The cast of 1864
And so it all ends, far too soon. Eight episodes for something this ridiculously good, with actors and writers of this capacity is far too little, and whilst the Second Schleswig War was not one of Europe’s major conflagrations,. the political aspects at least could have been built up over another two episodes without any sense of over-inflation.
Indeed, in the first half of this final week, they could perhaps have done with a more detailed approach, the politicians’ refusal to see the reality of the war, and their continued resistance of negotiations in London being conducted in silence as Claudia reads from Inge’s book (it seems a waste of James Fox’s talents that he should be limited to a silent, head-in-hands at Danish intransigence shot, not to mention Nicholas Bro’s increasingly disturbing portrait of Monrad as a hollowed-out man.
Episode 7 was almost all about the massacre of the Danish army. Monrad berated a woman praying that she shouldn’t lose her third and last son to ‘this mad war’, Inge gave birth and was spirited away from the collapsing front by Ignazio, but everything else was the battle and the massacre, and death and destruction, portrayed with a cold, hard-eyed but never melodramatic approach that was astonishing in its attention to detail.
As to the people: Didrich, permanently drunk, abused Peter, telling him of Inge’s pregnancy, news that turned him back into a brother determined to find his twin, But Didrich would be the cause of Laust’s death, after all Johan’s attempts to save him: Laust was shot, several times, trying to bear the wounded, Didrich away from the battlefield, which was what the poor madman was trying to do for himself when he was wounded: Peter witnesses his brother’s death and is captured and sent to an Austrian field-hospital, for shell-shocked soldiers.
So the final episode was all about the fall-out, a procession of fates, both big and small, at first fleeting, but finally joining up as Peter returned to an Estate and people greatly changed by the War, and set about restoring life to all around him, save Inge.
There are others who endure a greater fall, his defiant refusal to accept reality undercut by his German King’s complete surrender, and application for Denmark to be accepted in the German Confederation. To Monrad, it’s treason, to Bismark ridiculous. Mrs Heiberg drops him casually, and an overt madness, the family curse, claims him.
But to Inge is it all delivered, full force. She returns with her baby, to the ‘forgiveness’ of her family, still thinking Laust and Peter dead, and calling her baby Laust. Johan, delivering carefully pasted together letters from the dead, brings Laust’s last message, an exhortation to live and love without him that is beautiful, but which Inge’s mother burns without her seeing. She is left with no option but to marry Didrich, though the ‘bastard’ isn’t to be part of the deal. And Peter’s return rends her into screams of pain for which he is proof, after the screams of the battlefield.
But Peter marries silent Sofia (who discovers her voice after Johan touches her throat) and takes parentage of her baby, Peter. He claims little Laust as his own son, with a gentleness and confidence, inspiring the orphanage boy to joy that brought tears, and led those around him into a future not unaffected by the War, but built instead on a refusal to ever be so arrogant and stupid again. In time, Inge learns to accept her fate, witnessing Peter’s calmness, and if she never loves Didrich, she still bears him many children, who slowly turn him into a human being.
At the Old Baron’s dilapidated manor, Claudia comes a final time to read the end of Inge’s diary. She’s nearly come a cropper, trying to sell Baron Severin’s stolen jewellery, but the experience leads her to return with tearful apologies, only to be further shamed by the fact he knows: he is not blind, after all. But it’s too close to the end for enmity: he makes her wear both jewellery and a stylish red dress for one final meal.
The final page comes, and with it the revelation that though this diary has been Inge’s words, it has been written down by her loving grandchild, Severin. Claudia’s delight at learning this is mixed withthe shock of discovering that the Baron has died as she read this final page.
And 1864 ends, like that, no further explanations or truths, leaving us to puzzle out whether this experience will be the salutary effect for Claudia that her growing interest in another has hinted. If there’s been a weakness in the series, it is in this contemporary strand, which has perhaps been undercooked, but I have had too good an experience with this series, been through too many emotions to carp at a single thing, whether it deserves it or not.
It should have been longer. There should have been one more double bill, one more Saturday night on BBC4 to savour. I should have been able to live with this for more than 22 days. Glorious Danish TV.