The sick thing about war (besides all the war) is that a hell of a lot of hear-to-believe, heart-twisting tales come from when humans group together to murder other groups of humans.
1864: Denmark's War, available on SBS On Demand, is no exception. Here’s the rub on the luscious, cinematic multi-generational miniseries...
1850s Denmark was a society overtaken with pro-war patriotism
Kids in school are taught of Denmark’s world supremacy, and that the large proportion of German-speakers in the country are not recognised. Not only that, but the poor sods are taught that the Danish flag was a gift God dropped from the sky, to mark Danish supremacy, and even scream "Hooray" every time they hear the story.
This is the kind of place where kids enact mock battles in the fields and scream “Satan’s German – bang!”
Here, soldiers are deified, and killing Prussians makes you a celebrity
When Danish soldiers return from a successful skirmish with the Prussians, they receive a Beyoncé-style reception. They maintain the demeanours of unphased heroes until, behind closed doors, their psychological damage over the brutality of war comes to light.
But this is 1850s Denmark, and pro-war propaganda and the ease of Danish success on the battlefield trumps any individual's darkening soul.
2010s Denmark is a society where barely anyone cares about the war
The gorgeously recreated 19th century Denmark is counterpointed with flash forwards to the now, when a pair of juveniles escape the boredom of a school-organised history tour of the battlefields and share a smoke.
The male is your typical jerk, mocking a headstone that celebrates the fallen by falling over then asking someone give him a monument; the female (who calls him "idiot" under her breath) has a lot more on her mind, and seems somehow linked to what we’re watching in the past.
The trio of friends is played by fantastic child actors
Narration comes from the elderly voice of Inge, who as a youth was part of an ironclad three-way friendship with two young brothers, Peter and Laust.
They aren’t portrayed as your typical kids. The first time we meet the brothers, they are discovering masturbation through a mutual friend. When the boys are in their hiding spot and tell the angelic Inge to piss off, she harangues them with the plot of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, claiming she’d rather choose death than have to choose between Demetrius and Lysander. The three then bond over a swim in the lake.
Over the series, this friendship grows and continues until and through the great war of 1864.
It’s beautiful and sometimes poetic
Even with the translated subtitles, the poetry with which our narrator speaks isn’t forced and detached like in Terrence Malick’s later work. This is narration that adds to the world - inflected with wisdom and insight that elderly Kate Winslet could have benefited from when retelling Titanic.
Narration aside, this thing is gorgeous. The sense of era is meticulous, and largely unseen by us down under. It paints a glorious picture of Denmark, despite their involvement in bloodshed away from the Danish public’s eyes – bloodshed that will no doubt end up on this faux-utopia’s doorstep.
It’s a loving nudge to our funding bodies
Fair enough, our industry doesn’t boast the same injection of cash as the Danes. They’ve proved themselves a nation that can provide ongoing quality drama. But we can take a lesson from this – we have a rich history beyond Gallipoli and the ANZACs. There are periods in our history, whether related to war or not, that are ripe for drama.
I strongly believe there’s an audience for these kinds of shows, and that we don’t have to tell different versions of the same old stories that clarify the same old Australia.
Good on you Denmark, and keep it coming.
Dive into a riveting and untapped perspective on history with the entire series of1864: Denmark’s War on SBS On Demand.
From 7 June, it's also available Tuesdays at 10:30pm (AEST) on SBS.
Watch the first episode right here: