Saturday, October 28, 2017

1864: Danish television (remember the Borgen series?) hits it out of the park once again

Lovers of Danish television need hear but one word -- Borgen -- to have that love erupt all over again. (You could also add the words The Bridge or The Killing for further effect.) I may be speaking too soon here, since I've only seen two of the eight episodes in this nearly eight-hour series, but those two hours are good enough to have me add the Danish TV series 1864 to my list of Best Television Ever.

"I am the times that have disappeared," explains our narrator, a lovely young woman named Inga (shown three photos below), near the series' beginning. Almost immediately those times appear in all their beauty, glory and finally horror.

1864 is a year that will resonate with any remaining Americans who know or care about history, due to our own Civil War, which was in full flower that year. In the Denmark of 1864 occurred what is said to be the bloodiest battle in Danish history. How and why this came about, along with what happened to the series' three main characters -- Inga and the two brothers she loves, Peter and Laust -- because of this, comprise a good portion of the series, created by Ole Bornedal (shown at right and maybe best remembered over here for the original Nightwatch movie). Interestingly, 1864 moves back and forth between that titular year and present day, as we meet a young student and her drug-addled boyfriend (below) in a history class during which those earlier times are being studied.

How these two centuries come together, thematically and dramatically, provide much of the series' wonder and charm, but the real kicker -- the consistent pièce de résistance -- is how each and every scene I've viewed so far has been been expertly chosen for meaning and resonance, and then written, directed and acted to near-perfection.

This would be breath-taking, except for the fact that we're so glued to things like plot and incident, not to mention the enormous beauty of the sets and cinematography, that we hardly have time to oooh and ahhhh to the degree that we ought (and normally would).

Initially, at least, the series seems utterly and devastatingly anti-nationalistic, and this could hardly come at a better or more necessary time to perhaps stall the western world's devolution. Bornedal is giving us a wonderful history lesson here, from which we have much to learn.

Whether we're seeing/hearing the patriotic stupidity being taught in the classroom of the time, or hearing the same -- but via so much more intelligent-sounding blather -- come from the lips of the politicians of the day or their mouthpiece, here being put in touch with his emotions via a famous actress of the time  (Borgen's own Sidse Babett Knudsen, above), we're privy to quite a bundle of words and ideas.

1864's great cast includes another Borgen stalwart, Pilou Asbæk (shown at bottom, right), playing here the son of the wealthy landowner in whose employ the family of those two brothers (above) works. Inga is herself the daughter of his estate manager.

Along the way we get some Shakespeare (Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream), plus scene after scene that is, by turns, enchanting, shocking, funny and always rich. By the end of episode two, we're nowhere near war, but if 1864 keeps up its pace and amazements, it is sure to make Danes of us all.

Available via MHz Choice, the series, all by itself, ought to make worthwhile the cost of an entire year of this unusual streaming service -- which is dedicated to the best in international television. For more information on 1864, click here.

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