The clock is ticking. Like a bomb that is about to set off, the penultimate episode of Danish drama 1864 comes as the blast we have been waiting for. The episode is indeed one long battle sequence, excluding a few intercuts here and there. We had the privilege of watching it screened at Nordicana 2015 and it did not only stand the test of the big screen, but we kind of wish we could see the rest of it at our local cinema!
After the retreat from Dannevirke, the Danish troops are trenched at the front. The Prussians have deployed all their men and cannons. The chess pieces are set, although these are men made of flesh and blood and, when a soldier asks whether this is ‘a war or a slaughter’ we are told that that is not a question but an affirmation. It’s like the electric tension before the thunder and in a montage sweeping across space and time we see the main characters waiting, some with anticipation, some with fear, others with insanity, while an ominous clock ticks aways. Then, the cannons are fired. Thunder. The night sky is lit by the cannon balls darting in the air. Next, the Danish trenches come under a rain of fire and death. Meanwhile, Inge goes into labour. It is perhaps one of the most powerful and effective battle sequences you have seen and, once again, it’s raw and brutal. Soldiers from both armies fall prey of fear or succumb to mad frenzy, but the show never over-romanticises its depictions of war. There is little heroism – what prevails is the instinct to survive.
The morning comes, it’s a sunny and bright day. After all, wars aren’t only fought in the kind of rainy and dramatic weather that Hollywood taught us. The bliss is short as the Prussians move to attack. Peter’s battalion is sent forth but a lack of clear orders means his men go ahead before the time. They fall like flies under the enemy’s fire. Seeing no escape, Peter heads back to find his brother Laust. Meanwhile, the rest of the Prussian troops storm the Danish trenches. The dead are many among both armies but eventually the Prussians overpower the Danes. Didrich abandons his men and flees for his life but he’s wounded. Peter finally finds Laust – seeing Didrich incapable of reacting, he carries him on his shoulders but he is intercepted by a German soldier. The rifle fires. Peter watches impotently while Laust is shot and killed, like many other young man and generals. It’s a burning defeat but where there is death there is also life and Inge gives birth to a healthy child, a child Laust knew no of before dying. Finally, despite the heavy losses and the human disaster Denmark has incurred into, the government, headed by Monrad, rejects once more the peace treaty proposed by the Prussians and the British…
Episode 7 of 1864 is now available on the BBC iPlayer and we urge you not to miss it.