1864, Episode 3 and 4 – Review ****

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On Saturday, the Danish historical drama 1864 returned for a double bill on BBC4. As for the first two episodes, we follow the storylines of our main characters as they unfold within the narrative frame of Inge’s own diary.

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In the present time, the relationship between teenage Claudia (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina) and the 98 years old blind baron Severin (Bent Mejding) goes through some up and downs when the baron unintentionally insults the memory of Claudia’s brother, who died in Afghanistan. Back in the past, as the shadow of the war lurks ever so closer, we see brothers Laust and Peter training in the army for the bloodshed neither them, nor their generals can anticipate. Amongst the new recruits is also Johan (Søren Malling), a mysterious war-veteran who people believe capable of foretelling the future. Meanwhile, Inge continues her exchange of letters with both Peter and Laust but the seed of their future rivalry is planted when Laust begins exchanging secret letters with his sweetheart. In Copenhagen, the heirless King Frederick VII dies. The new King, Christian IX, is convinced by Monrad to sign a new constitution that would include Schleswig in the Danish kingdom despite that being against the peace treaty signed in 1851. This violation is seen, indeed, as an act of war. As a result, the German troops begin their march North. As Mrs Heiberg emphatically announces during her performance at the theatre as Lady Macbeth, Denmark is now officially at war.

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Following the declaration of war, the Danish troops gather at Dannevirke, a defensive fortification which stood since 500 AD and was seen as the symbol of Denmark undefeatable force against the invaders. However, the Germans begin their attack during the winter, by which time the flanks of Dannevirke are made easily accessible through the frozen river. Peter, Laust and the young Danishmen who enlisted in the army are faced with the true horrors of war for the first time. On the other side, young Germans are slaughtered in a failed frontal attack against the Danish front. While the government, headed by Monrad, continues in a blind celebration of the war being fought, the King and the generals are confronted with the reality – Dannevirke will not be impregnable for long. Thus, the generals decide to cut the contacts with Copenhagen and retreat North, where they hope they will be able to form a better defence. Meanwhile, a letter wrongly delivered to Peter instead of Laust reveals the intrigue that has been going on behind his back. The treachery splits the brothers apart, metaphorically and literally: Peter volunteers himself to take part in a risky operation and Laust marches on with the rest of the troops. Unbeknownst to Laust, Inge is pregnant with his child…

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After the long set up in the first two episodes, the third instalment of the series is slightly slower on the pace, with not much happening, and stands more as a transitional step between the idyllic rural life before the war and the grimness of the battlefield. But, this all prepares us for the free-fall into a war which, in a short excursion into Victorian England is described by British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (James Fox) as something which only: “The Prince Consort, who is dead; a German professor, who has gone mad; and I, who have forgotten all about it” truly understood. The belief that the whole country was possessed by some kind of general madness is neither subtle nor hidden – throughout the episodes we meet several characters who are seemingly delirious, sometimes grotesque. Their feverish proclamations of war come with a whiff of dark humour – in fact, we come to think, as Claudia expresses whilst reading Inge’s diary that they were indeed “all mad”. The battle sequences are both unadorned and unsung portrayals of a manslaughter which decimated young men on both factions. There is no epic slow motion, no over-dramatised battle charge, no heroism. We stand at a distance and we watch through the soldiers’ eyes as they watch cannons blowing men apart and as the screams of those left wounded on the battlefield fill the air. It is indeed a cringing spectacle few other films have dared to show…

Once again, 1864 is not to be missed and now available on the BBC iPlayer.

Elisa was born in the small town of Udine, Italy, where she made her first short films. Aged 18 she moved to London where she achieved a degree in Film & Broadcast Production with her film "A Tragedy", based on William Shakespeare's "Macbeth". She recently pursued a Master degree in Screenwriting for TV and Film thus joining the group of struggling writers. Ssst! She's brainstorming.