Nordisk Film to Make Biopics on World-renowned Danes Karen Blixen and Niels Bohr

03.01.2019

Nordisk Film has acquired the rights to acclaimed author and historian Tom Buk-Swienty’s two upcoming books. THE LIONESS, a feature film and mini-series about author Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen), is first in the making. To be followed by THE GREAT DANE, a biopic on scientist Niels Bohr, one of the fathers of the nuclear bomb. “This deal is the culmination of a year-long search for the right collaboration to turn the lives of two of the greatest Danes who ever lived into film”, says producer Mikael Rieks. 

Danish studio Nordisk Film is developing biopic THE LIONESS, an international feature film and a mini-series, about world-renowned Danish author Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen) and her life as a coffee farmer in Kenya from 1914-31. Mikael Rieks (LAND OF MINE, APPLAUSE, THAT TIME OF YEAR) is producing and Jakob Weis (THAT TIME OF YEAR) will pen the script based on a forthcoming biography by the acclaimed author and historian Tom Buk-Swienty. 

The acquisition of the film rights to THE LIONESS signals a new collaboration between Nordisk Film and Tom Buk-Swienty, which also includes plans of developing THE GREAT DANE, a film on the life of legendary Danish scientist Niels Bohr based on a forthcoming biography by Buk-Swienty. 

“This deal is the culmination of a year-long search for the right collaboration to turn the lives of two of the greatest Danes who ever lived into film”, says Mikael Rieks, producer at Nordisk Film Production, who will spearhead both film projects. 

Blixen: Fascinating portrait of a modern woman 

At the age of 49, Karen Blixen achieved her international breakthrough with SEVEN GOTHIC TALES (1934) and gained worldwide recognition for the autobiographical novel OUT OF AFRICA (1937). 

Set in the early 20th Century, Tom Buk-Swienty’s biography tells the riveting story of a remarkable young Danish upperclass woman seeking independence from her overbearing Victorian family. Gambling health and family fortune, she relentlessly pursues great adventure, hoping to make it as a coffee farmer in colonial Kenya.  After 17 years of hardship, marked by World War I, poor harvests due to various natural disasters, the onset of the Great Depression and her tragic love affair with the Hon. Denys Finch Hatton, she is finally forced to abandon her beloved African farm, which ended up giving her many more hair-raising adventures than she had bargained for. 

Tom Buk-Swienty has gained access to never before used source material documenting the business of the Karen Coffee Company. The material outlines Karen Blixen’s role as a pioneering female CEO, in charge of more than 1,000 workers and describes her often troubled dealings with her uncle, the wealthy businessman Aage Westenholz, who, as the main investor in the farm, lost a fortune on the failed business venture of his niece. 

”More than 30 years ago, Karen Blixen’s story took the world by storm in Sydney Pollack’s OUT OF AFRICA starring Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Klaus Maria Brandauer. It is therefore with great humility that we now carry on the torch. With Tom Buk-Swienty’s new narrative we have the material to tell a topical and exciting story that goes behind the many myths she created about herself in OUT OF AFRICA. We will depict the period in Karen Blixen’s life when she steps into the role of business woman and adventurer, presenting a highly fascinating portrait of a very modern woman whose life resonates deeply with the fundamental issues of our times”,says Mikael Rieks, producer at Nordisk Film Production.

”Karen Blixen had an insatiable appetite for wild adventure and her life was truly larger than life. I have followed her every step during her seventeen years in Africa – from the outbreak of World War I to the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Her life in Africa was marked by one magnificent, wonderful, and at the same time, brutal and dangerous event after another. She is both fabulous and terrible, reckless and spoiled, desperate and in love, but she never ceased to be an undaunted warrior with a heart of gold. She loved and admired the Africans and in her relentless struggle for the rights of her “black brothers” as she called the native people, she was way ahead of her time”, says Tom Buk-Swienty, author of the biography THE LIONESS that will be published August 2019. 

”Writing the script for a project of this magnitude and with a character such as Karen Blixen in the center is a thrilling task and I am sure that it will turn out to be my Kilimanjaro. I will approach the historic material with great respect but I very much look forward to – you might say – entering into a dialogue with her. Blixen is an enigmatic character just waiting to be retold”, says screenwriter Jakob Weis, who previously worked with Rieks on THAT TIME OF YEAR that had world premiere at TIFF 2018.

Bohr: Father of the nuclear bomb

Following the making of THE LIONESS is the development of a film based on Tom Buk-Swienty’s forth-coming biography THE GREAT DANE (working title) on scientist Niels Bohr, set to be published in 2022.

Nobel laurate Niels Bohr is considered Albert Einstein’s only equal and was a towering figure among the scientists of the 20th Century. He was the founder of The Copenhagen School, a renowned center for theoretical nuclear physics in the 1920s and ‘30s. Tom Buk-Swienty has gained access to never before used source material on Bohr that will enable him to write a sweeping narrative of the Danish scientist and the dramatic events of World War II. Due to his Jewish heritage, Bohr had to flee German-occupied Denmark in 1943 to neutral Sweden, only narrowly escaping before being smuggled to the UK. Then under a cover name, he was sent to the US to participate in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Here, the scientists hailed his arrival as the homecoming of a beloved father-figure who was endearingly nicknamed “The Great Dane”. THE GREAT DANE will chronicle Bohr’s breakthrough in the field of quantum physics and the road to the nuclear bomb. It will also tell the story of Bohr’s deep misgivings about the nuclear bomb and his inspired, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign amongst world leaders to prevent a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. 

”For a long time, I have wanted to turn the life of Niels Bohr – and especially the events during and after World War II – into an international film. More than ever before, Tom Buk-Swienty’s biography on Niels Bohr will give us a much more intimate look at the scientist and the private man,who had a remarkably loving relationship to his wife Margrethe whom he, to his great dismay, had to leave behind in Stockholm when he went to the US during the war. I have no doubt, that I’ve found the best possible starting point for an epic tale of war and love, creative power and curiosity, triumph and despair”, says Mikael Rieks, producer at Nordisk Film Production. 

The Danish publishing house Gyldendal will publish THE LIONESS, the book on Karen Blixen’s life in Africa, in August 2019 and expect to publish Buk Swienty’s Niels Bohr biography in 2022. Lars Ringhof at Copenhagen Literary Agency represents Tom Buk-Swienty.

The film adaptation of THE LIONESS is expected for 2021-22. The film adaptation of THE GREAT DANE is expected for 2023. 

Foto: Jakob Weis, Tom Buk-Swienty and Mikael Rieks photographed at Nordisk Film's studios by Kristian Septimius Krogh