde on the eastern flank of Dannevirke. The Prussians, under The Red Prince, launched an artillery and infantry attack, but were rebuffed by the Danish defenders; the belligerents each experienced some 400 casualties (fallen or injured). The next confrontation was on the following day at Kongshøj at the centre of Dannevirke, where the Austrians managed to drive the Danes back from their exterior lines. 900 soldiers in total from both sides were casualties. On 5 February, the Danish high command, led by de Meza, decided to evacuate Dannevirke. The line could not be held as its flanks, a river and a fjord, had frozen to ice. Thus, a German pincer movement was considered impending. Both Council President Monrad and Christian IX, the king, were present at the front and were aware of the decision. On 5 and 6 February, in bitter cold, the Danes made a strategic retreat from Dannevirke to the north towards Flensburg, eventually heading for their flank lines at Fredericia and Dybbøl. At Sankelmark, Austrian cavalry in pursuit caught the rear guard of the Danish army, who, however, fought off the hussars. The combined casualties after this struggle numbered 800 men. The retreat from Dannevirke caused great indignation in Copenhagen, both among the inhabitants and among members of the government, and General de Meza came to be blamed. In order to save his government, Monrad, who had had supported de Meza’s decision to withdraw at the front, now turned against the Commander in Chief. De Meza was called to Copenhagen to explain and was fired from his command, being replaced by another commander, Lieutenant General Georg Daniel Gerlach. The events caused considerable international diplomatic activity, the major powers protesting against Prussian and Austrian aggression; not enough, however, for any of the involved countries to intervene militarily on behalf of Denmark.

The Danish army took a new stand at Dybbøl, a series of 10 fortified redoubts on the southeastern coast of Jutland, next to the island of Als and the city of Sønderborg. The Prussians, commanded by The Red Prince, followed suit, establishing batteries of modern artillery, consisting of rifled howitzers. The fierce bombardment of the redoubts started on 15 March to devastating effect and was to last for more than a month – the Danish cannon were brought to a halt on 9 April. There were 1000 casualties among the Danes from the intense raining of shells. At the same time, northern Jutland was invaded by Austrian troops.

At Dybbøl, the Danish high command once again realized their hopeless military position, and asked for permission from Copenhagen to retreat. This was initially given, but later retracted, as Monrad and others considered that Denmark would have a better negotiating position in the London conference on the conflict, called for by the British government in order to stop the war, if the army could withstand the expected Prussian infantry onslaught. The Prussians, of course, aimed to improve theirs by a decisive victory over the Danes; the conference had been due to start on 12 April, but the Prussians had managed to postpone negotiations until 20 April. The battle, thus, had to take place before that date.

Dybbøl Milll 1864, bombed (C. Junod) and Dybbøl Milll today (Museum Sønderjylland).

On 18 April, artillery bombardment of the Danish positions started in the early morning at 4 am. At 10 am it stopped. In the ensuing moments, the first wave of more than 10,000 of in all 40,000 Prussian infantrymen stormed the redoubts. In spite of a Danish counterattack, the riposte of the 8th Brigade, the Prussians won overwhelmingly, but the bulk of the Danish army retreated successfully to the adjacent island of Als. 1700 Danish soldiers were fallen or injured, and 3100 were taken as prisoners of war by the Prussians. Thus, the whole of Schleswig, except the island of Als, had been taken as a pledge by the German invaders. The loss sent shock waves through Denmark. The Danes also abandoned the fortress at Fredericia, the other flank position further north from Dybbøl.

On 9 May, the Danish negotiators at the London conference, instructed by the government, agreed to a one-month truce, a truce that was later extended until 29 June. Among all the discussions and compromises suggested by the parties in London, the Prussians unofficially offered to partition Schleswig, leaving a bit of the northern part to the Danes, with a border running south of Tønder in the west to just north of Flensburg in the east (where the border is today, as a result of the 1920 plebiscite).

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King Christian X's famous crossing of the Kongeå border on 10 July 1920 (Holger Damgaard). 

Another solution was presented by a British suggestion that a neutral power would provide the dividing line in Schleswig, a line that would be guaranteed by British arms. Monrad went to the king for an answer. The king, anxious not to lose his inherited lands, and still hoping to somehow remain ruler of the duchies, decided to stick to a border just south of Dannevirke, much further south, which meant the end of both the negotiations and the truce. On 29 June, the Prussians successfully attacked and conquered Als from the Danes, who, once again successfully, this time due to overwhelming sea power, evacuated the army to the island of Fyn. The battle of Als claimed 1100 Danish dead or wounded. 2000 were taken prisoner.

Christian IX now asked, through the mediation of King Leopold of Belgium, for Denmark to become a full member of the German Confederation, which, however, was not in Prussia’s interest. After the terrible defeat, Denmark, now without potential allies, appealed to Prussia and Austria for a new truce, which was accepted on 18 July. Peace negotiations were initiated in Vienna, where the Danish representatives once again asked under what terms Denmark could become a member of the German Confederation. Again, the application was denied. On 30 October 1864, the peace treaty was signed. Denmark had to cede all of Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg to Prussia. The border was now drawn much further north along the Kongeå river in mid-Jutland. All of Schleswig was accordingly lost.
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3. The Production and Marketing of 1864 as Reported in the Press

3.1 The 100 Million Danish kroner

Even if the first indications of the production of a film or a TV-series on the events of 1864 started to appear in the press in June 2010 (for instance, Thorsen, 2010, Sørensen, 2010a, b, Theil, 2010), the details of the discussions became public at a considerably later stage. Thus, one has to go to several articles from 2014 to be able to recount the production process (like Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen, 2014a, Korsager Nielsen, 2014). 1864 began its life as a project for a film. It all started with the immediate success of Tom Buk-Swienty’s book 1864: Slagtebænk Dybbøl in 2008. One person who read it in a most appreciative manner was Ingolf Gabold, then Head of Drama at Danmarks Radio (DR), the Danish public service radio and television company; Gabold had earlier initiated very successful TV-series like Forbrydelsen (The Killing 2007-2012). According to Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen (2014a), Gabold had discussed a film project on the events of 1864 along with film producer Michael Obel already in 2008. They had, Obel meant, agreed to let scriptwriter Lars Kjeldgaard develop a script. But Gabold’s agreement instead came to be with the small production company Miso Film. Obel later came to accuse Gabold of having “stolen” the idea of 1864.

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Ingolf Gabold, former head of Drama at Danmarks Radio (dr.dk). 

Gabold had a meeting with Tom Buk-Swienty and his agent Lars Ringhof at a Copenhagen restaurant in 2009. By this time the discussion had been extended to be about a prime-time TV-series. A possible director of the project was also mentioned – and Gabold insisted on Ole Bornedal, with whom he had a long-standing working relationship. According to Korsager Nielsen (2014), Gabold had brought Bornedal to Danmark’s Radio at the end of the 1980s. Gabold felt that Bornedal – who had directed films in Denmark as well as in Hollywood like Nattevagten (1994), remade as Nightwatch, 1997), Jeg er Dina (I am Dina, 2002), and Fri os fra det onde (Deliver us from Evil, 2009) – would be the ideal person. “I want Ole Bornedal. I wanted the director and the scriptwriter to be the same. It was about artistic vision, but also that we could not risk a director suddenly starting to change the script, which would make the production more expensive”, Gabold told Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen (2014a). Gabold was then contacted by Peter Bose of Miso Film and offered a package with Ole Bornedal at the helm. Gabold, however, did not have the authority to approve the project on his own. In any case, in February 2010, Bornedal left for Paris with Tom Buk-Swienty’s book, and in March Gabold could read Bornedal’s first synopsis.

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Film director Ole Bornedal (Lone Kröning Mogensen, DR). 

Still, according to Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen, Gabold realized the relative lack of money within DR; accordingly, it was decided to apply for money from the politicians. The then Director General of DR, Kenneth Plummer, was aware that a combination of drama and history was bound to go down well with the politicians in power, particularly the Minister of Culture, Per Stig Møller (Conservative). As the agreement between DR and the Folketinget (Parliament) was about to be renegotiated (“Medieforliget” 2010), DR was able to receive an extra 100 million DKK for a new drama series on the history of Denmark. This money was based on the fact that DR was developing 1864 (Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen, 2014a). Another executive at DR, Morten Hesseldahl, however, felt that this money had not been given specifically for the development of 1864 but for any series on Danish history. Thus, it was decided to ask the various film companies to supply suitable projects, of which Miso Film and 1864 would just be one. On 20 September 2010, a letter was sent to the film companies asking for a “Public service series with very high ambitions to show modern Danes how we have collectively formed our national identity. The connection between then and now should be made clear to the viewer” (Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen, 2014a). The letter was signed by Ulla Pors Nielsen, head of DR 1, and Ingolf Gabold.
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3.2 Ole Bornedal Gets the Job

Eight different companies eventually made bids for the money: Nordisk Film, for instance, suggested a story, “Herfra vor verden går”, developed by Åke Sandgren and Lars K. Andersen, about a female journalist at Politiken, a gulasch baron and a foreign office-employee, leading up to the Russian Revolution and WW1 (early 20th century); this proposal was the only one to seriously challenge 1864. Zentropa came up with a story about the imprisoned princess Leonora Christina and Corfitz Ulfeldt (1640s-60s). And Cosmo Film suggested a series by Nikolaj Scherfig on the Stockholm Bloodbath (1520s). Gabold, however, stood firm for 1864 and many people in the film industry felt it was impossible to win a pitch against him. Thus, on 11 May 2011, Miso and Bornedal were informed that they would receive the 100 million for 1864. With this money secured, Peter Bose and Jonas Allen of Miso were eventually able to raise another 73 million DKK of which DR supplied 12.5 million DKK (at first, the planned budget for the project was a staggering 240 million DKK).

According to Korsager Nielsen (2014), there were doubts within DR regarding Bornedal as the chosen director. His 1996 TV-series Charlot & Charlotte – Bornedal was the scriptwriter as well as the director – had had, Korsager Nielsen maintains, a troubled production process. Others felt that his adaptation of Norwegian author Herbjørg Wassmo’s very successful novel Dinas bokI am Dina – had been a failure. Also, his background as a maker of horror films made some people doubtful about his ability to produce Sunday night drama for the Danish nation. But Gabold, all along the way, kept his faith in Bornedal, claiming that the director was the one who could put passion and temperament into the story. Gabold also emphasised the auteurist dimensions, because of the costs of historical drama. There must be perfect agreement between the scriptwriter and the director, and how was this better achieved than if they were one and the same person?

During the debate on 1864, and particularly regarding the harsh criticism of Bornedal’s script, there emerged a few articles claiming that three other scriptwriters had indeed been involved: Jannik Tai Mosholt, Anders Frithiof August and Jeppe Gjervig Gram (later script contributors to successful Danish series like Borgen, 2010-2013, and Arvingerne/The Legacy, 2014-). According to Lindberg (2014a), this happened in 2011. These writers were supposed to provide scenes and dialogue, according to normal procedure regarding the production of TV-drama. After two months, however, there was disagreement, and the additional writers were dismissed. Peter Bose claimed that Bornedal felt he should do it alone, since he wanted to create a story without the traditional pay-offs at the end of each episode. Bornedal was later backed by Piv Bernth, who in 2012 became Gabold’s successor as Head of Drama at DR: “One cannot force people who disagree to work together”. After the broadcasting of the series, Bornedal himself would publicly resent the disclosure of this process, claiming that he and the scriptwriters had all agreed that the constellation did not work, and that Lindberg’s article in Berlingske just wanted to create drama out of nothing (Lindberg, 2014a).

During the whole of this process, news of the project appeared from time to time in the press. Thus, already on 18 June 2010, DR’s regional channel, DR Syd, claimed that DR would produce a TV-series about 1864, based on Buk-Swienty’s book to which Miso Films had obtained the rights in February 2010 (Sörensen, 2010a). Morten Hesseldahl of DR immediately denied this rumour, claiming that 1864 was just one of the projects considered. A few days later, it was announced that there would, in any case, be a film of 1864 (Sørensen, 2010b). Here, Tom Buk-Swienty appeared in an interview, underlining what he perceived as the facts: that Denmark itself was the aggressive party before the outbreak of war and that he himself really was the only historian who took an interest in what happened in 1864. Ole Bornedal added a press release of his own, maintaining that it was a “story of people caught in a crazy reality”. Buk-Swienty even referred to Pia Kjærsgaard, spokesman for the populist Dansk Folkeparti (The Danish People’s Party), who had claimed: “Denmark’s freedom today is not contested by a windmill at Dybbøl, but instead by a river at Helmand in Afghanistan”. This was the first reference in the discussion of 1864 to the fact that Denmark had joined forces with the Western powers in the War on Terror, sending military to Iraq and Afghanistan. Many such comments were to follow in the ensuing debate.

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Danish soldiers in Afghanistan (Forsvaret.dk). 

The next incident in the process was reported at the beginning of 2011 (Elkjær, 2011a). Here it was claimed that Per Stig Møller, Minister of Culture, had issued instructions that the 100 million DKK could not be used to depict one historical event only. This caused academics and politicians – among them Frands Mortensen, Professor of Media Studies at Aarhus University – to criticize Møller for breaking with the “arm’s length principle”, the political contract between DR and the Ministry of Culture, which enshrines the idea that politicians cannot interfere with actual programming. Mark Ørsten, Professor of Media Studies at Roskilde University, pointed to the fact that this indicated that politicians wished to control drama as well as the news they had historically sought to control. Morten Hesseldahl of DR once again denied rumours, maintaining that nothing was decided yet (Elkjær, 2011b); Hesseldahl would add somewhat later that he had talked to Møller himself in order to fully grasp the political intentions behind the 100 million DKK deal (Elkjær, 2011c).

The first critical article on 1864 appeared two years before shooting started (Møller Jørgensen, 2011). Møller Jørgensen disapproved of the choice to make these historical events into a TV-series – the article was written before the actual decision to allocate the 100 million DKK to 1864 was taken – since the facts of the matter were already too well known. In reality, the article claimed, the war of 1864 had very little to do with the present state of Denmark.

At roughly the same time, the press reported that the decision was finally taken: 1864 would receive the 100 million DKK (Elkjær, 2011d). 1864 had been chosen ahead of Nordisk Film’s project “Herfra vor verden går”(Lit. From Here Our World Extends) In an interview Morten Hesseldahl announced that Bornedal’s work on the series had been excellent and that he himself, Ingolf Gabold and DR-director Mikael Kamber had reached a final decision. Other papers also announced the allocation of the money (anbr, 2011), and it was also alleged that this had been decided by Ingolf Gabold already in 2009. The other chiefs at DR, Hesseldahl and Kamber, just nodded, according to this account. A more analytical approach was also represented among the articles (Nielsen Bitsch, 2011). Nielsen Bitsch approved of the decision to make 1864, and praised Buk-Swienty’s books. He also particularly applauded the ability of a TV-series to visualize historical events and referred to Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993) as an example of raising awareness of the Holocaust. However, he also alluded to the Danish historical TV-series Gøngehøvdingen (Lit. The Partisan Chief, dir. Peter Eszterhás, 1992), which was far too facile and jingoistic. Nielsen Bitsch also referred to American history professor Robert Rosenstone’s theories on film and history – as articulated, for example, in the book Visions of the Past (Rosenstone, 1995). Most interestingly, Nielsen Bitsch even provided advice for Ole Bornedal on how to depict the nationalistic and romantic Danish politicians of the time and the warmongering Bismarck. Bornedal, he maintained, should not be inspired by the melodramatic aesthetics of the Mel Gibson star vehicle The Patriot (Roland Emmerich, 2000), a film set during the American Revolution (1765-1783), but instead turn to The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998), a film about the American conquest of Guadalcanal during the Second World War (1942-43), with its depiction of chaos and war, featuring neither heroes nor villains. The consequences of 1864 for the Danes, Nielsen Bitsch concluded, was that they did not go to war for more than 100 years afterwards, but rather closed themselves off from the world. The first offensive war fought by Denmark after 1864 was against Serbia, then Iraq, the writer claimed. Bornedal now had the chance of doing something really good.

Side9_The Patriot_Mel

Side9_The Thin Red Line_Nolte_Penn
Above: Patriot (Still: Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures).
Below: The Thin Red Line (Still: Merie W. Wallace, Twentieth Century Fox).

Here, I think it might be pertinent to comment that as 1864 eventually turned out, it had similarities to both The Patriot and The Thin Red Line, although I would compare the narrative and style much more to the former. Also, I think I should recapitulate the Danish military engagements already at this stage, since they would be part of the debate regarding 1864 to the very bitter end. Hence, it could be stated, with Jette Elbæk Maressa (2014), that the first engagement came with the sending of a corvette for the Gulf War against Iraq in 1990. The next one was a 750-men strong peace keeping force sent to the former Yugoslavia between 1992-1996. In 1997, 65 men were sent to Albania. In 1998, four F-16 fighter aircraft took part in air strikes against Serbia in Kosovo. In 2001, Danish soldiers were sent to Afghanistan, in 2003, one corvette and one u-boat to Iraq. In 2011, 4 F 16:s participated in bombings in Libya and in 2014, F 16:s, once again, were deployed against IS in Syria.
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3.3 The Production Leaps Forward

The only articles on 1864 in 2012 focussed on the technicalities of the coming production. Thus, Peter Bose and Jonas Allen of Miso Film declared that the series would be aimed at the population at large; it was for the whole family to see. It should, they pointed out, explain what they referred to as the national inferiority complex and also put emphasis on a multicultural society with space for everybody. Another article (Thorsen, 2012) reported that 1864 was delayed due to financial issues. In an interview, Bornedal explained the enormous costs of historical films, and that just to depict Dybbøl Mill in flames would cost 1 million DKK. He also declared that no one had made a series like this in Denmark before, but that it unfortunately would not be ready to premiere on 18 April 2014, the date of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Dybbøl.

If reports on the production had been scarce in 2012, 2013 proved plentiful. Early on, it was reported that two of the major stars of Danish cinema and television, Sofie Gråbøl (Forbrydelsen 1-3) and Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Forbrydelsen 3), would participate in 1864 (Anon1, 2013). They did not. According to another article, Gråbøl was to have played the mother of the brothers Laust and Peter, along with the girl Inge, whom they both love, the main protagonists of 1864 (Kastholm Hansen H., 2013). As the synopsis of the series was published on Miso Film’s homepage, multiple opinion-pieces started to appear in the press. In fact, the fierce historical debate regarding 1864 started as early as mid-March 2013 (Vind, 2013), but since this will be dealt with in detail later in this text, I will focus only on production and marketing aspects in this part.

On 21 March 2013, a press conference was held at Skuespilhuset in Copenhagen (Erlendsson, 2013a; Nedertoft Jessen, 2013). Here, it was declared that 1864 would employ 160 actors and 6000 extras. Because of the presence of Norwegian actor Jakob Oftebro, one of the stars of the Norwegian-Danish-British film Kon-Tiki (Joachim Rønning and Esben Sandberg, 2012), the Norwegian press was also present. Oftebro was to appear in the series as Laust. Bornedal emphasised sorrow, pain and death as some of the themes of the series. Regarding the references to Afghanistan – Claudia (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina), the female protagonist of the framing story, set in the present, has a military brother who has fallen in Afghanistan – Bornedal presented them as contributing to a certain mood; they were not intended as a theme. He also referred to the occurrence of larks singing in many of the letters quoted in Buk-Swienty’s books and that he had not wanted to make a film about old men sitting behind desks discussing politics (Dannemand, 2013); images of singing larks would be richly represented in the series.

_92A4976 - 1864 - PETER (Jens Frederik Saetter-Lassen), INGE (Marie Tourell Soederberg) & LAUST (Jacob Oftebro)
Peter (Jens Sætter-Lassen), Inge (Marie Tourell Søderberg) and Laust (Jakob Oftebro) in 1864 (Still: Per Arnesen). 

Somewhat later, information started to appear regarding the shooting of the series in the Czech Republic during the summer of 2013 with a film crew of 300 (Erlendsson, 2013b). Here, it was also mentioned that 1864 had received much international interest, with additional production money from German, French and Swedish TV. During the screening of the series in 2014, precise locations for the shoot would be provided by the press. Shooting the series took 117 days (Dannemand, 2014). The 19th-century home of Laust and Peter and their parents was built for the production at Svanninge Bakker outside Faaborg on the island of Fyn (Egebo, 2014). Another article mentioned locations as being Den Fynske Landsby and the mansions of Hvidkilde and Hagenskov (Erlendsson, 2014).

_92A5548 - 1864 - YOUNG LAUST (Sylvester Byder), YOUNG PETER (Benjamin Holmstroem Nielsen) & YOUNG INGE (Fanny Borneda
Young Laust, Peter and Inge in 1864 (Still: Per Arnesen). 

Initially, the production in the Czech Republic, where the spectacular battle scenes were to be staged, was disrupted by intense rain. Then the oppressive heat wave mentioned at the start of this article struck. In the 43 degree centigrade heat, 18 extras suffered from heat stroke, and the Danish press was duly there to report (Kastrup, 2013a). Oehlenschläger (2013) referred to the meticulous work performed by production designer Nils Sejer – well known for his earlier work on Danish costume drama hit En kongelig affære (A Royal Affair, Nikolaj Arcel, 2012). The production used experienced Czech stuntmen, whose skills could not really be found in Denmark (Fyhn Christensen, 2013). Bornedal also spoke freely, comparing his project to David Lean’s famous epic Dr. Zhivago (1965), where the birth of the Soviet Union is narrated through the lens of an emotional love story. At this stage, lavish illustrations started to appear in the press, as, for instance, in Erlendsson (2013c), where an image of Danish film and television star Sidse Babett Knudsen had the caption “the actress Luise Heiberg who ate men for breakfast”. Knudsen was to contribute her considerable acting skills to 1864 in the role of actress Johanne Luise Heiberg, star of the Copenhagen theatre stage in the mid 19th-century. Heiberg was a devoted National Liberal, a patriot and also a confidante of powerful politicians.

Sidse Babett Knudsen as Johanne Luise Heiberg in 1864 (framegrab). 

As shooting continued, 1864 received gradually more and more interest in the press. The next piece of news was that the Danish Film Institute refused to support the projected film for cinemas that was to be released after the broadcast of the TV-series (Kastrup, 2013b). Miso Film had wanted the feature film version to compete at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015; a promo had been screened at Cannes in 2013 and had been received favourably. According to Kastrup (2013b), the film project was rejected by the Danish Film Institute on the grounds of marketability as well as artistic quality. The Norwegian Film Institute, on the other hand, initially supported the film, but backed out later on since there were just not enough Norwegians involved in the production (Bis, 2014). The discussion on whether 1864 should have a theatrical release led Kim Pedersen, chairman of Danske Biografer (Danish Cinemas), to complain about the plan to screen it as a TV-series first, and then let it open as a film. He referred to the case of Lars Von Trier’s Riget (The Kingdom, 1994-97) where the film, opening after the television event, had attracted only 1408 viewers. It was much better to do the other way round (Pedersen, 2013). Morten Hesseldahl of DR intervened to point out that the Danish parliament had paid for a TV-series, as opposed to a film (Hesseldahl, 2013). Nonetheless, the ending of the shooting process of 1864 was marked in October 2013 by the screening of five minutes of rushes at the Grand Cinema in Copenhagen (Kastrup, 2013c). A little bit later, it was announced that 51% of Miso Film, the production company, had been bought by Freemantle Media, part of the German commercial TV-station RTL (Anon2, 2013).

1864, the Danish trailer.

3.4 Publicity Stunts

Early in 2014, Henrik Palle, TV-editor at Copenhagen major Politiken, discussed the trailer for the film (Palle, 2014a); the trailer would be criticised by YouTube-users for containing an electric fence, an obvious anachronism, which was a problem that DR promised to rectify (Steffens Nielsen, 2014). Palle raised the expectations, albeit criticising clichés like the ending of the trailer reading “Hearts bleed in war and love”. Palle also gave Bornedal some praise, claiming that the director had a sense of both dramatic effect and pathos. He also thought that the expected criticism of the political leaders in 1864 might be carried over to the nationalist right-wingers of the present, ending his article maintaining that this might end up in something good. It could here be noted that the trailer, well conceived as it certainly is, gave the impression of 1864 being an entirely war-based series, which it did not really prove to be. Generally, the press seemed to be happy with the development at this stage. Another article praised the successful cooperation between DR and Miso Film, although Morten Hessedahl pointed to the fact that even if outsourcing could work fine, it could not pertain to everything (Lindberg, 2014c). Gunhild Agger, Professor of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies at the University of Aalborg, also praised this kind of production: the private companies lack money, but have a lot of ideas. DR has money, but due to rigid production methods, there might be a lack of ideas.

On 18 April 2014, Denmark also celebrated the 150 years since the Battle of Dybbøl and several papers – like Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten and Berlingske – contained special editions on the historical events. Here, various historians gave their versions of what happened. Ole Bornedal also appeared in an interview, telling about the many dead and how he had read the lists of the fallen on the Internet (Erlendsson, 2014). On 1 October it was time for a major press conference and also a pre-broadcast screening of episode 1-2 at the Empire Cinema in Copenhagen. Bornedal described the series as a love story, a political story and a war story (Ryom Nielsen and Krasnik, 2014). He also compared the outlook of the chauvinist National Liberals back in the day to the political situation today. Another report from the press conference and screening predicted a huge success (Seeberg and Erlendsson, 2014a); the series had already been sold to France, Germany, the UK and the US. The same writers also reported that Bornedal had put emphasis on the fact that it was a story of ordinary men, of loss and of grief (Seeberg and Erlendsson, 2014b). Star actor Lars Mikkelsen (Forbrydelsen 1), who plays Thøger, a traumatised victim of the First Schleswig War and Laust’s and Peter’s father, underlined the space given to the actors to create emotions that are not strictly naturalistic. Another writer noticed particularly Bornedal’s comparison of his own role to that of legendary American director Stanley Kubrick, in that he had been given complete artistic freedom (Kastholm Hansen H., 2014). Actors Sidse Babett Knudsen and Nicolas Bro (Forbrydelsen 2), who plays Monrad, were careful to emphasise that their portraits were not based on historical facts: Johanne Luise Heiberg never met Monrad in reality, and the characterization of Monrad in the series was based on several different politicians of the period.

Bornedal also spoke openly to the press during the fortnight before the TV-premiere on 12 October. He compared his dramaturgy to the one used in Titanic (James Cameron, 1997), in that everyone knows what will happen, it is the journey there that is important (Andreasen, 2014). “To me”, Bornedal said, “it is a story about time, to lose someone and that we all will die”. Nearly 3000 Danes died during the war, and they were forgotten. He also claimed to have prepared himself by reading letters from soldiers during the Second World War, the Vietnam War, and the Battle of Dybbøl. Bornedal also gave a substantial interview to Politiken (Vuorela, 2014). Here, Bornedal pointed to the uniqueness of the series, like, for instance, the battle scenes that last for 29 minutes. Nothing similar has ever been shown before. He also referred to reminiscences of Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998), where there is a suggestive panning shot from a single grave to the many thousands surrounding it. Bornedal also mentioned that he perceived Danish national identity as originating in 1864: “Our understanding of how small we are stems from there”. He also admitted that the references to Afghanistan in the story could be viewed as an allusion to the decisions of contemporary politicians, but the general idea was to compare loss of life in the past to loss of life in the present.

On 8 October there was a gala premiere of the first episodes at Copenhagen’s Concert House, with Prince Joachim attending (Drachmann Rasmussen, 2014). Here, Bornedal said that the structure of the series was like an eight-hour movie; the narrative was not built around traditional TV-episodes. He also praised the performance of his daughter Fanny Leander Bornedal as young Inge in the first two episodes. (Here, it could be said, he is absolutely right: she is a superb child actress.)

The final interview with Bornedal before the premiere of the series appeared in the other Copenhagen major Berlingske (Dannemand, 2014) where he, as he repeatedly did, maintained that the series was about simple people, time, life and death. Bornedal’s personal contribution to the series was also emphasised. Besides leading the 117 days of shooting already mentioned, he wrote the 400-page manuscript and also led 570 days of editing the series. On 12 October, the day of the premiere, there was an abundance of articles in the press, most of them dealing with the historical debate regarding 1864 that was already raging and which will be dealt with in the ensuing part of this text. An article that stood out was about 19th-century Danish paintings of the war, done by artists such as Otto Bache, Niels Simonsen, and Frants Henningsen (Hornung, 2014). As is obvious when watching the episodes, many of the paintings inspired Bornedal’s mise en scène in the series, for instance, Niels Simonsen’s painting “Episode af tilbagetoget fra Dannevirke den 5-6 februar 1864”, when Laust’s company of soldiers drags the canon on the icy road in episode five, or Otto Bache’s “Oberst Max Møller ved Sankelmark Sø den 6 februar 1864” (1886) in the imagery of Møller, leading his troops, in the same episode.

Side13_Tilbagetoget fra Dannevirke 1864
Niels Simonsen: "Episode af tilbagetoget fra Dannevirke den 5. - 6. februar 1864" (The Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle. Photo: Torbjørn Eriksen).

_92A3926 - 1864 - Epi. 5, sc. 514 - DANISH SOLDIERS
1864, episode 5: Danish slodiers. (Framegrab). 

3.5 Reflections on the Making of 1864

When studying this production process, three things stand out as unusual. First, the cost of the series, making it into the most expensive film project ever undertaken, not only in Danish, but also in Scandinavian film history. Second, the fact that the state provided the most substantial contribution to the budget in the form of more or less direct financing. And third, and most strikingly, that the artistic responsibility for the series was given to one person only, Ole Bornedal, who singlehandedly wrote the script and then personally directed the whole series.

The entire budget of the series was, as stated above, 173 million DKK, or 23 million Euros, making it just a tad more expensive – at 210 million SEK, or 22 million Euros – than the Swedish production of Arn The Knight Templar (Arn tempelriddaren, Peter Flinth, 2007) and Arn The Kingdom at Roads End (Arn Riket vid vägens slut, Peter Flinth, 2008). These were two historical films for cinema distribution adapted from popular author Jan Guillou’s novels about a Swedish knight templar’s adventures in Sweden and the Holy Land in the 13th century (Hedling, 2008: 60-67); the films were later adapted into a 6-hour television series (2010). As was the case with 1864, the Arn films did not receive very good reviews, although the project – just – retrieved its enormous production costs (by Scandinavian standards) at the box office. In terms of national anticipation and expectations, as exemplified by the Danish press regarding 1864, the Arn-films were, however, never even close.

Arn (Still: Svensk Filmindustri). 

This budget was, of course, made possible by the generous extra allowance provided by Parliament through an agreement between the VK-government (Venstre and Det Konservative Folkeparti, both conservative), supported by Dansk Folkeparti (populist) and Liberal Alliance (liberal), regarding the earlier mentioned “Medieforliget” 2010, which stipulated: “a hundred million DKK for the production of a historical drama series of high quality, that can provide Danes with knowledge about important events in the history of Denmark” (Madsen, 2010). Even if I have seen few attempts at political analysis of this decision in the articles regarding 1864, the name of Per Stig Møller, the acting Minister of Culture, pops up frequently, as he was later accused of interfering with the process (for instance in Jensen M., 2011). Of course, Møller’s involvement is further underlined by his standing in Denmark as an intellectual. He holds the degree of Dr. Phil. in comparative literature (the higher and traditional level of a Danish doctorate), and is a well known book author – in 2014, he published a monograph on Kaj Munk (Møller P. S., 2014), consisting of his two earlier books on the famous playwright/pastor combined with a new chapter (Munk, who opposed the German occupation during WWII, was murdered by the Gestapo in 1944). Thus, Møller was not only a politician specialising in culture, but also a professional in the field. Anyone can surmise that he as a member of the government had something to do with the policy of producing a historical drama series with the taxpayer’s money. 

The decision to put Ole Bornedal personally in charge of all aspects of the artistic production – writing, directing, editing – of the series is clearly more enigmatic. In a thorough study of production methods within DR Drama, Eva Novrup Redvall has provided detailed descriptions of the usual modus operandi (Novrup Redvall, 2013: 153–169) Here, she analyses “the concept of ‘one vision’, which has been regarded as central in DR’s production culture since the late 1990s and is continually used to explain the recent success of Danish series” (153). Novrup Redvall claims that the idea of character-driven drama actually originated during the reign of Ole Bornedal himself, as Head of DR Drama in 1993–1994. The idea of “one vision”, however, emerged in the late 1990s, “which put the head writer at the centre of production and involved him or her in all parts of the process” (159). Thus, television was a writer’s medium, as opposed to the dominance of the director in filmmaking for the cinema. It was Ingolf Gabold who crystallised “one vision”, formulating what was to be called “dogmas” of production in 2003. According to the “one vision dogma”, however, the head writer should work in close collaboration with the drama department, and sometimes a producer would be included in what Novrup Redvall calls a “twin vision” (160). She does, however, emphasize the generally collective endeavour in that other scriptwriters will also be included in the production and that they will contribute to both the main storyline as well as to individual episodes: “The writer’s room only consists of three people, which DR Fiction writers and producers believe is ‘the magic number’” (163). Novrup Redvall concludes that the DR model of production insists on the script being developed in “close collaboration with a producer and draw[ing] on the long development expertise within the department” (166). It should be noted that different directors are often used to direct the individual episodes – but the overall control is with the head writer.

As we have seen, there were at least attempts to implement this collaborative scriptwriting model in the production of 1864, since the press reported that three other scriptwriters had been involved during the course of 2011, but that collaboration ended after two months (Lindberg, 2014b). We also know that Ingolf Gabold at the very outset backed Bornedal as both director and scriptwriter (Korsager Nielsen, 2014), claiming financial concerns regarding an expensive costume drama as the reason for Bornedal both writing and directing. Piv Bernth, the DR Head of Drama, who produced 1864, would during the autumn be at the very core of media attention. She never really said anything to the press about her own possible contribution to the series. Instead, she backed Bornedal completely, for instance by claiming “that he had it in him – he was the only one who could write it” (Kjær, 2014).

1864 thus deviated from usual production methods at DR. This was to be the cause of considerable debate, which I will return to when discussing the aesthetic reception of the series. Suffice to say here that comments could vary in between film scholar Andreas Halskov’s remark that “it was an interesting experiment to have the director as writer – it is refreshing to give that freedom to the director” (Lindberg, 2014b) and the tough judgment of Thomas Bredsdorff, formerly Professor of Nordic Literature at the University of Copenhagen, who claimed that the “problem of the series has a French name: Auteur”, thus directly criticising traditional auteurist dimensions of Scandinavian cinema, and the choice of having one man controlling all aspects of 1864 (Bredsdorff, 2014).
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4. 1864: Plot Summary

4.1 Synopsis

As with the above account of historical events, the rendition of a coherent plot summary is not as easy as it might sound, since it is a process based on interpretation, in this case, of course, my own. I will, however, try to recount what I perceive to be some of the major events in each of the eight episodes, each almost an hour in length, especially such moments that later came under discussion in the press. For reasons of readability and space, this summary is extremely short and omits many, many otherwise significant details.

Two alternating timelines structure 1864: one is set in the present, the other in the past. The present-day timeline recounts the story of Claudia, a young, unemployed, drug-abusing girl in a small Danish town, dressed in black, with blackened eyes and with her nose and lips pierced. Her brother Sebastian has died, fighting for the Danish armed forces in Afghanistan, and both her parents, particularly the mother, are racked with sorrow. At the employment office, where she is otherwise considered a hopeless case, she is given the task of looking after an aged nobleman, Baron Severin, who is half blind, incontinent, and lonely in his grand mansion. They gradually form a bond, despite Claudia trying to steal from him. In Severin’s bedroom, Claudia finds an old diary, and at Severin’s request she starts to read from it to him.

The story that gradually emerges has been told by Inge, Severin’s long-deceased grandmother, and it concerns events from 1851, when the Danes return victorious from the First Schleswig War, until 1864, the Second Schleswig War and its aftermath. Here, Inge, whose voice is sometimes heard as a first-person voice-over narration, tells of her relationship to the two young farm boys Laust and Peter, and to the upper class villain Didrich, Severin’s grandfather, and son of the owner of the big estate in the countryside where events unfold. Inge tells of a beautiful past, with idyllic representations of the Danish landscape, the joys of everyday life, and of love and lust. She loves both Laust and Peter, but has intimate relations only with Laust. Unknown to Peter she comes to carry Laust’s love child. On the estate, the visiting and despised Roma People, particularly the girl Sofia, become Inge’s friends.

At the same time she tells stories about the madness of the times. In Copenhagen, National Liberal politicians, led by the rhetorical genius of Ditlev Gothard Monrad, start to aim for higher goals, of absorbing the German Duchy of Schleswig into the Danish kingdom, disregarding the fact that Schleswig is a separate entity of which the King is only Duke. Monrad, highly inspired by the theatrical brilliance of actress Johanne Luise Heiberg, manages to persuade the reluctant King to sign a protocol on the matter, while maintaining that if Prussia declares war, Sweden, Russia, and Britain will come to the rescue; still, Monrad admits to Heiberg that there is mental illness in his family. The Germans, however, led by Bismarck, see a breach of the status quo as a welcome opportunity to conquer new lands.

As war breaks out, Laust and Peter join the army, where they meet, among others, Johan, a soldier with supernatural powers, and Dinesen, a young officer of outstanding bravery; eventually the drunken Didrich, a dedicated coward, becomes their commanding officer. The Prussians declare war, and Denmark is bustling with nationalistic ethos, but shock ensues as the Danish army withdraws from its supposedly unconquerable defence lines at Dannevirke, leaving Schleswig open to German invasion. Inge and Sofia follow the Roma south, in order for Inge to meet with Laust and tell him that he is going to be a father; Sofia is also pregnant, having been raped by the nasty Didrich.

In the present, meanwhile, Claudia mourns for her dead brother, fallen in the War on Terror, at his grave. She also asks her weeping mother for old photographs. In the album, she discovers that she is herself the descendant of Peter and Sofia, who married after the war. Thus, as Severin discloses somewhat later, they are in fact blood relatives through Sofia’s son by Didrich. They continue reading the diary.

Inge looks for Laust, and also Peter, among the soldiers of the Danish army, entrenched in the redoubts of Dybbøl, heavily bombarded by the Prussians. In spite of the warnings of the generals, Monrad and his cronies in Copenhagen demand that the army make a stand, whatever the cost; Monrad has been greatly influenced by Heiberg. The army does make a stand, and is soundly defeated by the numerically and technologically superior Prussians, led by the Red Prince. In the battle, Laust falls in spite of all Dinesen’s military prowess, as well as Johan’s wizardry attempts to save him, and Peter is taken prisoner; Didrich, who deserted his post, is also a prisoner of war, but returns to the estate shortly afterwards. At the peace table, Danish politicians unrealistically continue to demand Prussian concessions, in spite of their terrible defeat, and, as Inge recounts, thus causes the Battle of Als and the loss of even more land. As Prussia celebrates, Monrad is shown to break down with mental illness, and is urged to emigrate to New Zealand as a missionary.

Inge returns to the estate with her newborn son, and with no aspirations for a happy life, marries Didrich, who after his father’s suicide becomes the new baron; when courting Inge, however, Didrich forces her to give her “bastard” son away. Peter returns from captivity, encounters Sofia and her son (by Didrich). Peter then goes to fetch his nephew at the poor house. Inge’s final voice-over states that Didrich eventually discovered his humanity, and that she somehow kept in contact with her son by Laust, while giving birth to other children by Didrich.

Back in the present Claudia reads the final part of Inge’s diary to Severin, who quietly fades away in peace. He discloses that he had written the diary himself as an eighteen-year-old almost 75 years earlier, with his grandmother, Inge, dictating her memories to him from her death-bed.
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4.2 A Few Comments on the Synopsis

Immediately striking in the dramatic structure of 1864 are the dual timelines, with death, horror and war in the present, echoing exactly the same aspects of the past. As tragic as this was in the past, it is equally so in the present. Furthermore, the historical development of the Schleswig wars is accompanied in 1864 by a melodramatic fictional story about some ordinary people, Laust, Peter, Inge and Sofia, who get involved in the war; they all become victims of it in one way or another. This is, of course, a very common practice within historical drama. Since most people watching in Denmark would be aware of the outcome of the main story, the melodrama is inserted in order to still be able to create fictional tension and suspense. The story containing these ordinary people is also not that far in spirit from Tom Buk-Swienty’s books, which are based mostly on letters written by common soldiers during the Second Schleswig War; it should be noted, though, that Buk-Swienty also recounts the story and correspondence of some extraordinary men and women, thus successfully mixing top-down and bottom-up perspectives in his narrative. These top-down moments are represented in 1864 by the political turmoil and nationalistic craze in Copenhagen, by Monrad’s antics, and through the many scenes of Bismarck scheming in Prussia.

It is also obvious that 1864 compresses many historical facts, thus letting the characters represent several real people in the form of one persona only, another very common practice in historical drama, all the way from Shakespeare to Steven Spielberg. This kind of narrative is done to make both the narrative and the production more economical, and to facilitate potential viewers’ grasp of events. Thus, for instance, the real-life major politicians Monrad, Lundbye, and Hall are depicted as political leaders during the conflict, which is historically true, but are also shown to be the Danish representatives at the peace conference in London, which is not true. In reality, Denmark had other diplomatic representatives there.

The debt to Tom Buk-Swienty is, however, most apparent in the general ideological tenor of the story: that a destructive nationalistic ethos became very strong in Denmark in the period, and that Denmark was led by what proved to be incompetent war leaders, particularly Monrad, who acted rashly, blinded by his own nationalistic vision of a united Danish kingdom. Thus, the war with the Germans was provoked unnecessarily, a war that Denmark was bound to lose, because of the immense differences in military strength and the fact that no international powers intervened militarily on Denmark’s side. This seems to me to be a not unreasonable version of history, even if there were, as we shall see in what follows, other versions that were at least equally strong, or even stronger, in general appeal.

The most obvious departure from Tom Buk-Swienty’s book, however, is the insertion of the framing story, set in present-day Denmark, showing the gradually emerging relationship between young Claudia and the ageing Baron Severin. This part of the story offers some sociological analysis of contemporary Denmark, such as the immense sorrow that is created when loved ones perish in war, wars that are being fought right now by Danish forces. The framing story also offers some description of the difficult social situation of contemporary youth, as exemplified by Claudia’s difficulties both at school and on the job market.
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5. History

5.1 Rasmus Glenthøj’s Charge

As stated earlier, the heated historical debate regarding 1864 started already when the synopsis of the series was published on Miso Film’s homepage in mid-March 2013 (Vind, 2013). In Vind’s article, a few professional historians were interviewed, among them Jakob Seerup, a curator at the Royal Danish Arsenal Museum, who chose not to denigrate the series, but instead emphasised its courage in that the story showed parallels between the war of 1864 and Danish military ventures over the last eight years. On the other hand, Rasmus Glenthøj was also interviewed; Glenthøj is a Lecturer in History at the University of Southern Denmark, and the author of the already mentioned book 1864, a meticulous study of the political development in 19th-century Denmark, and how this eventually led up to the Second Schleswig War, and also its aftermath (Glenthøj, 2014a).

Historian Rasmus Glenthøj (Henrik Løfqvist, Gads Forlag).  

Glenthøj expressed concern about the synopsis. According to Carsten Pedersen and Thorsen (2013), Glenthøj thought that there were two standard versions of why Denmark was defeated in 1864. The first version is that an aggressive Germany crushed the innocent Danes. This was the story upheld by the National Liberal Party. A second version was the “self-flagellating” one, which claimed that the Danes behaved stupidly and had to take responsibility. The second version, Glenthøj maintained, was what would be shown on TV. He also stressed that there is a middle version, that the Great Powers forced Denmark to maintain a form of statehood – a separate kingdom, and three adjacent duchies – it did not want. Particularly, he said, the portrait of Monrad is warped as he is depicted as following a policy that he really fought against, at least until he became Council President in 1863. Elsewhere, Glenthøj would elaborate on these criticisms, pointing to the developments in Danish historiography in the 1880s, when traditionally romantic notions of war were deconstructed (Henriksen, 2013). Another interview with Glenthøj expressed the view that the Monrad figure in 1864 was also based on National Liberal politicians like C. C. Hall (who is represented in 1864 by actor Olaf Johannessen), Orla Lehman and A. F. Krieger (Fyhn Christensen, 2014).

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Nicolas Bro as Monrad in 1864 (Ole Bornedal, DK, 2014. Framegrab). 

Glenthøj’s major attack on 1864 was not to appear until two days before the premiere of the TV-series on DR 1 on 12 October 2014 (Glenthøj, 2014b). In a chronicle in Weekendavisen he explained his criticisms of the series in quite some detail (at the time he had seen three of the eight 50-minute-plus episodes). In the traditional, separated state – the “helstaten” in Danish – Germans and Danes could not agree; Schleswig was the problem, with its mixed population. When the Danish language started to lose ground in Schleswig, it created a panic among politicians. This struggle was not just caused by nationalism. The Danes held a deep felt fear of annihilation as an independent country – they had lost Norway to Sweden in 1814, and the general development in Europe indicated unification of smaller states into larger ones like Germany and Italy (hence, the development of Scandinavism in Norway, Denmark and Sweden, the idea to create a unified state of the Nordic countries – an idea that evaporated when the Swedes did not aid the Danes in 1864). The peace settlement after the First Schleswig War 1848-1851 forced Germans and Danes to agree, but the problems were still there in that Danes and Germans wanted one state each. The real troubles started with the new Danish king, Christian IX, who wanted the state of affairs to remain: the Germans accordingly challenged his hereditary claims to the duchies. The National Liberals wanted to incorporate Schleswig into Denmark, but were open to a reasonable partition. When hostilities started, the National Liberal press held the notion that the Germans could be beaten on the battlefield. The top politicians did not. Their goal was to get the major powers to intervene, a plan that nearly succeeded. Monrad, Glenthøj emphasised, was a genius, but he also suffered from bipolar disorder (the term manic depressive illness is generally employed in the press articles), which could have influenced his behaviour in the course of action. His plan was to stop the war as soon as the major powers were ready to arbitrate; by continuing the struggle he thought that more could be gained. He seriously feared for Denmark’s survival. Since the king had other goals, the upholding of the status quo, the resulting policy turned out to be quite schizophrenic.

After the war, Monrad and the National Liberals, Glenthøj continues, came to be blamed as nationalistic fanatics. This had to do with the development of the political landscape and the gradual emergence of democracy, championed by the opponents of National Liberalism. Thus the political enemies of Monrad came to determine historical understanding, even if it was erroneous. 1864, Glenthøj declares, follows this tradition. The blame is firmly put on Danish nationalism, whose representatives are made out to be insane. The background to the war is depicted in a highly questionable way; Holstein is not mentioned at all, and nor is the then structure of Denmark in its four parts. The Schleswig problem is depicted in the series as it was in contemporary German propaganda. The various political figures compressed into the character of Monrad are reduced to being “crazy, childish and demonic”. “How this figure could win support for his policies is beyond comprehension”, Glenthøj adds. Monrad is depicted as a warmonger, while in reality he tried to avoid the war. Glenthøj concludes by maintaining that even if there is such a thing as artistic freedom, art is not beyond criticism and he hopes that the production will increase interest in 1864. As for the depiction of Monrad and the National Liberals, as well as the reasons behind the war, “we run the risk that the Danes become even more stupid and at their own cost” (alluding to the by then nearly legendary 100 million DKK contribution by Parliament). This harsh and precise criticism of 1864 from Glenthøj would resonate during the entire debate.

On the very same day, Jes Fabricius Møller, a History Lecturer at the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen, articulates a similar critique in a review of the first two episodes (Møller J. F., 2014). He also focuses on the depiction of Monrad, who according to Møller was a great orator, but in the series is reduced to a one-dimensional caricature, suffering from pride and madness. 1864 becomes the story of a bloodbath, caused by absurd political decisions.

Many other historians and journalists would follow in the wake of Glenthøj, who himself appeared in additional interviews (for instance, Bergløv, 2014). In one article, Hans Schultz Hansen, a specialist on the history of Southern Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein during the the 19th and 20th centuries, expressed the view that Monrad in reality was a rational and pragmatic politician who tried to solve the problem posed by German demands on Denmark. Inge Adriansen, a historian and curator at the museum of Sønderborg Castle (close to Dybbøl), maintained that 1864 contradicted the sources regarding the representation of Monrad (Blüdnikow, 2014). Adriansen would later put forward Monrad as “one of the most talented and remarkable men in Danish history” and in the same article Ditte Kock, a historian at Dybbøl Museum would also emphasise that Monrad was erroneously depicted (Bjerge, 2014). Jens Ole Christensen, a historian at the Royal Danish Arsenal Museum in Copenhagen would complain about the “disappointing historical depiction” (Sjørvad, 2014). Uffe Østergaard, Professor of Danish and European History at Copenhagen Business School, said that Monrad was depicted as more “neurotic and idiotic” compared to the sources, while Rune Stubager, Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University – interestingly – thought that it was not the depiction of Monrad’s weak-mindedness per se that was controversial, it was the fact that his nationalist ethos was revealed as weak-minded that was the real cause of the quarrel (Mikkelsen, 2014b); I will return to this discussion in part 4 (Politics). Niels Davidsen-Nielsen, Professor Emeritus of English at Copenhagen Business School, also criticised the portrait of Monrad and referred to two different Danish encyclopedias: in one Monrad was described as good and bad, in the other only as good (Davidsen-Nielsen, 2014). In a highly interesting article, Kasper Elbjørn, a Director of Communication at the Saxo Bank, presented a sophisticated critique of the series which he thought should have been entirely concentrated on the representation of Monrad, in analogy with the HBO series John Adams (2008), a biographical depiction of the second president of the USA (Elbjørn, 2014). Monrad, Elbjørn maintained, was a central figure in the development of modern Denmark and in reality much more than the deranged person depicted in 1864. Towards the end of the 19th century, radical forces wanted to bring him down, hence the claims of his mental illness. Other historians describe him as a great intellectual, and as a very ambitious man, one even comparing him to Winston Churchill.

The harsh criticism from historians of the depiction of Monrad in 1864 culminated in a public debate at the Royal Library in Copenhagen in November 2014. Here, the Director of the Library, Erland Kolding Nielsen, opened the event by stating that it was arranged on account of Ole Bornedal’s “revisionist, simplified and distorted interpretation of history”, the toughest accusation I have so far encountered (Mikkelsen, 2014a). Three distinguished historians participated, one of them Rasmus Glenthøj, all authors of recent works on the history of 1864. Johan Peter Noack, formerly Head Archivist at the Danish National Archive (Rigsarkivet), and author of the book Da Danmark blev Danmark (When Denmark Became Denmark, Noack, 2014), argued that Danish nationalism was not the most important discourse characterizing the events of 1864. Even if the decision to extend the new Danish constitution into Schleswig was provocative, Bismarck would have found a cause for war anyway. The king, Christian IX, was responsible for the disaster at the peace negotiations in London. Noack admitted that he followed 1864 on TV, but declined to comment on it; in another article on Noack’s theories, the strong Prussian desire to turn Kiel – in Holstein – into a major future naval base was emphasised (Knudsen, 2014).

Hans Vammen, formerly a Lecturer in History at the University of Copenhagen, and the author of the book Den tomme stat (Vammen, 2011), on the other hand, put much emphasis on what he perceived as the extreme nationalist sentiment at the time. Monrad was indeed responsible for the losses at the peace table. There, Bornedal was right, otherwise not. Vammen also added that had 1864 covered the historical truths, viewers would have fallen asleep. Glenthøj reiterated his critique, maintaining the simplifications of the series. A union with Sweden – as a result of Scandinavism – was imminent and would have averted the war. As it was, Monrad could not stop the war. Glenthøj concluded by claiming that 1864 made its viewers even less knowledgable about the historical facts. This debate, of course, was important since it showed the realities of professional historiography: there are and will always be different versions of history.

Per Stig Møller, the government minister maybe responsible for the allocation of substantial financial resources for a fictional TV-series on the history of Denmark, intervened to round off the critical investigation of Monrad’s role in this intricate drama after the broadcast of the series. Here, Møller criticised 1864 for not really introducing the TV-viewer to the Schleswig-Holstein problem (Bo, 2014). He also remarked that Monrad was not mentally ill in the sense that he was described in the series.
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5.2 The Monrad Problem Discussed

How then, is Monrad portrayed in the series? Well, he is present in all eight episodes. He is played by Nicolas Bro, without a doubt a tremendously talented actor, known among other things for his depiction of Minister of Justice Thomas Buch in Forbrydelsen 2. Bro, highly expressive with his imposing and obese physical appearance, plays Monrad as being at least on the verge of what the viewer will probably identify as lunacy. The signs of his alleged illness are plentiful: he is initially presented with his backside bare, writing on the floor; and in a conversation with his confidante, the actress Johanne Luise Heiberg, he admits that his father died in an asylum and that he himself has been hospitalised in the past. In the end, beset by all his terrible failures, he mimes wearing a straitjacket, grunting and sneezing as if hit by sudden psychosis.

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Nicolas Bro as Monrad in 1864 (Ole Bornedal, DK, 2014. Framegrab). 

There seemed to be a general awareness of and agreement regarding Monrad’s illness among all participants in the debate. One writer referred to a doctoral dissertation on the matter, written by psychiatrist Johan Schioldann-Nielsen in 1983, which describes Monrad’s illness in detail and also claimed that he indeed suffered from lack of judgement in 1864 (Clausen, 2014). In the same article, however, Steen Skovsgaard, bishop of Lolland and Falster, and also the author of a biography of Monrad, disagreed with the depiction of Monrad in 1864 as semi-mad.

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1864, episode 1: Sidse Babett Knudsen as Johanne Luise Heiberg (Still: Per Arnesen). 

But in artistic terms, several of the scenes with Monrad are very strong. For example, in episode one, mesmerized, he watches Heiberg as Lady Macbeth at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen. He is incited to violence, as Lady Macbeth addresses her husband with these lines, delivered by Knudsen with Dreyer-like articulation in Danish translation:

yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false
(William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1:V)

Later in the series, Heiberg, who as stated never actually met Monrad in real life, coaches him in rhetorical skills, his ability to add deeply felt emotions to his highly-strung nationalistic prose. Heiberg was on the other hand a close friend of Professor of Law turned National Liberal politician A. F. Krieger (Buk-Swienty, 2010: 37). The one thing that writers did not complain about regarding the portrayal of Monrad was what seems to me to be a prejudiced and stereotyped depiction of bipolar disorder as such, a priori taking for granted its devastating effects on Monrad’s character. I find it a bit surprising that no interest group protested in this regard. The most nuanced discussion I can find in the press material is presented by the aforementioned media scholar Gunhild Agger, who generally problematizes notions of historical “truth”, instead focusing on different interpretations of the sources (Krogsgaard Christensen, 2014). Regarding Monrad, she adds, the fact that there was mental illness in his family does not make him mentally ill. And if he was, it is not certain that this affected his political judgement.

But based on artistic motivation and poetic license, Monrad is without a doubt a gross caricature in 1864, that is, he is not presented as a realistically motivated human being but instead as a conglomerate of historical persons, with what appears to be an absurdly exaggerated nationalist sentiment. Bornedal himself had claimed already in 2013 that: “From my point of view, he is not particularly authentic, but he is very interesting. He was the main character at the time, but I cannot take into consideration the fact that there is one team of historians who say that Monrad was responsible for this war, and another who say he was not” (Fauerholdt, 2013). To this Nicolas Bro added: “It is fiction after all”.

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.

A good example would be Shakespeare’s classic history play Richard III, where the protagonist, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, ruthlessly plots his way to the crown, and then upholds it with the basest of means. He does not refrain from murder, even fratricide, infanticide, incest, betrayal, or any kind of cheating. Historians have claimed that Shakespeare wrote this negatively charged portrait in order to conform to the dominant ideological discourse of the period in which it was written, the 1590s, when Elizabeth I was Queen of England. Since Richard’s throne was taken by force by Elizabeth’s grandfather, King Henry VII, Shakespeare added to the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty on the English crown. No modern historian would describe the real Richard III as Shakespeare does. Still, Richard III is generally considered to be an immortal literary masterpiece, depicting as it does the moral deficiencies of human power struggle, adhering to the notion put forward by film scholar Casper Tybjerg in an interview regarding 1864: “historical fiction can tell us about what the historical sources do not mention – how people felt in the past” (Lindberg, 2014d). This is why we just do not judge art and history by the same standards. The fact that many historians, critics and politicians still did exactly that was to me a major epistemological problem in the reception of 1864.

This does certainly not make, for instance, Glenthøj’s criticism of 1864 any weaker. In fact, his article in Weekendavisen (Glenthøj, 2014b) is one of the most readable pieces of criticism in the entire reception, based as it is on what seems to me to be clear and credible historical argument, that the Danish leadership in reality knew what they were doing, but that their plan failed; also, as I have read Glenthøj’s book on 1864 carefully, I am well aware of the academic standards in it. But the TV-series 1864 does in fact make it clear that it was Monrad’s plan that the major powers would intervene, as he declares to Parliament in episode two that in case of war Denmark will be supported by Sweden, Russia and Great Britain. That the Britons have also understood this correctly is expressed by Lord Palmerston (James Fox), when he informs Queen Victoria (Barbara Flynn) that “they are counting on our help” in episode three. Also, in episode three, when the king declares his misgivings about a war with the German Confederation, he is informed by the politicians that the Swedish king will send “thousands of men”.

I do, however, think that Glenthøj goes somewhat over the top when he claims that the Danes will become more “stupid” by watching 1864, as he maintains not only once, but thrice (Glenthøj, 2014b, Sjørvad, 2014, Mikkelsen, 2014b). Why would the Danes become more stupid just because they are presented with a different version of history than the one championed by Glenthøj? Do we get stupid by watching Richard III in the theatre or on film? I think this is just condescending rhetoric, aimed at denigrating Bornedal’s work. But it is a perfectly viable critique that the series does not make us understand why Monrad acted as he did, and particularly why others followed his lead – in 1864 he is just acting crazy, possessed by his great plan for Schleswig becoming an integral part of his beloved Denmark. But that is on the other hand Bornedal’s artistic vision, a vision that in itself is acceptable, particularly since it was also based on historical research. Additionally, I can find no particular critical value in generalized and tendentious judgements like the one expressed by Erland Kolding Nielsen, when he accused 1864 of being a “revisionist, simplified and distorted interpretation of history” (Mikkelsen, 2014a). Simplified, possibly, distorted perhaps, but revisionist, hardly, since it was built on one of the historical traditions regarding 1864, a tradition also pointed out by Glenthøj. I think that Bornedal’s own explanation of the aggressive attacks from some historians is relevant in this context (Blüdnikow, 2014). Bornedal referred his conception of history to Buk-Swienty, who was not really criticised. That the TV-series was attacked, thought Bornedal, had to do with the media clout connected to a big film project (1864 certainly proved his point, as this article tries to show). Thus, he seemed to indicate, historians wished to cash in on this heightened attention, which is not an unreasonable conclusion to draw.

As stated, 1864 was based on Tom Buk-Swienty’s very successful books on the Second Schleswig War. The books skilfully mix historiographical detail with literary descriptions. Regarding the responsibility for the war, Buk-Swienty is very explicit:

The National Liberal Monrad bore to a large extent the responsibility for the war. In the tense December days of 1863, when war was imminent, he declined to withdraw the November Protocol. Along with the other National Liberals, he preferred Denmark to go to war rather than compromising the Eider policy. When war was close to breaking out at the end of 1863, Monrad did not succumb to the growing international pressure on Denmark to avoid war. The ambassadors of Great Britain, Russia, and France had issued serious warnings to the Danish government that Denmark would be isolated in a war against the German major powers, but this had not helped. Monrad did not adopt a reasonable course, and when he momentarily considered it just before hostilities broke out, it was too late (Buk-Swienty, 2010: 202, my translation).

1864 seems to follow this trajectory, which, of course, differs from Glenthøj’s description of Monrad just rationally counting on an international intervention on Denmark’s behalf. Still, Glenthøj praises Buk-Swienty in his big study for making the war present to the readers (Glenthøj, 2014a: 518).

Buk-Swienty did appear in the debate from time to time, albeit sparingly; he was hardly ever criticised although it was his version of the events that was the basis of 1864. Already in 2010, he was interviewed in the press, when rumours about the production of a film regarding 1864 started to spread (Sørensen, 2010b). Here, Buk-Swienty maintained that Denmark was the most aggressive party before the war and that the Danes themselves were guilty of the problems that ensued. He also, as stated, underlined that he was the only historian interested in 1864 (if this was the case in 2010, it certainly was not in 2014). When first confronted with the historical criticisms at the press conference in 2013, he defended the project on the grounds that one has to find a story in a film, and that nuances were often disregarded (it should be noted that there is no inherent reason in film for this); he also referred positively to historical films like The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010) and Saving Private Ryan (Nedertoft Jessen, 2013). He also put emphasis on the fact that the series would create a debate, as every historical film does (which is absolutely right): “Historians disagree about everything, so it is difficult to speak in terms of historical correctness” (Dannemand, 2013). Bornedal would follow up in the same manner:

All historical elements in the film are correct, and Tom Buk-Swienty has been a really good consultant for the series, so every time I have a political element in the story, he has been my co-player. I have changed characters, I have fantasized about them, even regarding real characters, but the political elements are in order. There are 15 different versions of history and I think that all 15 should raise 173 million DKK and make their own version (Fyhn Christensen, 2013).

Buk-Swienty did continue to defend the series, although he abstained from commenting on his fellow historians (Blüdnikow, 2014). He did mention that the critics could have waited until they had seen the full series (Jensen L, 2014) and also thought that Nicolas Bro’s interpretation of Monrad’s inner struggle with his demons was fantastic, even if it might be erroneous. But, he continued, this interpretation cannot just be disposed of since we will never really know for sure. “That is what art is for: to inspire and stimulate thoughts”. Buk-Swienty would also present his understanding of why Denmark lost the war: the Danes had no modern weapons, they were too few, they were badly trained, there was no correspondence between political expectations and military possibilities, and, finally, that Denmark was confronted by the military genius of Prussian master planner Helmuth von Moltke (Johansson, 2014a).

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Author Tom Buk-Swienty (www.buk-swienty.com). 

Even if Buk-Swienty appeared to be above criticism from the press, a few remarks about his role did appear. The aforementioned Jes Fabricius Møller did criticize Buk-Swienty early on for blaming the war on a “demonic prime minister, D. G. Monrad” (Henriksen, 2013). Hans Hauge, a Literature Lecturer from Aarhus University, would refer aspects of the series to Buk-Swienty in a few short articles (Hauge, 2014a, b). Another remark on Buk-Swienty came from Jes Bache, whose grandfather’s grandfather was Monrad himself (Mikkelsen, 2014c). Bache meant that he had been nervous about the series because of it being based on Buk-Swienty’s work and that he did not care for the understanding of Monrad in the books. The real Monrad, Bache maintained, made a fantastic contribution to Danish history and was not a nationalist as he was presented (by Buk-Swienty and Bornedal).

Yet, it is quite striking that it was Bornedal, the film director, and not Buk-Swienty, the historian, who was made out to be the “falsifier” of history. Here, I think one can refer to what Bornedal claimed, that the media clout of a big film project like 1864 is substantially bigger than that of the books they were based on – I am, as I have stated earlier, a huge admirer of Buk-Swienty’s books. Also, of course, historians are keener to attack a widely distributed work for television, a genuinely popular medium, than some critically acclaimed works by a fellow writer and historian, enjoying high social status in the cultural economy. This is just, I think, a basic fact of the sociology of the arts and media, at least in Scandinavia. Another sign of this is the fact that towards the end of the reception process, when the rhetoric gradually became more aggressive, Buk-Swienty gradually disappeared from the limelight.

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Sidse Babett Knudsen as Johanne Luise Heiberg and Nicolas Bro as Monrad (1864, still: Per Arnesen). 

That does not mean that Nicolas Bro’s depiction of Monrad is a direct rendering of how he is portrayed in Buk-Swienty’s books. Of course, he is not, since Buk-Swienty does not endow him with any particular characteristics except the potential mental illness and his bad political decisions based on his fanatical nationalism. Monrad has undoubtedly been the subject of several twists and turns in the series, turning him into aesthetic spectacle. The caricature is to say the least drastic, particularly in the earlier described scene where Sidse Babett Knudsen as Heiberg literally steps on his fat stomach in order to physically install emotion and passion into his political rhetoric in episode two, hardly a realistically motivated scene as is the case with many of Monrad’s other incursions into the narrative flow. Another venture into symbolism is how both Heiberg and Monrad get blood on their hands in episode three, another echo of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this time alluding to Lady Macbeth’s vain attempts to rid her conscience of the murders she has triggered: “Here's the smell of the blood still: all the/ perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little/ hand” (Macbeth 5: I).
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5.3 Historiography vs. Historical Drama

In any case, the harsh critique from the historians gradually became encoded into the reception, making it into an unofficial “truth” that 1864 was not based on the historical facts. B. T., the evening tabloid, even brought in a historian to review the episodes and, obviously, to specifically point out the historical errors. B. T. also contained more ordinary, journalistic reviews of the individual episodes, showing how important the series had become as a means to sell newspapers. Erik Ingemann Sørensen, a history teacher, an amateur scholar (no offence intended) and among other things author of a geographical guide to the events of 1864 (Ingemann Sørensen, 2014a), was meticulous regarding the historical details. In an interview he declared that the medal worn by Didrich, the baron’s son, a Danish army officer and the villain of the series played by Pilou Asbæk (Kasper in the extremely popular Borgen), when he returns decorated from the First Schleswig War in the first episode, was in fact not introduced until 10 years later; the boots worn by the Danish soldiers were also not the correct ones (Johansson, 2014b). Regarding the first episodes, Ingemann Sørensen mentioned that the Prussian officers who visit General de Meza in the third episode had the wrong names and that de Meza answers them immediately – in reality he took hours (Ingemann Sørenssen, 2014b). Ingemann Sørensen also complained about the liberties taken with Tom Buk-Swienty’s books. In his review of the third episode, which he gave three out of six cannon (!), he added that if Bornedal had previously deviated from Buk-Swienty – according to the reviewer, the best possible historical consultant – he was now back on track, even if Monrad appears as a fool (Ingemann Sørensen, 2014c). Also, Ingemann Sørensen missed the artillery fire over the village of Missunde during the battle of that name, and the episode also showed the king and Monrad at Dannevirke before the withdrawal – the King was there, Monrad was not.

In his review of episode five, Ingemann Sørensen found a lot of things to complain about – he gave the episode only one cannon. Here in particular, Ingemann Sørensen maintained that there were a number of inaccuracies regarding the Danish retreat from Dannevirke:

We have not been told who the hussars with the death’s heads are. Factually, they are Austrians, who constituted the part of the Confederation army to pursuit the Danes. Now, they seem to be from the ‘Division Totenkopf’ – a German SS-unit. And the liquidation of the Danish soldier expresses precisely this. Why is this? There were rules then also. [---] Bornedal recently claimed: ‘I stick to Tom Buk-Swienty’. He has done that blindfolded (Ingemann Sørensen, 2014d).

Ingemann Sørensen then changed his attitude and gave episode six top marks (Ingemann Sørensen, 2014e). Here, Bornedal demonstrated that he knew his profession: “to put the free, dramatic narrative as close to the historical reality as possible”. Ingemann Sørensen did however relapse into an misanthropic outlook regarding episode seven, where he criticised the excessive amount of time it took for the Prussians to storm the redoubts – historically it was over in minutes (Ingemann Sørensen, 2014f). He also wondered what Colonel Müller (Rasmus Bjerg) was doing at Dybbøl – he was much further north with the fourth division. Finally, Wilhelm Dinesen (played by Johannes Lassen and, as stated, in historical reality the father of Karen Blixen) did not assume command of the eighth brigade. The brigadier, Paul Scharffenberg did. One cannon, once again.

Even if I normally cannot argue with Danish historical experts about matters of history, some of Ingemann Sørensen’s claims are actually contested in the books that I have read. Glenthøj writes that when “the King went to the front, Monrad came along” although he does not say whether they actually visited the soldiers at Dannevirke (Glenthøj, 2014a: 375). Buk-Swienty, on the other hand, claims that Monrad had “slouched behind the King and his entourage during inspections of Dannevirke” (Buk-Swienty, 2008a: 156). Most explicit regarding this very issue is Knud Rasmussen in his biography of Christian Julius de Meza – here it is stated that the king and Monrad first visited Missunde, where they thanked the soldiers for having been successful in battle during the day before. Then:

[T]he king, again led by Monrad towards the frontline, visited redoubts I, II and III which were situated between Friedrichberg og Bustrup Dam. […] Monrad, who had never before seen soldiers under battle conditions, now bore witness to the mess created by the fighting and received a strong impression of how exhausted and dispirited the soldiers were (Rasmussen K., 1997: 70, my translation).

If Rasmussen is correct, accordingly Ingemann Sørensen might be wrong, making himself guilty of exactly the same error that he is so keen to accuse Bornedal of: deviating from what Ingemann Sørensen calls “historical reality”, often a most problematic and challenging concept, since, as we know, various histories often differ from each other regarding details both large and small. There is, as stated before, certainly not only one version of history, even if some historical facts can be established by general consensus among historians.

Another problematic detail in Ingemann Sørensen’s review is the way he questions the appearance of Prussian hussars wearing the death’s head marks on their uniform hats. Ironically, he dwells on the fact that this might refer to the insignia worn by the SS during the Nazi regime (not only the Totenkopf Verbände, but also all other SS-units between 1934 and 1945). Of course, the hats were realistically motivated in 1864, referring to the famous Totenkopfhussaren, Prussian crack cavalry regiments, initially formed already in the 1740s, and part of the German army up to 1918 (Sanders, 2004). And the brutal liquidation of a Danish soldier in spite of it being against the rules of war is precisely what modern history connects with war, as in the refreshing sequence in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, where American GI:s murder Germans who have already capitulated – we have always been taught by previous Hollywood films that American soldiers did not do this, but the historical evidence speaks differently, as shown by, for instance, the photographs of Robert Capa.

1864, episode 5: Prussian hussar (Stillfotograf: Per Arnesen). 

But Ingemann Sørensen is of course right about the fact that it was Austrian cavalry that pursued the Danes retreating from Dannevirke and who fought the battle of Sankelmark, and it is from this that my primary critique of Ingemann Sørensen emanates. Why, then does Bornedal present them as Prussians? This is a typical artistically motivated dimension of 1864. The war is shown as taking place between Denmark and Prussia because Prussia was the major belligerent: the nation that fought the big battles – Dybbøl and Als – and who also was the nation that achieved the territorial gains – the duchies – at the peace table. In an expensive production like this, when period style uniforms have to be manufactured by the hundreds, it would have cost substantially more to make Austrian ones as well. Also, to keep the narrative as straight and simple as possible in this regard, the Austrians are just left out, partly a shame, but nothing that really affects the overall artistic quality of the production. In a similar manner, most of Ingemann Sørensen’s criticisms can be met by simple arguments. The medal and the boots are not accurate because they just do not matter; hardly anyone will notice. That de Meza answers the Prussian delegates immediately has to do with narrative flow, and that the names of the Prussian emissaries are not the correct ones has nothing to do with ignorance – Buk-Swienty was the historical advisor and he has certainly got the names correct in his book – but once again with artistic motivation. Often films, novels or dramas will change the little details, just in order to establish the fiction as precisely fiction. It is a well-known interplay between the artistic work and the viewer/reader. The time it takes to storm the redoubts at Dybbøl in 1864 is another typical instance of artistic motivation. It is the major display of war spectacle in the series and of course it is exploited to the utmost (and it is very well done too). And to let Colonel Müller be present at Dybbøl, as well as letting Dinesen take charge of the eighth brigade counterattack has to do with characterization; they are characters that the viewers will need to follow the story according to this particular mode of narration, the Classical one. Also, both men are described in the story as heroes, making them attractive to the viewers.

In short, any of these “errors” were in reality caused by adherence to the generic conventions that most often govern the production of a historical drama, generic conventions that are there because filmmakers and scriptwriters know that the work should contain them in order to reach the millions of viewers who would eventually see 1864. Also, I think that Ingemann Sørensen has mistaken the function of a historical consultant on a film production. It is not necessarily to point out details, but to see to it that the story as a whole conforms to a certain conception of history, as I am sure Tom Buk-Swienty did. Buk-Swienty was also very aware of 1864 as a work of art, as a fiction, as expressed in many of the interviews with him that I have already quoted. Erik Ingemann Sørensen is certainly an expert on history. He does not, however, seem to know anything at all about historical drama, which is a decisive weakness when asked to review publicly a fictional work like 1864.

The criticisms that I have levelled against Ingemann Sørensen do also pertain to other historians and their critique of 1864. In artistic terms, I do not find 1864 particularly exceptional when it comes to the depiction of history. The use of various forms of stylization is very common in historical drama, in order to make a point. Obviously, Ole Bornedal wished to put the blame on the war on the Danish politicians at the time, a perfectly acceptable strategy in a work of art, and he surely had historical evidence to base this reading on. From the debate that this created, however, I do think that the portrait of Monrad was in historical terms a bit unfair, particularly taking into consideration Glenthøj’s detailed criticisms, even if I cannot, as I have already claimed, agree with him that 1864 would make anyone more “stupid”. Perhaps it would have been better artistically to stage Monrad with more realistic motivation. We will never know. Thus, I do find the historical critique of the series to be somewhat exaggerated, and it did generate political consequences that I believe were unintended by the historians.
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6. Politics

6.1 Attacks from the Right

As stated earlier, 1864 contains a framing story, set in the present. Here I wish to attend to it in some more detail. In this story, young girl Claudia is sent by the employment office to care for the aged baron, Severin (Bent Mejding), unable to care for himself in his huge mansion due to old age. Here, she finds the old diary, and she starts to read to Severin. As it turns out, and as I have already stated, Severin had written down the diary in 1939, with his aged grandmother (Inge) dictating the words. The story told is the one we get about Laust (Jakob Oftebro), Peter (Jens Sætter-Lassen) and Inge (Marie Tourell Søderberg) (and the villain Didrich) and their experiences during the Second Schleswig War – Laust and Peter both fight at Dybbøl, and Inge gives birth to Laust’s child, born out of wedlock. As it turns out, Severin is the grandson of Didrich and Inge, Claudia is a descendant of Peter and his Roma wife Sofia, who also takes care of young Laust, the illegitimate son of Laust and Inge. Through Sofia, raped and made pregnant by Didrich, Claudia and Severin – representatives of different social classes – turn out to be related to each other as we learn in episode six.

The aspect that turned out to be most striking in this part of the story, is the fact, as indicated before, that Claudia’s brother was in the Danish army and that he was killed in Afghanistan, thus alluding to Danish involvement in the War on Terror. As a result of this tragic death, Claudia’s parents, particularly her mother, as I have described earlier, suffer from severe depression, and Claudia’s family life is generally portrayed as, to say the least, drab. Thus, it is not difficult to read the connection between the depiction of war-mongering politicians in the past and the political decisions taken by Danish politicians in the present. This dimension of the narrative, read as a critique of current Danish military ventures, caused a lot of consternation among Danish politicians and journalists.

Already when discussing the trailer in the spring of 2014, warnings were issued, as earlier stated, by Henrik Palle, the Politiken TV-editor (Palle, 2014a). He claimed that traditionalistic right-wingers – who commissioned the series – might be disappointed by the criticism of the men in power at that time, criticism that might apply also to contemporary nationalists. Thus, the series might turn out like a boomerang for the bourgeois forces wishing to buy historical satisfaction. Palle was undoubtedly right.

Two days before the broadcasting of the first episode of 1864, Pia Kjærsgaard, spokesman for Dansk Folkeparti, formerly the party leader, raged against the two episodes that she had seen (Blüdnikow and Lindberg, 2014). “I am deeply shocked”, she exclaimed, and continued:

[W]hen we gave the money from Parliament, I hoped that we would get a serious and competent interpretation of the great drama of the 19th century […] It politicises without shame. Contemporary politics interest Ole Bornedal more than the past and it has all gone wrong. […] It is a piece of demagogy and it is completely unreasonable to us who hoped for a serious, historical series, but also to the […] youth who get a completely erroneous version of history. […] It seems pretty clear that Bornedal proceeds from the present time and Denmark’s engagement in Afghanistan. Then he depicts 1864 as if all the unhappy events could be blamed on crazy nationalists, so the comparison with the present is easy to make. That is to politicise. The scenes with the Roma are aimed at Danish immigration policies.

Then she maintains that there were no Roma in Denmark in 1864: ”I guess that Bornedal’s gypsy [sic!] story is supposed to say something about the present and our policies towards foreigners”. (Kjærsgaard is alluding to the group of nomad Roma people who turn up at the baron’s mansion in episode two looking for work, and then stay with the story until the end – sometimes they are exposed to harsh racism, sometimes they are treated in a gentle manner, particularly from members of the lower classes). Kjærsgaard also put the blame on DR. Other politicians interviewed in the same article, however, supported the series and Özlem Cecik of the (socialist) Socialistisk Folkeparti even expressed concern regarding Kjærsgaard’s comments, claiming that it was conservative politicians who initiated the series and that these same politicians were now dissatisfied: “Bourgeois cultural politics at its worst”, Cecik concluded.

A group of nomad Roma in 1864 (Ole Bornedal, DK, 2014. Framegrab) 

Kjærsgaard would, however, continue to attack the series, claiming it to be a “makværk” (sloppily done work) (Frø, 2014), and she would appear in many interviews denigrating 1864 (Bruun, 2014, Sjørvad, 2014). Towards the end of the broadcasting season in December 2014, she would conclude that the Danish nationalistic ethos was caricatured and ridiculed; hence, 1864 was not worth the money (Kjærsgaard, 2014). She also criticised the depiction of three boys masturbating and the young drunken noblemen, led by Didrich, in an act of bestiality raping a cow (Christensen and Børjesen, 2014). Clearly, Kjærsgaard wanted to protect the values connected to the policies of Dansk Folkeparti regarding nationalistic ethos, the War on Terror, and restricted immigration.

Kjærsgaard was heavily supported by fellow Dansk Folkeparti politician Alex Ahrendtsen, who also claimed that Ole Bornedal was using the past to politicise the present (Blüdnikow, 2014, Bruun 2014). Ahrendtsen was also critical of the sex scenes (Burkal Nielsen, 2014) and complained about historical distortions, like the singing of the song “I Danmark er jeg født”, which according to Ahrendtsen was written in 1926 (see Seeberg, 2014a, who claims that the song in reality was written by H. C. Andersen and Henrik Rung in 1850). Another Dansk Folkeparti politician, Søren Espersen, also vigorously attacked the series, claiming that it “falsifies history” and also slanders “one of the greatest politicians of all time” (Lindberg, 2014e, that is, Monrad). Yet, another of Kjærsgaard’s colleagues, Søren Krarup, was active in the debate, maintaining that 176 million DKK [sic!] were used to create left-wing propaganda (Dalsgaard and Pagh-Schlegel, 2014). As a consequence of this campaign against 1864, Dansk Folkeparti put forward the demand that all historical fiction to be shown by DR should be checked for historical accuracy by an appointed group of five professional historians (Burkal Nielsen, 2014). “We demand historical correctness”, Alex Ahrendtsen maintained, “Otherwise a powerful medium like TV will contribute to the distribution of historical errors” (Anon1, 2014).

Well known author Ole Hyltoft, vice chairman of the board of DR, and also a member of Dansk Folkeparti, openly criticised the arm’s length principle, the tenet that politically appointed members of the board cannot have views on programming (Hyltoft, 2014). What the board members do, in reality, is only to appoint the various department heads within the organization. Civil servants, Hyltoft maintained, are not always right. He was extremely critical of the representation of history in the series; particularly, he disliked the depiction of upper-class youth having animal sex as a symbol of the dark sides of nationalism (according to the aforementioned historian, Erik Ingemann Sørensen, the scene with the cow was indeed realistically motivated, Johansson, 2014b). Hyltoft also declared himself critical of the entire venture of turning 1864 into a television series, with Parliament supplying 100 million DKK. The board members were never called upon to discuss the various suggestions for a series on 1864 (here Hyltoft does not remember correctly, since the call was for a historical series in general – only one company, Miso Film, suggested 1864). But as a board member, he could not say no because of the arm’s length principle. The director, Hyltoft concluded, must of course be given artistic freedom, but he could have been given a few ideas as to what was expected.

Dansk Folkeparti’s stance was actually supported by quite a few other writers, even if they did not necessarily subscribe to the party’s politics. A leader in Morgenavisen Jyllands-posten was highly critical against Bornedal (Anon2, 2014), accusing the director of working in a prejudiced manner regarding both past and present. Another leader, this time in Berlingske, attacked DR in general for its cultural radicalism, claiming that “the parallels with the Danish war in Afghanistan are a driving force in the narrative” (which they are clearly not) (Anon3, 2014). Hence, Dansk Folkeparti’s critique of the series seemed to become entangled with the general historical critique, that the series was an “erroneous” representation of history, particularly obvious in Kjærsgaard’s, Espersen’s and Ahrendtsen’s remarks. One does not have to be a specialist in reception studies in order to see that the latter was at least partly made possible by the former, that is, that the professional critique by historians developed into the clearly right-wing political point of view delivered by the politicians.

That does not mean that the challenge from Dansk Folkeparti was not countered by other political interests, it was — but not as much as perhaps would have been expected, given the somewhat controversial nature of some of the views expressed. Thus, Professor of Film Studies Ib Bondebjerg of the University of Copenhagen maintained that Dansk Folkeparti’s notion of indirect political control of historical fiction was clearly at odds with the arm’s length principle, the idea that politicians should stay away from the political content of television productions (Lindberg, 2014f). And Bornedal himself challenged Pia Kjærsgaard’s claim that there were no Roma people in 19th-century Denmark by referring to a specialized book on the matter by human rights scholar Ditte Goldsmith – they had in fact been there since the 1550s (Seeberg, 2014). Bornedal also defended himself by denying the existence of the political angle in 1864. Claudia’s dead brother, the soldier Sebastian, referred to a real person whose parents were the subject of a television series episode, directed by Bornedal in 2010, called “Kære Elena og Niels” (Blüdnikow, 2014, Seeberg, 2014b, Kastrup, 2014a). Bornedal admitted that the reference to Afghanistan could be viewed as an allusion to contemporary politics, with Denmark participating in international wars (Vuorela, 2014). He did stress, however, that his intention merely was to celebrate all Danish soldiers who have given their lives in Afghanistan. “Only 3000 men [sic!] died at Dybbøl, but the shock waves that went through families, lovers, fathers and mothers, were felt throughout the whole country. It is a story about loss and about losing and still to regain a foothold and make the best of it. It is also a story about the days that disappear – every day. And about the tragic beauty of admitting that we all have to learn how to lose” (Seeberg and Erlendsson, 2014b). Bornedal also declared himself to be sorry for the right wing-left wing quarrels triggered by the series, since he had no specific political intentions at all: he just wanted to create a story of war and love in order to engage the Danish people (Kastrup, 2014b). In an interview with Tom Buk-Swienty (Jensen L., 2014), the author acknowledged that he himself often concludes lectures on the events of 1864 with images of Danish soldiers who have died in Afghanistan, thus implicitly supporting Bornedal’s approach.

Bornedal, as stated, personally did try to disarm the criticisms from Dansk Folkeparti, claiming that, for instance, the idea that people did not have sexual intercourse outside – Laust and Inge in episode two – was absurd (Lindberg, 2014a). He would also accuse Dansk Folkeparti of labelling him a “red”, of being the only party demanding political intervention in the writing of historical drama, and of being much more heavily invested in all the nationalistic clichés than everyone had thought: “Dansk Folkeparti has shown an unpleasant attitude to culture that tells me that cultural radicalism is over and that Dansk Folkeparti has won”. Other writers would agree with him, like film critic and film-maker Søren Høy, who firmly established that Dansk Folkeparti won the battle regarding 1864 (Høy, 2014). Pia Kjærsgaard managed to set the agenda by appearing everywhere criticising the series, followed by Søren Espersen. No-one really challenged them, Høy continued, not even Bornedal who just referred to their arguments as “the usual DF shit”. Dansk Folkeparti was able to set the standard, since if one was against 1864 – which many people were – one was automatically following in their wake. Høy even congratulated Dansk Folkeparti for using popular culture as a vehicle for political values, even if it must remain doubtful whether Parliament would ever again make a similar commitment. Or for that matter, whether a director would accept the mission.

Other writers also expressed their support for Bornedal, like author Carsten Jensen who observed that the timing of the series could not have been better, just as Denmark, for the fourth time, entered a war (against IS) after three previous fiascos (Dalsgaard and Pagh-Schlegel, 2014). Other writers who sympathised with Bornedal in this struggle were Bent Liholm (2014), Ole Rasmussen (2014), Søren Otto (2014) and especially Louise W. Lindhagen, who stated that the series had initiated a sound debate regarding both the past and present; she also maintained that modern society was blinded by science, a discourse that as much as anything else was dependent on the eyes that see (Lindhagen, 2014). Even Helle Thorning-Schmidt, at the time Prime Minister of Denmark (social democrat), declared herself to be very well entertained by 1864, and, of course, took the opportunity to criticise her political opponents in Dansk Folkeparti: “Quite simply, I do not believe that DR could make a drama series that DF would like” (Rasmussen M., 2014).
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6.2 The Political Debate Under Scrutiny

Now, in what way was 1864 political, in spite of Ole Bornedal’s denials? How artistic works elicit meanings is, of course, a complex process. Suffice to say that they do, and that these meanings can differ depending on the context of reception and the diverse ideological and other stances of individuals and groups among the viewers or readers. But the meanings inferred by Dansk Folkeparti were certainly reasonable, although I, again, would prefer to differ regarding the problematic issue of “historical correctness”, since, once again, many diverging narratives create what we call history. I would, however, agree that the series generally condemns nationalism, for instance, in the first episode when the schoolmaster (Henrik Koefoed), depicted with deep irony, is teaching the children about the greatness of Denmark and how this greatness must also cover Schleswig, where German speakers will be taught to speak Danish. “No soldier”, the schoolmaster claims, “is as brave as the Danish soldier”. Or when government ministers Lundbye and Hall convince Monrad that they need to spread the message of Denmark’s glory as a modern and democratic kingdom in the same episode, and when Heiberg exclaims “God, the king and the people” to Monrad. Particularly pathetic is the elderly captain (Søren Poppel), encountered by Laust and Peter when they have joined the infantry, who teaches the soldiers about Denmark’s invincible army in episode two. And Monrad’s antics continue all through the series, heavily supported in his nationalistic ethos by, for instance, Didrich’s father, the baron (superbly played by Waage Sandø). No less arrogant is Johanne Luise Heiberg when she in front of the audience at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen bids the Prussians welcome to Denmark to receive a “well deserved defeat”, in episode three. The examples of ridiculed nationalism, and the presentation of its consequences, especially the bloody loss at Dybbøl, are plentiful. In fact, the anti-nationalistic discourse is established already when Inge’s narrative voice-over declares the Danes at the time as being victims of “euphoric stupidity” at the very beginning of episode one. So there is not much doubt that the point of view of the series is very tough on nationalism, an ideology that could be claimed to encompass Dansk Folkeparti.

The series was also quite particular in its stress on the assets of a multi-cultural society, not least in the depiction of the Roma people, led by Ignazio (Zlatko Buric) – the Roma are particularly depicted as generous, tolerant, hard-working and highly musical, as they contribute their sophisticated version of folk music to the harvest home at the end of episode two. Ignazio is a wise man who teaches Peter that all men are good men, even if they are of different nationalities: German, Austrian, Dutch etc. His children – Djargo (Jordan Haj) and Sofia – suffer severely at the hands of Didrich, with Djargo being horse-whipped and Sofia raped, but he survives the war. He even becomes the ancestor of Danes, as is made clear by Claudia’s genealogy, since she is related both to Roma immigrants and the Danish nobility, through the offspring of Didrich’s rape of Sofia. The ties between Claudia and Sofia in the series are suggested by the nose ring that they both lose through male violence, Sofia during the rape, and Claudia to the men beating her up, as she has tried to trick them out of getting their promised and paid-for blow-job. Thus, the series could be read as suggesting the multicultural origin of present-day Danes, presumably not in line with Dansk Folkeparti’s notions of Danish ethnicity.

Regarding the story of Sebastian, Claudia’s brother, who fell in Denmark’s war in Afghanistan, it is hardly surprising that this was read as a critique of current Danish policies, particularly in a story about mad politicians who send young men out to die in war. Accordingly, Dansk Folkeparti’s attacks on the series were in this regard reasonable, depending on one’s political preferences. However, I do not think it was reasonable to dismiss the series as a “bad work – makværk” – just because of its political implications. It is very often one of the objects of art, also of masterpieces like Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vredens dag (The Day of Wrath 1943), to be explicitly or implicitly political (I am consciously stating the obvious); even if everybody does not agree with the ideology expressed, it can surely be an excellent artwork. Artists do and really should express political opinions in artistic form: it is one of the many prerequisites for art as a practice. Of course, they can also choose not to, if they prefer. And the distinction between explicit and implicit political commentary in a work of art should not be conflated with the distinction between declared intention and interpretation.

I have earlier on many occasions stated my doubts about notions of “historical correctness”, and this goes also for the way it was used by the spokespeople for Dansk Folkeparti. The idea of having historical drama checked for historical accuracy by professional historians, in its turn, is completely alien to what I perceive to be a modern, censorship-free democracy, characterized by freedom of speech. To me, it is quite surprising that this rather provocative suggestion did not elicit more debate. An obvious reason is once again the fact that the historical debate had managed to establish that 1864 lacked historical correctness; hence, I think, it became difficult to defend on other grounds. It even became, as Trine-Maria Kristensen maintained regarding the debate in social media, “fashionable” to criticise 1864 (Giese and Stilling, 2014).

I also have some problems with the moralizing aspects of Dansk Folkeparti’s critique regarding the representation of sexuality: the rape of the cow, the boys masturbating, or the sexual encounter between Inge and Laust on the beach (already commented upon by Bornedal as an absurd censure, with which I have to agree). In an interview, Helle Kannik Haastrup, a film scholar at the University of Copenhagen, maintained that a modern TV-series like 1864 is characterized by ingredients like reflexivity, cinematic aesthetics, narrative complexity, and an artistically elaborate title sequence (Mikkelsen, 2014b). All of these are partly represented by the many allusions in the series to Bernardo Bertolucci’s great film 1900 (1976). Somewhat surprisingly, 1900 was only mentioned twice in the Danish press reception, once, en passant, by Bornedal himself (Lindberg, 2014a) and once by author Ib Michael in an attack on Pia Kjærsgaard and Dansk Folkeparti (Michael, 2014), blaming Kjærsgaard for not being able to see 1864 as fiction. These allusions are pretty obvious. At the beginning of 1900, the camera zooms famously and gradually out from Giuseppe Pelizza da Volpedo’s iconic painting “Il Quarto Stato” (1901), depicting the Italian working class assembling to face the struggles of the new century. In 1864, similarly, during the title sequence the camera zooms in the same manner out from Vilhelm Rosenstand’s war painting “Fra forposterne i 1864” (1896), with the Danish soldiers firing behind the mound, an indirect and elegant quotation from 1900 despite, of course, the use of a different painting. In the same way, the depictions of a pastoral idyll and communal feasting in the mansion’s barn refer to Bertolucci’s depictions of Italian fin de siècle country life. The boys masturbating, moreover, connect to a scene in 1900, where the two boys – the young farming boy Olmo and the young country squire Alfredo – equally engage in adolescent sexual practices. I believe that the cow scene somehow also derives from 1900, as the images of the girl milking the cow in 1900 are clearly sexualized when the aged landlord greedily looks at her (the landlord famously played by Burt Lancaster in a scene that now probably would be regarded as paedophilic). 1864 is, of course, much more negatively charged in that the cow scene clearly signifies the moral degeneration of Didrich and his upper class buddies, but the general atmosphere is clearly carried over from 1900. Interestingly, the broadcasting of 1864 coincided with a motion by Dansk Folkeparti and other parties to impose laws against bestiality in Denmark; this made Katrine Hornstrup Yde (2014) highly critical of Pia Kjærsgaard’s inability to read the scene as a critique of decadent moral values.

Side30_IlQuarto Stato
Giuseppe Pelizza da Volpedo: "Il Quarto Stato", 1901 (Associazione Pelizza da Volpedo).  

Wilhelm Rosenstand: "Fra forposterne i 1864", 1896 (CC license). 

One could easily add “overt sexuality” to Kannik Haastrup’s characterization of the modern TV-series. In reality, 1864 is quite mild in its depiction of sexuality – despite bestiality and rape – as compared to huge successes like the HBO series Rome (2005-2007) or Game of Thrones (2011-), probably because 1864 was devised as prime time television. But the television series has undoubtedly managed to renew and revitalize itself since the 1990s. One dimension of this renewal is the overt depiction of sex, which to me is as natural a development as it was for the similar emergence of the highly acclaimed European art cinema of the 1960s, with sexually charged works like Ingmar Bergman’s Tystnaden (The Silence, 1963), which controversially showed sexual intercourse (albeit simulated) as well as female masturbation. Now, of course, The Silence is a highly regarded classic of world cinema.

Even if Dansk Folkeparti was perfectly justified in criticising the ideological aspects of 1864 that were contrary to their preferred policies, they clearly lacked aesthetic sophistication in their appraisal of a piece of historical drama, presenting quite naïve readings of the series, initially based on just two episodes, and also being unfamiliar with any of the aesthetic conventions that usually govern cinematic narratives or the content of an ambitious, modern TV-series. An artwork has the right to be political, it often is, and it does of course not always fit the preferences of all its readers or viewers, for example emphasising the value of a multicultural society to people who are against it. That does not, though, turn it into a “makværk”, Pia Kjærsgaard’s chosen expression. I am not sure, however, if I think it was the right thing to do when Ole Bornedal publicly denied the — to me— quite obvious political implications that he had written into 1864. Maybe his ideological kinsmen, of whom there obviously were many among the writers in the Danish press, could have given him more support had he acknowledged different intentions in this regard. Nobody can know for certain.
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7. Aesthetics

7.1 The Ratings

Before getting into the aesthetic dimension of the critique of 1864, I will need to account for its impact in terms of audience ratings – the press duly reported the ratings after every single episode, sometimes emphasising the loss of viewers as the numbers gradually went down (Jeppesen, 2014), sometimes even mockingly (Kastholm Hansen C., 2014a). Taken as a whole, the ratings were (quoted from Kjær, 2014):

  • Episode 1: 1,690,000
  • Episode 2: 1,682,000
  • Episode 3: 1,508,000
  • Episode 4: 1,139,000
  • Episode 5: 1,209,000
  • Episode 6: 1,237,000
  • Episode 7: 1,086,000
  • Episode 8: 1,170,000

This means that the average number of viewers per episode was 1,341,000. Compared to other major Danish television series the ratings proved slightly lower (for instance, Arvingerne: 1,709,000; Forbrydelsen 3: 1,497,000). At DR, the Head of Drama Piv Bernth blamed the negatively charged press debate for having made audience numbers smaller than hoped for (Kjær, 2014); she also added that she felt the debate had been at a very low level. Even if ratings say little about artistic quality, they do say something about the level of appreciation among viewers, and to me the figures tell me that 1864 still was a great popular success, after all, albeit not quite matching Arvingerne or Forbrydelsen, both extremely well written and executed pieces of television drama and deservedly huge successes.
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7.2 The Film Critics

How then, did the Danish press receive the eventual artistic qualities of 1864? Well, since the material is huge I will have to concentrate my account. All episodes were normally given individual reviews by the major papers, and after the eighth and final episode they contained conclusive reviews of the whole series. I will look into these conclusions, as well as at the individual reviews of the episodes. Politiken, for instance, chose to assign each review to a chosen specialist in a particular field, a highly stimulating strategy, since it provided some of the most insightful and subtle criticisms of 1864 available, which I will address later.

Let me start with some of the most critical reviewers, Henrik Queitsch of Ekstra Bladet, Nanna Frank Rasmussen of Morgenavisen: Jyllands-Posten, Sørine Gotfredsen, mainly in Kristeligt Dagblad, and Jesper Elsing in Berlingske. I will also add Claes Kastholm Hansen, chronicler in Berlingske, who wrote a few critical articles, quite aggressively, on the series.

One of the fiercest critics of 1864 was accordingly Henrik Queitsch, film and music critic. Already after the first episode, he complained about the narration being too pedagogical, with the viewer being given too many narrative cues, although he praised Dan Laustsen’s cinematography – the only dimension of 1864 that would be unanimously commended by nearly all critics (Queitsch, 2014a). He also dismissed the framing story, with its finger pointed at the fact that Denmark is still at war. He disliked the Macbeth metaphor as just too excessive and he also stated that some of the money spent should have been used on a script doctor. Queitsch would go on to complain about overt symbolism, like Bismarck and von Moltke playing with tin soldiers, and about the parodic representation of Roma people (Queitsch, 2014b). He also disliked the more intense moments, like Heiberg stepping on Monrad, or the whipping, while quoting Hegel, of a Roma. He even thought 1864 a scandal because of its low quality, and that Bornedal obviously found his audience “deaf, blind and stupid” (Queitsch, 2014c). He disliked the scene in episode three when Claudia finds Severin in bed, with his lower body covered in faeces. “What was the point”, Queitsch lamented, “maybe it was some kind of metaphor for what we were going to see – to say it with Bornedalian subtlety”. The love story (Inge, Laust, Peter) was indifferent, according to Queitsch (Queitsch, 2014d), and the compulsory moments of shock just tedious, like the amputation of a limb, or the men in the bar trying to pay Claudia to perform fellatio on them. He would particularly focus on Inge as the narrative voice-over, literally wishing her to “shut up” since everything was over-determined by too many indications (Queitsch, 2014e). Furthermore, the character of Johan (Søren Malling), the good soldier with supernatural powers – healing, premonitions, and hypnosis – was out of context, like a Jesus figure. The fact that Severin and Claudia prove to be related is over the top, and all sex scenes are connected to shame and guilt – what is Bornedal trying to say! Regarding the battle scene in episode seven, Queitsch commented that the slow motion technique was just another way for Bornedal to underline that any resemblance to reality was out of the question. In his concluding review after the whole series, Queitsch gave 1864 two out of six stars and attacked all the clichés he saw in it, such as only the common people being sensible, and the generally bad dialogue (Queitsch, 2014f).

Nanna Frank Rasmussen, film critic at Jyllands-Posten, did initially comment on the historical debate, maintaining that 1864 was a fiction and that – wisely, I think – the discussion should be focused on that fact (Frank Rasmussen, 2014a). She also complained about the mixing of past and present, which detracted from concentration and identification. Later, Frank Rasmussen would use harsher language; the Roma people in episode two seemed to be something taken from Asterix and Obelix (Frank Rasmussen, 2014b) The modern part, with Claudia and Severin, appear to be like a “Julekalender”, that is, a Christmas programme for children. She also complained about narrative redundancy, that Bornedal employs showing and telling simultaneously, thus over-determining the images – “It is like using a tampon and sanitary towel at the same time”. She continued, however, as stated, to stress that the debate ought to leave the questions of history out of it, and instead concentrate on 1864 as entertainment, serious TV-drama and infotainment. And she would criticise the series for its sexist depiction of women and that it was poor artistic judgement to show Severin lying in his own excrement in episode three (Frank Rasmussen, 2014c). Frank Rasmussen also complained that the director had been allowed to write the whole script himself (Frank Rasmussen, 2014d). The script contained many misplaced moments, like Claudia regarding a LP record as a relic of the past, making Sofia another young mother, Nicolas Bro’s overplaying of Monrad and the clairvoyant Johan hypnotizing the German soldiers. Regarding the character Johan, the old soldier with the supernatural powers, she would find him involuntarily comic, such as when he cures Laust by pulling a bit of ice from his chest. 1864, she maintains, mixes influences from stories like Fox’s television classic X-files (1993-2002) and the movie 9½ weeks (Adrian Lyne, 1986) (Frank Rasmussen, 2014e). And she deplored the revelation that Severin and Claudia were related, as if in A Christmas Carol. Frank Rasmussen, however, did approve of the war scenes in episode seven, and particularly praised the sound men, Martin Saaby Andersen and Nino Jacobsen (Frank Rasmussen, 2014f). Finally, she would conclude her reviews by awarding the series four out of six stars, particularly emphasising that 1864 would mostly be remembered as collective spectacle, as illustrated by the debate. Fittingly, Frank Rasmussen thought that the series provided its own epitaph in episode eight, when Monrad, one final time, visits his muse Heiberg after the devastating defeat at Dybbøl and she delivers a final speech to him:

It is past. It just did not work. That is how it is. Sometimes the show is an overwhelming success, sometimes a fiasco, and all one’s work is just forgotten. It is a very sad feeling. And one runs around feeling melancholy for a while. Then one forgets. That is how it is.

So much for Nanna Frank Rasmussen.

Sørine Gotfredsen, a sometime television and radio critic for Kristeligt Dagblad, a vicar, a trained media scholar and an occasionally controversial participant in the public debate, entered the discussion of 1864 in an article for Berlingske (Gotfredsen, 2014a). Here, she claimed that the ironically depicted school master in episode one, teaching the children about the glory of Denmark, in reality had a point in that nationalism, the love of Fatherland, is an actual part of people’s conception of reality. Later, she would review the series in Kristeligt Dagblad, claiming that it was directed with a heavy hand and with symbols that were far too obvious in their moralizing politicisation (Gotfredsen, 2014b). Regarding a radio program, she reported on two historical experts on Monrad saying that in 1864 he was depicted as too “crazy”, although he was certainly not of completely sound mind (Gotfredsen, 2014c). She would also complain that she did not think Bornedal had followed the modern development of television dramaturgy. There is no identification with the characters, Johan’s tricks are too mysterious, the Roma provide a perspective on the evil white world, and the female narrator drives everybody crazy (Gotfredsen, 2014d). 1864, Gotfredsen adds, would have been better as a film in the cinema, where the audience is given time to get into the narrative world. Television must be immediate and 1864 is just not. It is, as Nanna Frank Rasmussen also stated, like a “Julekalender” and the symbols are cut from granite.

Jesper Elsing, television critic at Berlingske, employed a wide intertextual frame of reference in his critique of 1864 (Elsing, 2014a). Thus Claudia was a version of the rebellious Lisbeth Salander character in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium-trilogy (of which the books were published 2005-2007; the film adaptations premiered in 2009). Severin, in his turn, was Dickensian. Young Inge’s references to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, however, were superfluous. Monrad and Heiberg are not depicted as people, but as part of Bornedal’s puppet theatre. Bornedal showed a split between the sensual and the didactic, and seemed to use his overloaded dialogue and script as if to hammer home his points. But Elsing also praised the cinematography and the music (by Marco Beltrami) as signs of its high level of ambition and high production values. Later, Elsing would criticise 1864 as being to overplayed and too self-evident (Elsing, 2014b). The figures appear to be cardboard cut-outs. The scenes from the present just seem to be added randomly. The Germans, though, are skillfully represented as they play with tin soldiers, prefiguring their grand military schemes. Elsing also attacked Bornedal for explaining everything and that “nothing is left to the spectator” (Elsing, 2014c). And he compared the series to the geography of Switzerland: “High mountains and deep valleys” (Elsing, 2014d). Sometimes it is bad, sometimes masterly, as in the tableaux inspired by Tarkovsky. Bornedal’s bombastic style works best in the war scenes. At one point, the character Didrich states nastily that “The small dramas are always the greatest” in response to Peter’s violent attack on his brother, having learned that Laust had had sex with their mutual girlfriend Inge; on this point at least, Bornedal himself should have listened to Didrich, Elsing muses. Elsing would also comment on the break with realism, as when Johan hypnotizes the Prussian soldiers, making it possible for his group of Danish soldiers to sneak through the heavily guarded Prussian lines before Dybbøl. Indeed, 1864 is a generic mix, according to Elsing: magic realism, the spirituality of Asian movies, Shakespearean power drama, slow pace à la Terrence Malick. Furthermore, he thought that the Prussian hussar is made up to look like the main orc from The Hobbit (Peter Jackson, 2012-2014). And Claudia and Severin are just boring in the first four episodes. Elsing would even lament how good 1864 could have been, with its actors and impressive production design, if it had had a more than mediocre script (Elsing, 2014e). At least, Inge nearly shuts up in episode 6; she is not a character who moves us, and the story of Claudia and Severin should have been excised. It is also a shocking moment, Elsing claims along with many other critics, when Johan operates on Laust. Episode seven, finally, with the battle of Dybbøl, Elsing maintains, is the point where Bornedal shows his real strengths as a film-maker by exposing the human slaughterhouse. Still, Elsing in his conclusion would give 1864 only three out of six stars, complaining about a melodramatic story of strong women and evil male sexuality (Elsing, 2014f). Bornedal has also dignosed Danish self-satisfaction, centering on its own smallness. The significance of the relation between Severin and Claudia is not explained, somewhat oddly, since Bornedal otherwise uses a hammer to make his points. Inge’s role as the voice-over is a failure and Johan is a 19th-century Obi Wan Kenobi (referring to the magical powers of the Alec Guinness/Ewan McGregor-character in the Star Wars-cycle, George Lucas, 1977-2005). Interestingly, Elsing concluded that Parliament’s instruction to DR, to provide the Danes with knowledge of important events in Danish history, had actually been fulfilled by the press debate itself.

Finally, Claes Kastholm Hansen, author and arts journalist, formerly the editor in chief of Ekstra Bladet, exhibited deep irony in his regard for 1864 (Kastholm Hansen, 2014b). The series, he thought, is dilettantish and suffused with clichés and caricatures. Bornedal, however competent, should never have been allowed to both direct and write. Kastholm Hansen also attacked Per Stig Møller for giving the mission to DR; the independent film companies should have been awarded the contract. Later, Kastholm Hansen would accuse the series of lacking structure (Kastholm, 2014c). He also mentioned the historical criticism levelled at the series, which would not have mattered had the series worked artistically. But it does not. Bornedal is polemical and didactic and the series characterized by its petty bourgeois realism. The politicians and the generals are regarded from the point of view of children. Bornedal’s understanding of history goes no further than Bismarck on the floor playing with tin soldiers, Kastholm Hansen concludes. In fact, Bornedal has been let down by DR, who should not have accepted him as both director and scriptwriter since nothing in his earlier career had indicated that he would be able to handle that responsibility. In a direct political assault on Bornedal, Kastholm Hansen claimed that the depiction of the super-talented Bismarck as a war mongering idiot and the talented Monrad as a loser was that it was beyond his comprehension to do otherwise (Kastholm Hansen, 2014d). The resulting concoction was a mixture of Marxist clichés that otherwise thrive in the newspaper Politiken! All according to Kastholm Hansen.
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7.3 A Somewhat Different Point of View

There were many, many other negatively charged comments on 1864 in the press. But the sample covered expresses most of the aesthetic complaints aimed at the series. Here, I would like to add my own polemics. Even if I do, after repeated viewings (at least seven), think that 1864 occasionally is a great work of television art, I am certainly not as keen on it in all respects. Critics complain about the too-obvious symbolism and the tendency to both show and tell at the same time, such as when Inge’s voice-over informs us of things that are made clear already by the visual language. I have not been disturbed by this in particular, more so by the failure of the basic love story between Laust, Peter and Inge to engage me emotionally. I cannot pinpoint with any exact terminology why this should be the case; it just fails to do what a really well made melodrama does (for the sake of simplicity, we might compare Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara as played by Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind, 1939). Peter Schepelern, a Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Copenhagen, also refers to Gone with the Wind as functional melodrama, when he maintains that the story of Laust, Peter and Inge lacks relevance in respect of the whole series (Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen, 2014b).

Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood, US, 1939. Excerpt from the poster).  

As fashion expert Niels Pedersen points out in his Politiken review, the story of Laust, Inge and Peter was probably inspired by François Truffaut’s classic Jules et Jim (1962), where two men, Jules (Oscar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre), tragically love the same woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), and both have intimate relations with her. But Truffaut’s film does engage this viewer, at least, in a completely different way. Maybe this has to do with the gradual decline of the character of Inge as Mari Tourell Søderberg plays her. From a strong-hearted, brilliantly played young heroine by Fanny Leander Bornedal, she appears essentially pathetic towards the end, when she agrees to marry Didrich and lets go of her son by Laust. Of course, she is depicted as a tragic victim of war – her lover Laust is dead and her other potential lover, Peter, is also dead to her (even if he has survived as a prisoner of war) – but there is also something missing in her character. Also, the persona of Didrich, well played as he is by Pilou Asbæk, is often just too single-mindedly evil to be understood coherently in psychological terms, even for a melodrama.

Furthermore, I must admit to having some problems with the extended scenes of popular comedy, as when the soldiers sing and dance together in the trenches before the outbreak of the Prussian artillery bombardment in episode seven, or when the aged captain falls dead from his horse in episode three, or during the party in the barn in episode one, where Didrich brags to the children about his deeds in the First Schleswig War and later tries to seduce Inge, who, as she cheekily remarks, is “just a child”. The many casual conversations between the soldiers about love and women, particularly those involving Erasmus (Esben Dalgaard Andersen) or Alfred (Jens Christian Buskov Lund), do not move me either, even if I am sure that they are there to enhance realism (Dinesen, on the other hand, is a spectacular character of great dramatic interest). Yes, I agree that the dialogue in scenes like these is not always top notch. The melodramatic effect of Peter returning home to his mother in episode eight does, however work on me, despite it being a bit of a cliché. This is maybe because of the stunning visual effect of the white sheets blowing in the wind to dry against the background of the pastoral beauty of Denmark; the sheets as a visual effect can be traced back to the beginning of Dreyer’s Ordet ((The Word, 1955), or to the ending of Andrzej Wajda’s Popiol i diament (Ashes and Diamonds, 1958), where the dying character played by Zbigniew Cybulski famously hides among the many drying, white sheets.

Side35_hvidelagener 1864_framegrab
1864, episode 8: Peter returning home to his mother ( Framegrab).

But there is much more to appreciate. Many writers complain about the character of Johan as out of context. Johan can hypnotize people, he is a healer, he can look into the future and he is genuinely good, and helps his fellow soldiers to cope, when he does not outright save their lives. After Johan’s appearance in the series in episode three, and particularly as he started to display his magical powers, the press characteristically matched him with a real person, a former lighthouse keeper, Johan Larsen, who had reported to the Danish army as a private at the age of 42; in reality (surprisingly!), he had none of these powers and actor Søren Malling had to explain that he was turned into a fictional character, an exciting addition created to be mystical (Rise Børjesen, 2014). In what to me appears as an unintended parody of the historical debate, one paper even interviewed various clairvoyants, a numerologist and a medium in order to find out whether Johan was “correctly” depicted as supernatural (Thomsen, 2014). The interviewed, unsurprisingly, thought not, particularly not the life-saving operation on Laust.

Søren Malling as Johan (standing) in action (1864, Ole Bornedal, DK, 2014. Framegrab). 

Maybe I have seen too many Ingmar Bergman films, where rational conceptions of being are often challenged, as in Ansiktet (The Magician, 1958), or indeed in films or TV-series by Lars von Trier, like Riget (The Kingdom, 1994), the latter being obviously influenced by Bergman’s repeated satire regarding medical doctors. But I do quite enjoy Johan. Malling, whose sense of understatement is just striking, particularly when he cures Sofia’s dumbness in episode eight, plays him brilliantly. In 1864, I see the connection of this character to another intertextual source, a source that I found it puzzling that no Danish reviewer mentioned. That is, of course, the overwhelming Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye) in one of the most tantalizing moments in Danish cinema history: the resurrection of the dead Inger (Birgitte Federspiel) in, once again, Dreyer’s Ordet (The Word, 1955). Dreyer’s general influence on 1864 is otherwise obvious to me in the shape of the many Vilhelm Hammershøi-inspired tableaux of framed 19th-century interiors of farmhouses – the visual connection to Hammershøi was also mentioned by Thomas Bredsdorff in his Politiken-review (Bredsdorff, 2014). The close connection between Dreyer and Hammershøi has been duly explored in the anthology Hammershøi – Dreyer: The Magic of Images (Rosenvold Hvidt, 2006).

Preben Lerdorff Rye as Johannes (standing) in Carl Th. Dreyer's Ordet (Palladium, DK, 1955). 

Critics also disliked the entire framing story, some, as stated, even comparing it to Christmas stories for children (cf. Gotfredsen and Frank Rasmussen). To me, it is certainly not like a Christmas story; I find the tale of Severin and Claudia extremely moving, especially since it is so well played by Bent Mejding and Sarah-Sofie Boussnina. Severin teaches Claudia about history, and Claudia teaches Severin about modernity. It is a wonderful relationship of class transcendence, culminating in the witty scene in episode eight where a uniformed Severin introduces the dressed up and bejewelled Claudia into the culinary mysteries of Danish institutional food, delivered from the municipality. A “sauce brune” and “saucisses con grasse” Severin declares, all consumed with a bottle of superb Burgundy. But there are also the realities of the everyday when you are very old and incontinent like Severin, as in the scene in episode three when he has fouled his bed and Claudia has to wash him in a touching moment. I think Queitsch’s remark, “that maybe it was some kind of metaphor for what we were going to see”, is just nasty, facile, top-heavy with aggression, and not useful film criticism at all (Queitsch, 2014c), although he was not alone in making remarks regarding this (Frank Rasmussen, 2014c, Jensen H., 2014). Elsing compared Severin with Dickens, which I think is generally right (Elsing, 2014a). But many reacted against the disclosing of the blood relationship between Severin and Claudia (stemming as it does from Didrich and Sofia, as Peter adopts the child, Peter junior), claiming it had no particular meaning. Well, I think it does, sympathetically trying to show that Danes of different classes and ethnicities have a common source, as already indicated. Also, the device is particularly Dickensian, as the author made it his habit to disclose these kind of relations towards the end of his melodramatic novels, as in Great Expectations (1861), where Magwitch turns out to be not only the foster father of Pip, but also the biological father of Pip’s beloved Estella.

It should also be stated that the framing story, excellent as it is to me, was not there only for aesthetic or ideological reasons. Clearly it was part of the original commitment from the politicians, and in the original letter sent from DR to the various film companies, it was, as stated before, mandated that “the connection between then and now should be made clear to the viewer” in the proposal (Enggaard Hansen and Fyhn Christensen, 2014a). The framing story was clearly Bornedal’s take on this part of the mission.

Regarding literary allusions, some were critical of the Shakespearean connections. Besides the quoted sample, this group included Anita Brask Rasmussen of Information, who wrote two highly critical articles on 1864 (Brask Rasmussen, 2014a, b). But I found the literary allusions challenging, particularly since they were recurrent. These allusions encompass not only Macbeth and A Midsummer Nights Dream, as already mentioned, but also Monrad’s quotation from As You Like It, when he declares “All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players” (2:VII) — to the delight of Heiberg (and myself). It could be mentioned that the technique of using Shakespeare as an illustration in historical fiction is certainly not uncommon. A film that is very close to 1864 in spirit, Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), a protest against war, nationalism and military senselessness in its depiction of the Crimean War (1854-57) and particularly the British cavalry attack at Balaclava in 1854, also actually chose caricature as a major aesthetic strategy. Additionally, the protagonists in that film visit a performance of Macbeth in the theatre, where the witches’ evil tidings prefigure the impending military disaster.

In one way I think that the critics were right when choosing to focus their aesthetic appreciation of the series on aspects other than the historical representation, or, as Nanna Frank Rasmussen maintained, “concentrating on 1864 as entertainment, serious TV-drama and infotainment” (Frank Rasmussen, 2014b). This was undoubtedly because the historians had already condemned the historical representation. Still, this was a shame, I think, because 1864 is at its best regarding historical representation of high politics. In saying this, I do not wish to denigrate the historical assessment by experts, merely to suggest that history is here recreated by spectacular means, however “true” or not. Accordingly, I think the German scenes are some of the most accomplished in the series, with superb acting contributions by Rainer Bock as Otto von Bismarck, Heikko Deutschmann as von Moltke, and Dieter Montag as King Wilhelm I of Prussia (later Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany). In particular, the scenes with Bismarck and von Moltke on the floor in episode two, playing with the children’s tin soldiers, indicate Bismarck’s master scheme of German unification in a highly cinematic way: by drastically wiping away the soldiers on the floor the scene indicates the ruthless Prussian expansion also after the First Schleswig War, with Austria defeated in 1866, and France in 1871. In episode eight, Peter is seen walking through Germany on his way back home, and here he encounters the Prussian army, once again marching, this time towards Königgrätz, where the Austrian army, the former ally against Denmark, was smashed. Here, Elsing seems to agree with me, though Queitsch clearly did not. I find Kastholm Hansen’s claim that Bismarck is depicted as an idiot incomprehensible.

The Germans in the field are no less interesting, with the emerging generational conflict between the aged commander in chief Wrangel (Hans-Michael Rehberg), and the rising Red Prince (Barnaby Metschurat). Wrangel, depicted as slightly senile, exactly like Lord Raglan (John Gielgud) in Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, keeps referring to the enemy as the “French”, reminiscing in episode four about the glory of learning from Napoleon nearly 50 years earlier. Regarding eccentric generals, though, no one can beat Søren Sætter-Lassen’s portrait of general de Meza, a piano player wearing a fez, whose fear of cold air makes him barricade himself in a room where visitors will have to pass lanes lined with furniture in order to reach him, all aspects of his character based on historical knowledge (Rasmussen K., 1997). In spite of his eccentricities, de Meza and his subordinate Major General du Plat (Jens Jørn Spottag), are portrayed as the most sensible among Danish upper-class people in the series; in an interview, Tom Buk-Swienty did point to de Meza as the greatest hero of the entire story (Anon4, 2014). He pulled the army out from Dannevirke, despite knowing that he would be dismissed by Copenhagen. I am a bit surprised that no critic commented on de Meza’s role in 1864.

In some ways, 1864 works as a political thriller, and here it thrives, for example, in all the scenes at The Royal Theatre in episodes one and three, in the heated discussions between Monrad and the new king, Christian IX (Henrik Prip) in episodes three, four and eight, and in the scenes in London, particularly in episode three. I also wish to point to the very strong representation of war, both the battle of Missunde in episode four, depicted from the soldiers’ point of view, standing in reserve, far behind the barrier of Dannevirke in a long shot, and the tremendously staged Battle of Dybbøl in episode seven with its realism, intensity, and emphasis on the grotesque aspects of war. Surely, nothing even close has ever been done in Nordic cinema before.

There are many, many other artistically fine moments in 1864, and my story so far might seem to suggest that I was the only one who saw them, given all the harsh criticisms hurled at the series in the press. I was certainly not, however, and I wish to end this account of the debate regarding aesthetics in order to get into the positive reception of the series, primarily represented by articles published in Politiken. As stated earlier, Politiken engaged a cadre of mostly external experts to review the individual episodes of 1864. They were often as critical as other reviewers, but took the drama seriously in a way that I feel stands out.
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7.4 The Politiken-reviews and Other Affirmative Comments

The first episode was reviewed by Henrik Palle, the TV-editor himself, who gave it 5 out of 6 hearts (Palle, 2014b). Despite the historical critique, Palle maintained, it worked as entertainment. Bornedal’s way of binding the past to the present was courageous and it was great to see Monrad, one of the political icons of Danish history, crawling around with his backside bare. Pertaining to the cinematography by Dan Laustsen, Palle thought that nothing like it had even been shown in Denmark before. Martin Zerlang, a Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen gave episode two only 3 out of 6 hearts (Zerlang, 2014). Putting emphasis on the overwhelming representation of the Danish countryside, he claimed that it was inspired by the Danish painters of the golden age. Niels Pedersen, the fashion expert, gave episode three 3 out of 6 hearts, commenting on the splendid work by costume designer Manon Rasmussen, and analysing in detail some of the characters’ clothing. Thomas Bredsdorff, mentioned earlier, praised the series for its historical awareness, good acting, and superb cinematography, awarding episode four 4 hearts (Bredsdorff, 2014). He did feel, however, that the drama was lacking – Bornedal could tell a story about the youngsters, but not one about the political drama behind it (that is, much the opposite of my own earlier claim). The series would become one of Denmark’s great works, for its images, its direction, its acting and its courage. It would, however, have benefited from the involvement of a professional playwright, with the right sense of drama.

Episode five was reviewed by Colonel Lars Møller of the Danish armed forces, giving it 3 hearts (Møller, 2014). Møller, unsurprisingly, complained about the lack of verisimilitude regarding the representation of 19th-century warfare, since the battlefields lacked the compulsory fog of smoke, caused by the intense artillery bombardment. Gender Studies specialist Elisabeth Møller Jensen reviewed episode six, giving it 5 hearts (Møller Jensen, 2014). She admitted to not liking the first three episodes, but now she had become a keen viewer. She really appreciated that Bornedal let Inge and Sofia represent the emerging women’s movement in their insistence on working as nurses in the field hospital. Disappointingly, there were no Monrad and Heiberg-scenes in the episode, otherwise a demonic duo. Møller Jensen subtracted one heart from her rating because of Johan’s operation on Laust. Film Studies Professor Anne Jerslev of the University of Copenhagen awarded episode seven 5 hearts (Jerslev, 2014). She praised the depiction of war, Bornedal’s direction and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography; she did, however criticise the series as melodrama, the genre of “great emotions”, which should ideally strive for subtlety, which was not Bornedal’s strength. She also thought it was too didactic and that not enough was left to the viewer. In his conclusive review of episode eight, Henrik Palle gave the series 4 hearts (Palle, 2014c). Here, he praised the overarching narrative about how fanaticism and blindness lead to disaster, and also noted that “we” got something for the 173 million DKK. At its best, the series achieved international quality. The role played by horses, cannon and pathos was nice for a change. There was some overplaying, but Nicolas Bro managed to deconstruct his own caricature by adding the demonic aspect. Bent Mejding was very good as Severin, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina as Claudia best of all. Palle did, however, also criticize individual scenes like the rape of the cow, the boys collecting the semen after masturbating, and Johan’s clairvoyance. He also complained about sometimes-impossible dialogue, slow narrative progression, and the neon light exposure of the morality of the series.

The Politiken reviews, I think, represent some of the most serious discussion of 1864 in the press reception, but another paper was quite affirmative too, namely the evening tabloid B. T. In this paper, the film critic Niels Lind Larsen wrote a series of appreciative reviews, even giving episode seven, the battle of Dybbøl, 6 stars, which he claimed to be a tour de force for all involved in the series (Lind Larsen, 2014a). This was, however, somewhat ironic since the historian Erik Ingemann Sørensen, as earlier noted, simultaneously bashed the episode in the same pages of B. T. (Ingemann Sørensen, 2014f). Lind Larsen would claim the series worth every krone, not least for the costumes and Dan Laustsen’s images, and he was quite fond of the pairing of Nicolas Bro and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Monrad and Heiberg (Lind Larsen, 2014b). He did, however, also, like many others, complain about the representation of the Roma people as clowns, speaking Danish as if in a circus (Lind Larsen, 2014c).

Politikens collective review was, accordingly, not only positive, but also critical, I think, in a more constructive way than many of the other Danish papers, and it was certainly an ambitious journalistic idea to have the various external experts reviewing the series. Actually, the obvious answer to the army colonel’s point of view, that battles should realistically be covered in smoke, would be that then one could not see the battle. But a realistically depicted battlefield, all covered in smoke and explosions, has certainly been presented before as in the spectacular Waterloo (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1970), although that film also has its obvious weaknesses (like the completely unrealistic close-ups of riding generals). My slight bias here towards Politiken’s coverage of 1864 should not hide my appreciation of the professional standards of Danish film reviewing in general, even if I in this case did not generally agree with the reviewers.

There were also more distinctly positive voices regarding 1864. Famous actor Ulrich Thomsen certainly does not agree with my assessment of Danish film critics. He, even quite aggressively, defended Ole Bornedal (Lindberg, 2014g), praising the director for his courage: “Ole is really good and he dares to stick his nose out”. Film reviewers, Thomsen continued, are generally incompetent and their reviews are mostly influenced by their own bad mood. Similarly, Ole Christian Madsen, the acclaimed director of Flammen & Citronen (Flame and Citron, 2008), complained about the limited Danish outlook, that people actually believed there was only one version of history and could not see fiction for what it was, an attempt to achieve emotional effects (Lindberg, 2014d).

This article, I think, takes into consideration the central dimensions of the aesthetic reception of 1864. The general impression, it seems to me, is that the series was harshly criticised, although not really as harshly as it first appeared; it also had quite a few defenders, even if they were in a minority. Over and above the harshest critics, like Quietsch and Kastholm Hansen, it seemed like most reviewers tried to find at least something of worth in the series, and many of their criticisms were certainly reasonable while being based on their individual value judgments.

There are, of course, many, many more articles in my sample, but they seem to say similar things to those I have accounted for. Also, of course, I have plenty of additional views myself, having only accounted for a trickle, but I reckon that the time has now come to draw some conclusions. The last part of my study, the final chapter so to speak, will thus try to make some general remarks regarding the Danish debate on 1864.

_92A6942 - 1864 - Epi. 4, sc. 418 - MOLTKE (Heikko Deutschmann) & THE RED PRINCE (Barnaby Metschurat)
1864 (Ole Bornedal, DK, 2014. Still: Per Arnesen). 

8. Some Concluding Remarks

1864 was, as stated, a huge film project by Scandinavian standards. It was also produced by what is probably the most internationally successful of the Scandinavian film and TV- industries, at least regarding artistic prestige, and many Danes appear to me to be proud of their TV-series. Also, it concerned an important event in Danish history, the Second Schleswig War in 1864, particularly the Battle of Dybbøl, well known by many Danes, and historical drama is certainly one of the most popular film and TV genres. All this must have created heightened expectations among journalists, film and TV-people, historians and politicians, as well as among the general audience (like myself), as can be deduced from many of the press articles that I have been citing. I do think that this historical background provided 1864 with positive connotations for most people and worked in order to pave the way for the series’ eventual success.

However, 1864 was also met with hostility already before the premiere of the series, because of the fierce attack on it by the professional historians, mainly Rasmus Glenthøj, who employed various rhetorical devices, like the series being “considerably worse than I thought” (Fyhn Christensen, 2014), in order to firmly make his mark; by using the word “worse” he seems to imply that he had no confidence in historical TV-drama as such, which to me just sounds prejudiced. Glentøj’s remarks, of course, carried all the signs of a classic power struggle regarding whose history should be given precedence, particularly as he had his own big book 1864 in the works, a book that was built on a different interpretation of the historical events. Even if Glenthøj’s critique was generally intellectually sound, and highly relevant to the topic at issue, I think it is quite unique that it received such penetrating power in the media landscape. That professional historians react against what they perceive to be amateurish depictions of past events is a very common occurrence when it comes to historical drama: sometimes the historians are right, sometimes the critique is more problematic since they do not realize that modern historical drama nearly always has been checked for reasonable accuracy by other historical experts than themselves. Sometimes, as I have argued, artistic motivation will be given precedence, as was often the case in 1864. And the historians do not seem to have been aware of the artistic conventions that guide an artwork like 1864. Usually, though, this kind of critique will not harm the reputation of the artistic work as much as in this case. The reason, I think, was the publicity 1864 generated as well as the subject of the series itself – clearly a matter of general national concern. And accordingly well worth a fight. As I have stated before, I found the reactions from the historians somewhat exaggerated, maybe even unreasonable at times, even if they certainly contributed to the intellectual level of the general argument. Certainly, not everyone did. Several film scholars were consulted during the debate, and they seemed to – as I would have done and am also busy doing – cautiously defend 1864 and the notion of historical drama on film. But they never received the same public attention as the historians. That something can be proven “false” is always a very persuasive argument.

Another important aspect was the fact that the series obtained a special grant from Parliament, the 100 Million DKK, thus making it into a politically charged event, earning the series what I suppose was unmatched publicity even long before it was actually produced. The cost became the object of considerable anxiety in the press, with mocking headlines like “360,416 crowns per minute” (Kastrup, 2014c) in Ekstra Bladet, and also some early ideological quarrels that I have already accounted for. The sheer expensiveness of the project, though, most certainly worked against the potential success of 1864, since the decisions of politicians of whatever stripe are always contested. Thus, 1864 carried an ideological burden already from its inception, being the product of the right-wing Danish government of 2010. On the other hand, when the series was broadcast, it soon became clear that it contained an alternative ideological outlook, one that indeed implicitly or explicitly criticised right-wing values, instead cherishing what some called a cultural-radical tendency (Beinov, 2014). Thus, 1864 had in a way bitten the hand that fed it, which was obvious in the criticism it received from, for instance, Dansk Folkeparti.

Dansk Folkeparti’s harsh critique of the series was clearly entangled with the historical attacks – among the critical points that Glentøj delivered was the one that the series used the past to politicise the present (as if this was something inherently wrong!). Pia Kjærsgaard and her political colleagues clearly used this argument to attack aspects of the work that ran counter to to their conception of contemporary politics, e.g. the War on Terror, immigration policies, even issues of sexual morality. Since 1864 had been judged as being historically “erroneous”, this perceived deviance pertained also to other matters. As with the historians, the politicians seemed not to be aware of historical drama as a cinematic genre, even if Per Stig Møller, as the debate was heating up in 2013, quoted Émile Zola’s dictum that an “artwork is an artwork” (Carsten Pedersen and Thorsen, 2013).

These initial interventions also, I think, influenced the aesthetic reception, in spite of Nanna Frank Rasmussen’s call for a debate on 1864 regarding its aesthetic merits (Frank Rasmussen, 2014b). When the series appeared, quite a few journalists rejected it on aesthetic grounds, however. Its relative slowness, the uninhibited emotional display, the sometimes outrageously satirical acting (Nicolas Bro as Monrad being the prime example), clearly alienated critics and viewers alike, and it is not too hard to understand why. This aversion towards 1864 can also at least partly be explained by the fact that it had just one author, director and scriptwriter Ole Bornedal, who was given a huge responsibility, something that in itself is not always pleasing to everybody. Despite Bornedal’s undoubted qualities, he does possess an idiosyncratic style, with wide melodramatic sweeps, undaunted sentimentality, and an urge to at all times enlighten his audience about what the narrative is really about (although I was, as stated before, not disturbed by that particular strategy).

But he also has considerable visual flair, a command of stylish mise en scène, and a pure sense of cinema – as well as a bias towards the overly dramatic. I would consider his film style a bit anachronistic for 2014, which is not necessarily a critical remark. Actually, he does partly remind me of the British/Hungarian pair of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who made some outstanding British films in the 1940s and 50s in overwhelming Technicolor, filled to the brim with cinematic fireworks, such as the equally pastoral Gone to Earth (1950), with whimsical dialogue, slow narrative progression, and high-strung drama. Powell and Pressburger also had a terrific sense of the war film, as shown by their The Battle of the River Plate (1956), with the fight between the German pocket battleship Graf Spee and the British cruisers staged on the sea like a ballet. Powell and Pressburger went distinctly out of fashion with the surge of the realistically inclined European art-cinema of the 1960s. I think that Bornedal, too, is in conflict with the realist codes that tend to dominate in the public sphere, at least regarding historical drama. I have seen Bornedal’s earlier films and I think that 1864 clearly is his best work so far.

Most critics also seem to agree with me that the melodramatic story of Laust, Peter and Inge does not engage the viewer well enough in order to carry the series. Critics started to look for other qualities in the production, but seldom found them. I certainly did and I would also like to emphasise that 1864 gains considerably from repeated viewings (as I myself experienced). There are so many brilliantly conceived little details in the episodes that compensate for the lack of a fully functional melodramatic narrative. Even if I have already mentioned several of these moments, another one would be the subtle and profound acting contribution by Jens Jørn Spottag as the admirable divisional commander General du Plat, who tragically falls during the storm of Dybbøl in episode seven (since no one has commented this scene I have myself dutifully checked the reasonable historical accuracy of the mise en scène in Svendsen, 2013: 195). Still another example, this one from episode five, would be Severin showing off to Claudia the present given to him by Karen Blixen, Dinesen’s war-torn sabre, comparing it to the shiny one owned by his own grandfather, the cowardly Didrich. Or for that matter, when H. C. Andersen (Stig Hoffmeyer) is devastated to be interrupted reading “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” to a private bourgeois audience, when the uplifting news of the war against the German Confederation arrives in episode three.

If there is one definitive conclusion that can be drawn from the debate surrounding 1864, it is that the original political initiative behind it, from Per Stig Møller and others, to give “a hundred million DKK for the production of a historical drama series of high quality, that can provide Danes with knowledge about important events in the history of Denmark” must be regarded as a spectacular success, as Jesper Elsing also claimed (Elsing, 2014f). The TV-ratings were after all very good, but the debate in the press, and on the Internet, was certainly overwhelming, probably making it hard for most people in Denmark to avoid it. Hans Hauge wrote a few very short, and very witty, remarks on 1864 in Berlingske. One of them just stated: “All Danes know what 1864 is. A highly debated TV-series” (Hauge, 2014c). How could one possibly have missed hearing about it! As for myself, I am quite certain that 1864 will eventually also become a Danish TV classic, despite some of its many forgivable faults.

The author would like to thank Dr. Lars-Martin Sørensen, Professor Ib Bondebjerg, and Dr. Claire Thomson for their invaluable help in getting this text finished.


1) A very short comment on theory and method needs to be inserted. In almost all cases, I have decided not to burden this text with references to film scholarly works, neither on reception nor on the complex relationship between history and film. This has been in order to make the text as generally readable as possible. I have, however, worked in both these fields for a long time and have been influenced by many different works. The book that first formed my outlook regarding reception was Janet Staiger’s Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema, which stressed reception studies as “understanding historical processes and the struggle over the meaning of signs” (Staiger, 1992: 15). Regarding history, the first book that I read that made clear the epistemological difference between historical drama and historiography was American historian Robert Rosenstone’s Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History (Rosenstone, 1995), a book that would also be mentioned in the reception of 1864.


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Anon1 (2013), “Gråbøl og Kaas klar til ny søndags-serie”, Ekstra Bladet, 12 March.
Anon2 (2013), “’1864’-producent opkøbt”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 7 November.
Anon1 (2014), “”Bør Folketinget i fremtiden sætte historikere till at fakta-tjekke DRs historiske dramaserier”, B. T., 21 October.
Anon2 (2014), “Politiserende DR”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 12 October.
Anon3 (2014), “Fiktion og fortid”, Berlingske, 13 October.
Anon4 (2014), “Tom Buk-Swienty, B. T., 12 October.
Beinov, Jesper (2014), “’1864’ er værdipolitik”, Berlingske, 14 October.
Bergløv, Emil (2014), “Nu taler Danmark igen om Monrad”, Politiken, 19 October.
Bis. (nom de plume, 2014), “Norge bakker ud af TV-serie om 1864”, Berlingske, 26 June.
Bjerge, Rikke (2014), “Nu raser krigen om krigen”, B. T., 13 October.
Blüdnikow, Bent (2014) ”Massiv historikerkritik af Bornedals storserie”, Berlingske, 9 October.
Blüdnikow, Bent and Kristian Lindberg (2014), “DF-storm på Ole Bornedal”, Berlingske, 10 October.
Bo, Michael (2014), ”TV-drama”, Politiken, 28 December 2014.
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Carsten Pedersen, Marie and Lotte Thorsen (2013), ”Slaget om sandheden”, Politiken, 21 March.
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Egebo, Karen Sofie (2014), “Et stykke ’1864’ på Fyn”, Kristeligt Dagblad, 14 October.
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Elkjær, Jakob (2011b), ”En ordentlig gang kanonbulder”,  Politiken, 19 February.
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Elsing, Jesper (2014a), “Se mig, hør mig, føl mig!”, Berlingske, 13 October.
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Elsing, Jesper (2014f), “Da Bornedal satte ild til sin egen serie”, Berlingske, 1 December.
Enggaard Hansen, Michael and Mikkel Fyhn Christensen (2014a), ”Dramachef satte alt ind på 1864”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 11 October.
Enggaard Hansen, Michael and Mikkel Fyhn Christensen (2014b), “Gumpetungt tv og rå debat”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 1 December.
Erlendsson, Kirsten (2012), ”Det store slag genskabes”, B. T., 11 May.
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Frank Rasmussen, Nanna (2014b), “Har Bornedal ingen tilltro til seerne?”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 20 October.
Frank Rasmussen, Nanna (2014c), “Stadig kun igang med et tamt forspil”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-posten, 27 October 2014.
Frank Rasmussen, Nanna (2014d), “Stadig en tåkrummende opplevelse”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 10 November.
Frank Rasmussen, Nanna (2014e), “Krigshistorie på den overnaturlige måde”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 17 November.
Frank Rasmussen, Nanna (2014f), “Lyt til soldaternes sidste hjerteslag”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 24 November.
Frø (nom de plume) (2014), “Pia Kjærsgaard: TV-serien ‘1864’ er et makværk”, Politiken, 11 October.
Fyhn Christensen, Mikkel (2013), ”Skytsengel og massakre ved Dybbøl i Tjekkiet”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 26 June.
Fyhn Christensen, Mikkel (2014), “Værre, end jeg frygtede”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 4 October.
Giese, Ditte and Oliver Stilling (2014), ”Da Dansken gik i krig mod ’1864’”, Politiken, 30 November.
Glenthøj, Rasmus (2014a), 1864: Sønner af de Slagne, København: Gads Forlag.
Glenthøj, Rasmus (2014b), ”Rationel galskab?”, Weekendavisen, 10 October.
Gotfredsen, Sørine (2014a), “Bornedal’s lærer har en pointe”, Berlingske, 18 October.
Gotfredsen, Sørine (2014b), “Et selvhøjtideligt førergreb”, Kristeligt Dagblad, 21 October.
Gotfredsen, Sørine (2014c), “Kampen om Monrad”, Kristeligt Dagblad, 23 October.
Gotfredsen, Sørine (2014d), “Slaget er tabt”, Kristeligt Dagblad, 18 November.
Hauge, Hans (2014a), “Buk-Swienty”, Berlingske, 21 October.
Hauge, Hans (2014b), “Styrkelse af danskheden”, Berlingske, 25 November.
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Henriksen, Lars (2013), ”Nyt liv til fortolkningen af krigen i 1864”, Kristeligt Dagblad, 22 March.
Hesseldahl, Morten (2013), ”En tv-serie for alle danskere”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, 24 October.
Hornstrup Yde, Katrine (2014), “Ville Pia Kjærsgaard være blevet forarget hvis det var ‘sigøjnere’ der havde voldtaget en ko i tv-serien 1864”, Information, 23 October.
Hornung, Peter Michael (2014), ”Fra militære nederlag til kunstneriske sejre”, Politiken, 12 October.
Hyltoft, Ole (2014), “Hvorfor lader DR Bornedal spille fandango med 1864”, Berlingske, 23 November.
Høy, Søren (2014), “DF vandt slaget om ‘1864’”, B. T., 4 December.
Ingemann Sørensen, Erik (2014a), 1864 – En guide i krigens fodspor, København: Gyldendal.
Ingemann Sørensen, Erik (2014b), “Hvem – hvor – hvad”, B. T., 27 October.
Ingemann Sørensen, Erik (2014c), “Bornedal tæt på den historiske virkelighed”, B. T., 3 November.
Ingemann Sørensen, Erik (2014d), “Bornedal når Dybbøl med bind for øjnene”, B. T., 10 November.
Ingemann Sørensen, Erik (2014e), “Så kom krigens galskab”, B. T., 17 November.
Ingemann Sørensen, Erik (2014f), “Bornedals totale kollaps”, B. T.,  24 November.
Jensen, Mogens (2011), ”DR kan lave fint drama om 1864”, Politiken, 22 February.
Jensen, Lasse (2014), “Når fortidens krig skaber mere debat end nutidens”, Information Weekend, 11-12 October.
Jensen, Henrik (2014), “Heldigt, at vi mistede Slesvig-Holstein”, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten. 1 November.
Jeppesen, Kathrine (2014), “604 000 har droppet ‘1864’”, Ekstra Bladet, 25 November.
Jerslev, Anne (2014), “Krigen når sit klimaks i lyd og billeder”, Politiken, 24 November.
Johansson, Susanne (2014a), “Da Danmark knækkede halsen”, B. T., 12 October.
Johansson, Susanne (2014b), “Jeg har 1864 i blodet”, B. T., 26 October.
Kastholm Hansen, Helle (2013), ”Bornedals blodbad”, Ekstra Bladet, 22 March.
Kastholm Hansen, Helle (2014), ”Krig og kærlighed”, Ekstra Bladet, 2 October.
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Kastrup, Kim (2014c), “360 416 kroner per minut”, Ekstra Bladet, 13 October.
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Mikkelsen, Morten (2014b), “Derfor fik vi debatkrig om ‘1864’”, Kristeligt Dagblad, 21 October.
Mikkelsen, Morten (2014c), “Hver søndag grimmer Monrads tipoldebarn sig”, Kristeligt Dagblad, 23 October.
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Palle, Henrik (2014a), ”Politisk historieskrivning og TV-drama”, Politiken, 13 March.
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Queitsch, Henrik (2014a), “Løst krudt”, Ekstra Bladet, 13 October.
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Suggested citation

Hedling, Erik (2015): The Battle of Dybbøl Revisited: The Danish Press Reception of the TV-series 1864. Kosmorama #261 (www.kosmorama.org)

Erik Hedling / Professor of Film Studies
Lund University, Sweden

Erik Hedling is Professor of Film Studies at Lund University, Sweden. Among many books and articles, he is the author of Lindsay Anderson: Maverick Film-maker (London: Cassell, 1998). His new book on Anderson, the anthology Lindsay Anderson Revisited, is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan.

Suggested citation: Hedling, Erik (2015): The Battle of Dybbøl Revisited: The Danish Press Reception of the TV-series 1864. Kosmorama #261 (www.kosmorama.org)