Interview: Søren Sveistrup talks about writing THE DAY WILL COME


The Day Will Come is a movie about an orphanage where violence and humiliations are part of everyday life. The history is based on real stories from a boys home called ‘godhavn’, where lots of boys were victims of violent and sexual abuse, as well as medical experiments.

Danish release: 21st April 2016

Cinema Scandinavia: Can you tell us about the film?

Søren Sveistrup: A few years ago I was still busy writing The Killing when Peter Aalbaek from Zentropa called me and asked me if I wanted to do a movie. At the time I was very much interested in this story about these boys from a children’s home. I did a lot of research with a journalist and she set me up with some of the boys from back then. I soon discovered two things – first of all, I was very provoked by what happened. I mean it was just so insane – many of the incidents were so unfair so I felt a need to do something and write about it. And the fact that nobody in Denmark – the government, the authorities – wanted to talk about these issues provoked me even more. The other thing was that I was very impressed with the boys because in the late 60s in Denmark as well as in the rest of the western world we had this youth rebellion but in the provinces of Denmark and especially in the children’s home there wasn’t any change, and yet these young boys eventually had the courage to stand forward and raise their finger and say ‘something has happened here and it is not okay’. They did this themselves – it wasn’t the system that saved them. It wasn’t the teachers that saved them, it wasn’t the youth rebellion that saved them. They did their own youth rebellion, maybe even a more truthful one. It just impressed me and I can’t imagine what kind of courage it would take to dare to stand forward and say something like this.

CS: How much input did the men who attended the schools have?

I was introduced to Arne. He came to one of these homes that was ruled by the state when he was ten. The authorities picked him up from school and then drove him to this place. His parents accepted it because it was what they were told to do. He spent six years there and it changed his life. He and I went there together to revisit. It’s a good children’s home today and all the buildings are still there. He showed me around and told me what happened in each room. “This is where we were beaten and this is where we were ridiculed and abused” and so on. It was a very moving day and I realised that this was something that really happened and had a great impact on many children’s lives.

It’s especially moving that these guys from back then are very humbled. Today they are mature men having lived lives that were maybe not what they hoped for. But the authorities won’t start a dialogue with them – they won’t open up the door to the past. The boys were treated really badly back then but they still are because nobody wants to invite them inside the parliament and give them the excuse they have asked for. They don’t want compensation or money, they just want an excuse because these homes were owned by the state and it was the state’s responsibility to look after the boys back then. They just want this acknowledgment – someone to tell them ‘yes, somebody did something terribly wrong’. But it seems to be a complicated legal matter – I’m not a lawyer but I hope the story will help them to get a voice and be heard in some way.

CS: How much of the film is based on these true stories?

When it comes to a place like this – and there were many similar places – it’s true. The beating, the abuse, the way they were terrorised and told just to work in the fields and not go to school is true. But I also wanted to focus on the positives side and in my eyes this is that the children back then had an amazing ability to survive and imagine stuff. I emphasised that part because I think it’s very unique for children, even though it wasn’t a part of the research we did. This is why the one brother is so interested in the race to the moon and the astronauts, the Apollo programs and so on. That’s what he needs to survive. He continues to dream of the impossible and this eventually makes him stronger than the rest of the boys and the teachers.

Back then there weren’t any female teachers either. But I wanted the boys to have some kind of hope in their surroundings and I wanted to raise a dilemma through Sofie Gråbøl’s character with the question ‘should you do something? Or should you just follow the authorities?” Normally we all actually want to follow the authorities and not make any uproar but the need for action can sometimes be so obvious that you have to follow your instincts. Her character was to address that.

Stillfoto fra filmen Der kommer en dag. Stillfoto: Henrik Petit
Stillfoto fra filmen Der kommer en dag. Stillfoto: Henrik Petit

CS: How do you work with such a sensitive topic?

That’s the challenge – to follow the light instead of the abyss. Even though these boys were in dark surroundings they have it in their genes to find a way out. They tried to escape all the time. And eventually they developed strong relationships. Maybe because of my own personal background I’m always interested in the dysfunctional individuals and families that try to fight their way out of the darkness. It’s the same as with elements in The Killing, for instance the Nanna Birk Larsen family having a bad encounter with faith. That can happen – catastrophes can strike in every life and it did so for these boys back then. It was very much a story that felt natural for me to write. It didn’t take long for me to know what the story was about. Also because I wanted it to be a praise to children’s abilities to survive even though the circumstances are what they are.

CS: The film uses a lot of imagery around space and the trip to the moon. Why did you want to add these images?

We forget it today but in the late 60s the boundaries weren’t there. Everything seemed to be possible. When we succeeded in going to the moon it must have been mind blowing. Today we go to the moon every other day and the next step is Mars. For me, Apollo 11 seems to have been a climax when it comes to what man could achieve back then. And this element just seemed like a suiting contrast to the ‘Middle Ages like’ children’s homes. Of course it’s also works as a dream – you use it to escape. You’re stuck at this terrible place with this terrible headmaster and all you can do is dream. Maybe one day you will succeed in escaping. And if not, at least you can use your mind.

CS: Do you write scripts with Danish audiences in mind, or do you prefer to give them some kind of broad scope?

I like universal stories and to write for a bigger audience . I don’t see any point in writing for just five hundred people. In this case it was very obvious for me that these guys who experienced all this stuff back then – they needed focus and attention from society. So if I just did a small arty farty kind of movie I wouldn’t have achieved anything. In this case it was my intention to do something that the Danish population and maybe the western world would think universal enough to actual go and see. I didn’t want to do a documentary – that’s already been done. I’m into movies, dreams, magic and the fight for humanity and rights.


CS: What was it like working with Sofie and Lars again?

It’s been a great pleasure to work with Sofie and Lars again. The minute they said yes I could start writing the characters specifically for them. They are so incredibly talented. I can write stories and I can write characters but the minute they take part in working with the script the script gets so much better. I also believe it matures the material to discuss it over and over again. I don’t believe in just saying to actors ‘you have to say these lines!’ I believe in inviting them inside the room and discussing it. Even though I invent the characters the actors have this certain ability to go into very small details. I have a responsibility for the whole story and the characters but with actors like that the script will profit. They did that with this script as they did with their characters in The Killing. And they were very happy to do this project and felt very much for it.

CS: In Denmark, how easy it is to get a script developed and then turned into a film?

SS: In this case I was easy and I was very much a part of the whole process of the movie . When I was back at film school I tried to get into the movie business in Denmark but every project I had was turned down. Eventually someone said to me ‘why don’t you do television?’ and the broadcasters were very inviting. A lot of good stuff happened from that. There has been a big turn around when it comes to the perception of TV fiction since then so this time it has been very easy for me to do a movie script. They’ve been very nice to me! I’m not saying they weren’t nice back then, but today is much easier. This may not be representative of the movie industry in Denmark but for me personally this time it was a good experience.

Of course some parts of the movie business are still infected with the idea that it always has to be an auteur film and that this is essential to film making in general. But in this case they insisted on keeping me in the process and that was really what made it joyful –  working so closely with director Jesper W. Nielsen. In Denmark as in most countries – usually the screenwriter just has to turn the script over and then it’s ‘we’ll see you at the première!’ Luckily, it wasn’t so in this case.

CS: Do you have any projects that you are working on?

Yes I have several – I have started a company with another Danish writer, Adam Price (creater and writer of Borgen) and Meta Louise Foldager, who was the producer for Lars von Trier. We have different projects that we are working on at the moment.


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.