Carsten Jensen’s WE, THE DROWNED to be adapted to English-language Danish series

Danish film fund FilmFyn has become the first partner to board the adaptation of Casten Jensen’s novel We, the Drowned into an English-language television series.

The novel was voted the ‘Best Novel in the Last 25 Years’ by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2009 and since then has found worldwide success, especially in the US. The novel has been translated into over twenty different languages. We, the Drowned has a 4.2/5 on Goodreads.

The novel takes place over 100 years and four generations, opening with the war between Denmark and Germany in 1848 and ending with World War II. The families in the novel are fragmented, the fathers are absent or dead, the sons are left to their own devices. It is the tale of fearless determination against the overwhelming power of the sea and war, and the oral tradition that survives to tell the story. It is about global desires and local needs.

Lauritz, a jolly good time sailor, is captured after a battle and taken into Germany captivity. He returns a broken-spirited man, to Marstal on Ærø, only to return to the ships and then disappear. The son, Albert, searches for him and finally finds him on Samoa, after having been in the hands of the buccaneer and slave trader, Jack Lewis.  Disillusioned after meeting his father, Albert returns to Marstal carrying the shrunken head of James Cook and faithfully turns Marstal into a cosmopolitan city.

World War I affects the male population in Marstal; some make a lot of money but most die. Alberts own life also ends tragically, after an unresolved love affair with Klara, a young sailor’s widow. The sailor widow’s son, Knud Erik, also becomes a sailor, against his mother’s wishes, while a small fortune allows her to establish a revolt against the murderous sea. In the meantime, we follow the brutal gang wars between the town’s boys who in the absence of their fathers. We also follow Knud Erik’s turbulent voyage to New Foundland that and leads to a dangerous romance with a crooked eye tomboy.

The book culminates with World War II with a crew that sails the dangerous stretch of the North Atlantic. They experience an orgie during the Blitz in London and arrive in a North Russian town inhabited by armed women. Their ship is sunk by the Germans and the abandoned sailors are taken to Germany. They cross the ruined country and set sail for Marstal and cross the Baltic, where English bombers sink the German refugee ships. On May 4th, the dead and burnt refugees from Germany lie on the same quay where the intoxicated towns people dance to celebrate their freedom. Knud Erik finally returns home with a child at his side, that he has fished out of the cold sea. The final apocalyptic image of the novel is captured by a painter in a dream. Instead of the traditional depiction of Christ that stills the storm, he imagines how the drowned rise from the sea and the deck, and unite with the living.

Now, the US production company Marlowfilm will develop the novel into an eight-part television series to be in English but made in Denmark. The producers are lining up a blend of established international talent for all creative roles while maintaining a Danish sensibility in their production methods. A significant portion of the filming will take place on the island of Æro in Denmark, which is home to the main characters in the story.

Info via press release




Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.