Youthful Discretion: An interview with the cast of 1864


Jens Sætter-Lassen and Marie Tourell Søderberg burst into the room with an excitement and exuberance befitting young stars with a hit show on their hands. They play Peter and Inge, two corners of the triangle on which the love story at the heart of 1864 is built.

But the series is also an ambitious historical drama, focusing on a particularly sensitive period in the formation of modern Denmark, and it divided opinion when it debuted on national television.

“In my opinion, the whole discussion took the wrong angle because people weren’t talking about whether it was any good in its own right, but about whether it was worth the money,” says Sætter-Lassen. And from an artistic point of view, that’s not really interesting.”

Arriving in London has clearly provided some much needed balm to soothe his frustration. The BBC has been showing the series two episodes at a time, giving viewers the immersive, cinematic experience intended by its creator Ole Bornedal, sinking into the mood and meeting the characters on their own terms. Sætter-Lassen doesn’t think hourly bursts on DR1 allowed its first, hyper-critical audience the chance to adjust to the pace of the whole piece, which was conceived as an epic feature film. “It is intended to be slow-paced, and there isn’t a lot of action at the beginning – and that’s deliberate,” he says. Which, for anyone who has watched 1864 to the end, makes the depiction of war and its impact on the characters’ lives, resonating down the centuries to the present day, all the more devastating.

“Modern tastes are for drama at a high tempo and we forget that people used to be a lot more patient and prepared to enjoy the beauty of a film or drama on its own terms,” agrees Søderberg. “That’s what has made these days in London so incredible. Thee reception has been so different from Denmark. When we read the original script, I thought it was the best I’d ever seen – and here, it has been received the way we originally saw it. We are able to share that with people who have watched and see what we saw.”

Both actors say the experience of making 1864 was something of a history lesson. Søderberg can barely recall studying the period at school, but is clearly inspired by the revelation of what this episode means as a prism through which Danes view their history. Sætter-Lassen says he has added to his knowledge of the territorial decline in Denmark’s fortunes.

How do they feel about being part of another landmark production from the rich seam of television drama which has captured a global audience? Søderberg says that her earliest influences were Danish films, particularly the ground-breaking work that emerged from the Dogma movement – and she points out that there has been a steady stream of good productions during the last decade.

“We do have a long history of making great TV drama,” she says. “There were some good things even before it became so popular abroad.”

Following the example of actors including Sofie Gråbøl, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Trine Dyrholm and others who have made an international breakthrough, they are seizing the opportunity to meet potential agents in London.

“I’m about to film a series called The King, about a fictional Danish royal family, in which I’m supposed to play the Crown Prince,” says Sætter-Lassen, agreeing that the domestic response could be as ‘interesting’ as the 1864 experience.

Perhaps less controversially, Søderberg is off to play an 11-year-old boy in a theatre production of an Astrid Lindgren story.

“In Denmark it’s possible for us to do both theatre and TV very easily,” she says. “But I would love to work abroad. My father is actually British and I love the sense of humour here, so I would like to work here soon.”

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.