Action: 70 days of shooting, thousands of costumes and a superb cast. In Lykke-Per, Nordisk Film aims to produce a historical drama of international calibre. TV 2 Denmark will broadcast the drama in 2019.
Bille August smiles. From the director’s tent, he follows the action intently on his monitor. A few metres away, the actors speak their lines as the epic engagement scene between Lykke-Per and his sweetheart unfolds in beautiful surroundings that clearly evoke the upscale summer residence of Per’s wealthy Jewish father-in-law.
In reality, we are at Øregaard Museum in Hellerup just north of Copenhagen. This is the 10th shooting day of 70 – later the set will move to Funen, Jutland and Austria. After years of struggle, the project has taken off. Oscar-winning director Bille August is adapting Henrik Pontoppidan’s great Danish classic, Lykke-Per (‘A Fortunate Man’), for the screen.
Many years of struggle
It was back in 2012 that Nordisk Film producer Thomas Heinesen first broached the idea with Bille August. One of Denmark’s most experienced and well-respected producers, Thomas Heinesen has been with Nordisk Film since 1999 and produced a wide variety of feature films, including several with co-producers Niels Arden Oplev and Nils Malmros, and, most recently, the TV series The Team.
The two have set the bar high, agreeing that the story has true potential. However, this level of ambition calls for a budget to match, and not until the spring of 2017 – five years later – did the project get its financial break. Political backing and DKK 22 million in public funding.
Shortly afterwards Manon Rasmussen gets a phone call. A costume designer with 15 Robert prizes under her belt as well as numerous international honours, she is among the Danish film industry’s top award-winners. She has recently finished shooting for Lars von Trier’s forthcoming film. Manon accepts the job – as she has done every time Bille has called – ever since Twist and Shout in 1984.
Royal consent required
The undertaking is vast. Seventy-five major roles and 60 extras have to be fitted for costumes from the early 1900s. Manon has studied paintings from the period and draws on her earlier experience from working with historic films as she tours Europe supplementing her own costume wardrobe. She rents costumes in the UK, Spain and Austria.
‘I’d say we have several thousand costumes,’ says Manon Rasmussen, showing us round the costume department, complete with sewing workshop, that Nordisk Film has set up for the series. The Danish Jewish Museum has acted as consultants on questions such as how a Jewish family would dress for a synagogue visit, for example.
Renting costumes is expensive. For this reason, many of the outfits are not brought in until a couple of weeks before shooting is due to start. So Manon Rasmussen, her five seamstresses and assistants have their work cut out for them.
‘The details have to be just right,’ she says, jotting in her notebook. The huge cast and the many shooting days are demanding. And even with her years of experience, this can keep Manon Rasmussen awake at night:
‘Have we really got a grip on everything? There’s a lot to remember, and things have to go like clockwork as soon as shooting starts,’ she says earnestly, recovering her smile to describe an Order of Dannebrog required for a certain scene:
‘We have to borrow it from the Chapel of the Royal Orders of Knighthood at Amalienborg Palace. And HM the Queen has to grant permission for that.’
The producers’ quarters are also abuzz. Every aspect of the approximately 270 scenes to be shot has to be meticulously planned. Thomas Heinesen is happy, proud and excited. He makes no secret of the fact that Nordisk Film is setting its sights high:
‘Our ambition is to produce supreme historical drama, and we hope our efforts will be acknowledged – also internationally.’ He expects the series to be shown at next year’s Cannes festival as part of a drive to sell it to other countries, primarily in Europe.
Bribed with Chablis
First Assistant Director Peter Hingebjerg has called out ‘thank you’. Bille August has talked to the actors, giving them further direction. Everything proceeds with apparent ease and harmony – with the exception of the beautiful costumes, that is, which are taking the life out of the actors. The actresses have difficulty breathing in their corsets. Manon Rasmussen loosens a few laces here and there.
Before shooting commenced, the wealthy father-in-law, played by Tommy Kenter, bribed the costume designer with a bottle of white wine – his waistcoat buttons have now been lowered.
Bille August is back in his director’s chair. Peter Hingebjerg shouts: ‘Action!’ Tommy Kenter makes his speech to his future son-in-law. He calls him a genius and concludes:
‘Congratulations … Lykke-Per, I think the future is at your feet.’
Henrik Pontoppidan’s classic coming-of-age novel, Lykke-Per, tells the story of a young man who leaves his childhood home and provincial vicar’s family. Per Sidenius moves to the capital to forge a career for himself as an engineer and reform society within the materialistic framework of the industrialised world and modern revolutionary ideas.
The novel, which is part of the Danish cultural canon and a seminal work of Danish literature, is a love story that raises big questions about social inequality, lack of political freedom and worldly domination. The work was published in eight volumes from 1898 to 1904 and as a revised three-volume edition in 1905.
Budget: DKK 55 million
Nordisk Film and TV2 Danmark have financed the series with support from the public service funds – DKK 22 million, the largest amount of support granted since the fund was established in 2008. The regional film foundations FilmFyn and Vestdanske Filmpulje have jointly donated DKK 1.5 million.
Nordisk Film has high ambitions for TV drama
Nordisk Film has set up a TV series department called ‘NF Series’. The plan is for NF Series to produce three series a year in the Nordic region and internationally, collaborating on their production with TV stations and streaming services, for example. In addition to Lykke-Per, several series are already being developed and produced, including Embassy Down, written by Anders August for Viaplay, and The Team 2, the second season of the police crime series being produced for DR, ZDF and others.