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The most expensive drama series ever produced in Denmark, about the bloodiest war Danes ever fought, arrives in the US tomorrow. It is 1864, and it is not to be missed.

1864 MHz Choice
1864 — Image courtesy of MHz Choice

1864 is a tour de force of storytelling — cinematic in its scope, production, and budget (173 million krone, or $27.8 million in today’s dollars), yet made for the small screen, where binge-watching is accommodatable if not outright encouraged.

Based in part on the first-hand accounts of soldiers who fought during the Battle of Dybbøl, as recounted in the book 1864: The forgotten war that shaped modern Europe by Tom Buk-Swienty (who served as a program consultant), the big picture of 1864 the series can be summed up with a line from the first episode: It’s “(f)ull of bravery and optimism.”

“How can it be optimistic when Denmark lost the Second Schleswig War?” you might ask.

Because there is more to the story than the military defeat.

1864 is about love of country, love of family, and love of a woman. It is about the ravages of war in body, mind, and soul, and on communities and a nation. And it is about the mid-19th-century events that collectively became the turning point in the physical size and national identity of Denmark.

The narrative is told in two time frames that link the past to the present: the primary storyline takes place between 1851 and 1864; a secondary one is set in 2014.

The former follows Peter (Jens Sætter-Lassen, Follow the Money, Badehotellet) and Laust (Jakob Oftebro, Below the Surface, Young & Promising) — close and loving brothers whose poor family works for the local baron (Waage Sandø, Unit One) — and their relationships with Inge (Marie Tourell Søderberg, Ride Upon the Storm, Klovn), the fiery and independent daughter of the baron’s estate manager and “the last living witness” of “the times that have disappeared.” The good times. The times before the Second Schleswig War.

The latter follows Claudia (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, The Absent One, The Bridge), a troubled teenager. Her soldier brother died in Afghanistan and her parents had a breakdown, leaving her on her own in every sense except legally. Thus Claudia is forced to work as an assistant to Baron Severin (Bent Mejding, The Killing), the centenarian descendant of Inge. It is at his manor, once owned by Didrich, that Claudia finds Inge’s diary and discovers Inge’s love story and her firsthand account of a bleak period in Danish history.

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“War is very messy.”

So says the wealthy baron, in the series opener, to his son Didrich (Pilou Asbæk, Game of Thrones, Borgen) after Didrich returns home as one of the victorious soldiers of the Three Years’ War, aka the First Schleswig War. What the baron refuses to recognize is that, despite being in one piece, his son is “not safe and sound.” He is suffering from PTSD. And its symptoms worsen.

Elsewhere in South Funen, Laust and Peter meet and become fast friends with Inge. The boys’ father, Thøger Jensen (Lars Mikkelsen, The Killing), is also back from the war, but with an injury that doesn’t seem to be healing.

And in Copenhagen, liberal parliamentarian Bishop Monrad (Nicolas Bro, The Bridge, The Killing) is moved by Johanne Luise Heiberg’s (Sidse Babett Knudsen, Borgen, Westworld) portrayal of Lady Macbeth at the Royal Theatre — most notably by her performance in Act I, Scene VII, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, during which she seems to be speaking directly to him, compelling him to action.

Following his meeting with Heiberg and her subsequent training of him, as it were, Monrad is reinvigorated in his his quest to unite the Danish people — “God’s people” — and firmly establish Denmark as “a modern and democratic kingdom” once and for all.

In his fervor, Monrad raises the stakes for Denmark, rouses the citizenry with his rhetoric and, with support from his political allies, ignores the European peace treaties and annexes Schleswig into the Danish Kingdom — triggering Prussia into declaring war on Denmark.

As such, Peter and Laust — both of whom are in love with Inge, as she is with each of them (although only one of them knows her in the biblical sense) — must leave her and their home, as must Didrich, to fight in a war that ultimately humiliated Denmark but also served as the catalyst for its transformation into the country we know today.

Written and directed by multiple-award winner Ole Bornedal (Small Town Killers, I Am Dina), 1864 features a who’s who of Euro TV and film, including Søren Pilmark (The Heavy Water War), Søren Malling (Borgen), Esben Dalgaard Andersen (Splitting Up Together), Rainer Bock (Tatort), Sarah Boberg (The Bridge), and James Fox (The Remains of the Day).

The eight-part series is a production of Miso Film, produced in partnership with DR, 4 Fiction, Film Fyn, TV 2 Norway, TV 4 Sweden, AB Svensk Filmindustri, ARTE, ZDF Enterprises, Sirena Film, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, MEDIA, Danfoss Fonden, Cinenord, and Norwegian Film Institute.

1864 premieres in the US tomorrow, Tuesday, September 12th, exclusively on MHz Choice.

(Viewers in the UK can stream 1864 at Amazon Video, download it from iTunes, or get the Region 2 DVD.)

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MHz Choice on Amazon

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1864: Epic Historical War Drama from Denmark Premieres in the US
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