Last Chance to See

By Walker, Alexander | The Evening Standard (London, England), May 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Last Chance to See


Walker, Alexander, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: ALEXANDER WALKER

Day Of Wrath

Mon 2 & Fri 6-Fri 20 Jun, NFT, South Bank, SE1 (020-7928 3232) golden oldie

In 1964, I caught up with history.

Along with directors Tony Richardson and Clive Donner, producer Oscar Lewenstein and the animator Richard Williams, I at last met Carl Theodor Dreyer. We'd gone to Copenhagen, submitted ourselves to Danish film students' questioning about the Beatles, been inducted as 'Knights of St Tuborg' at the brewery and, at last, the magic door opened at Nordisk Tonfilm Studios, and there he was, directing what was to be his last film, the chamber-drama Gertrud.

Dreyer was small, bald, beaky - insignificant until he looked you in the eye: then you could see how he could compose the scenes in his mind with the beautiful austerity he'd brought to Day Of Wrath (with Lisbeth Movin, left) some 21 years earlier. It was filmmaking in all its rigour, just watching him move his players like chess pieces around Gertrud's spare, black-and-white drawingroom set that becomes a pressure chamber for a woman's demand for unconditional freedom. Day Of Wrath contains the same enclosed intensity.

It's a drama of love and witchcraft in the 17th century.

When Dreyer directed it in 1943, Denmark was occupied by the German army - some saw its story of fear, betrayal and autocratic cruelty as an allegory of the sufferings that the Nazis heaped on their cross-frontier cousins. …

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