Laust and Peter at war
Oh, but this really is superb.
The 2014 Danish historical drama about a part of European history that most will find obscure continues to demonstrate that intelligent writing and first class acting are unmatchable when it comes to drama, and that it is increasingly shameful that Denmark can do this so regularly whilst the UK TV industry can only achieve anything comparable in tiny bursts of intensity, usually relating to serial killers and/or violence to women.
Two further episodes in, we are starting to get a clearer grasp on the structure of the series. Now that Peter and Laust Jensen are enrolled into the Danish Army, the two historical periods have merged (except in Inge’s opening sentences each week, harking back to their idyllic youth, now gone beyond retrieval), and the contemporary frame of the nose- and lip-ringed Claudia and the old Baron is starting to come into some kind of focus.
Let’s deal with this first. Peroxided Claudia starts off episode 3 in unsympathetic mode, chewing gum and listening to deafening modern-type music whilst stealing graveyard flowers from one grave to put on another, but then it’s off to the Baron’s place. She finds him in very hostile manner, this stemming from deep shame at having shit himself in his bed, and the camera doesn’t shrink from showing this. But, despite her disgust, Claudia actually gets down to cleaning him off and, impliedly, changing his bed and cleaning his sheets before resuming her reading of Inge’s diary (albeit with a purloined jewelled bracelet in her back pocket).
Indeed, the thoroughly modern girl is, despite herself, getting involved in the story, and particularly that of Inge and Laust. She’s desperately demanding to know the ending, do the lovers get together? The Baron’s need for sleep cuts off that spoiler, but she and we do learn that Inge is his grandmother.
Then, in the second half of this double-bill, the Baron goes off on a ‘youngsters-of-today’ rant that’s amusing Claudia until he turns to war, warfare and the basic weakness of Danish youth as opposed to the ‘real men’ of the past, forgetting until a fusillade of fucks comes from the girl that her brother has been killed on service with the current Danish Army. His contrition is real and his apology genuine, though Claudia doesn’t get to receive this until she has tried to pull a sordid scam on three creepy blokes in a pub, and got her nose busted for it.
Though the soap-operaish relationship is the link between the two eras, it’s very good to see how small a role it plays. A lot happens over these two episodes, none of it dwelt-upon at unnecessary length. Though Inge puts on the front of loving both the Jensens equally, and they too agree rules that forbid either to send her letters without the other first reading them, Laust and Inge are soon going behind Peter’s back, guiltily but unstoppably. And there’s one further element: he’s got her pregnant.
Then there’s the complication of Didrich, the Baron’s son, who (in his own, dangerous head at least) also loves Inge, but is reduced to demonstrating by forcing silent Sofia, the gypsy’s daughter, to put on one of Inge’s dresses for him, and then raping her, an attack she will not reveal for decades.
Revealing her pregnancy is an eye-opener for Inge. Since it is not Didrich’s child, which would be alright, her mother disowns her and throws her out. And a letter in camp handed to the wrong Jensen brother spills the beans and leads to another disowning, Peter of Laust.
Where all this will lead is interesting from the very little amounts of attention being given to it, but I am now utterly fascinated with the picture of a forgotten war. Episode 3 deals with the descent into war, with King Frederick frustrating the Prime Minister Bishop Monrad’s insistence on war by dying, but the idiot Monrad just goes on to manipulate his successor, King Christian over the fact that he’s German-born and needs to put his people at risk of death and destruction in order to prove he really has Danish interests at heart…
The instrument of war is a new Danish constitution that claims Schleswig as part of Denmark, in breach of all the treaties signed after the Three Years War. Denmark expect support from England but in a beautifully played serio-farcical scene, Queen Victoria (the inimitable Barbara Flynn) and her Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston (James Fox), England agrees that it cannot possibly send men or weapons, though it will send sympathies. And I was howling with laughter when Palmerston took time to carefully explain the complexities of the Schleswig Question (what about Holstein?!) with the exact story I mentioned last week.
The Constitution produces the desired effect: Prussia and the German Confederation declare war on Denmark. A chance to emulate the glories of 1848! Except that that’s really not going to happen, and we’re told this in no uncertain symbolic terms at the start of episode 4 when the Jensen brothers’ platoon sets off for War, singing jolly War songs, following their aged Captain on his horse, until he dies of old age in the street and the horse leads them all into a back courtyard.
Really though, the symbol runs jut ahead of the reality as the troops arrive at the great traditional impregnable fortress of the Danevirke, only to find it decrepit beyond belief, with no barracks. Oh, and their new Captain is Didrich. From there it can only get worse, and that doesn’t even happen until after the happy-go-lucky boys get to see what war is really like, with the unflinching eye of the camera ramming it all home to the audience in a totally matter of fact manner.
As I mentioned last week, Soren Malling joined the cast for this pair of episodes, as Private Johann Larssen, aka The Light Keeper. Why Larssen has this nickname is yet to be disclosed, but he’s already something of a legend, the oldest private in the Army (though he’s promoted to Colour Sergeant before the evening is over). Larssen is the Old Soldier, and I’m prepared to bet that his nickname comes form his ability to just just keep himself but his colleagues alive in war. Malling’s inner stillness and seen-it-all calm is perfectly enacted.
More next week. I am waiting eagerly.