Over the past few Saturday nights I’ve been watching 1864, the latest BBC4 serial imported from Denmark. And the more I have seen of it, the greater my sense of déjà vu.
The sadistic schoolmaster preaching mindless patriotism; the unpleasant and corrupt members of the upper classes; the utterly decent lower classes; the admirable gipsies; the politicians who are caricatures of stupidity; the naïve volunteers singing as they head to battle; the bloody trench warfare; the bloodier field hospitals; and the whole thing seen through a filter of heavy irony, because we know that everything will go terribly wrong…
The series depicts the 1864 war between the Danes and the Prussians, but all of its key tropes are familiar from the ‘futility’ school of Great War dramas. The first episode especially reminded me forcefully of that marathon of gloom, The Village.
For the Danes the war was catastrophic, a legendary defeat, so it is no wonder that the story ends grimly, but it seems that Danish historians have made the same objections to the series that British historians make to similar depictions of the Great War . This comes from Denmark’s English-language newspaper, the Post:
But when it comes to history, the series has a number of inaccuracies according to the historian Jens Ole Christensen, who has written a number of books on the subject.
In particular, Christensen chided the series’s contention that a rabid nationalism propelled Denmark into war.
“That’s a very simplified explanation about what actually led to the war in 1864,” Christensen told Metroxpress newspaper. “It makes more sense as a contemporary comment than a historical description.”
But of course, the real question is not: ‘Is this what the war was really like?’ It is: ‘Why is it always this story that film-makers are so eager to tell us?’
Having said which, the programme is impressively made, and it’s good to see the actors from Borgen again, some of them sprouting impressive facial hair.