COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark has launched a new television series that it hopes will emulate the global success of its previous hits Borgen and The Killing but, eschewing contemporary murder and political twists, it has moved into an entirely new landscape — historical drama.
With the same actors and producers as the Scandinavian Noir dramas that were watched by millions around the world, Danish state-funded broadcaster DR says ‘1864’ keeps the same recipe of character development and melancholy to get viewers hooked.
The series, the first episode of which aired on Sunday, follows the childhood friendship of two brothers and a girl, which turns into an emotional love triangle as they grow up in the years leading up to the 1864 war with Germany.
Denmark suffered a humiliating defeat in what is known as the Second Schleswig War, for which the brothers volunteer.
DR’s Head of Drama Piv Bernth said the show has already been signed to air in Britain on BBC4 and although moving into period drama, traditionally a BBC forte, was a departure she hoped others could relate to.
“1864 is a tale about the birth of a nation and about how Denmark rises after the loss of land to Germany, and I believe that many other countries can relate to that, as all European countries more or less were at war in the 19th century,” Bernth told Reuters on the phone while in Cannes.
Bernth, who was also the producer of The Killing, says despite the BBC and other contracts, DR has always stayed loyal to its main audience.
“We make television for Danes, being a Danish public service station. You cannot design something just to go abroad ... But sometimes you just hit the right note and it becomes relatable outside the country’s borders,” she said.
Nevertheless, viewers outside of Denmark will recognize some of the faces of ‘1864’ such as Borgen’s prime minister Sidse Babett-Knudsen, Borgen spin doctor Pilou Asbaek and The Killing’s superintendent Soren Malling.
The director, Ole Bornedal, wrote and directed 90s thriller Nightwatch, starring Ewan McGregor and Patricia Arquette in the English version and the then unknown Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the Danish version.
In the Danish media, the series has had a mixed reception — but so did The Killing and Borgen.
Critics have called the war drama with its slow dialogue, frosty Nordic lights shimmering through beech forests and mud-splattered soldiers, everything from amazing to boring.
But soon viewers in Britain, Sweden and 1864 victor Germany, which have also signed broadcasting agreements, can make their own judgment. American broadcasters will be approached later.
“It is about human dilemmas and being in a situation under pressure, not just about war, and that is universal,” Bernth said.
Editing by Sabina Zawadzki and Hugh Lawson