By Adam Ray Palmer
Whenever Rafe Spall is on the silver screen, I like to try and catch it. So, when I found Glasgow Film Festival were showing Denmark, I was all in.
Starring an array of British talent, Denmark comes to the festival in the ‘Local Heroes’ category, hoping to pick up traction for a UK release soon.
Rafe Spall has always been an underrated actor. His roles in Swallows and Amazons, Black Mirror and I Give It A Year especially are three performances that really show is versatility. It’s the mixture of his Black Mirror episode White Christmas and the 2013 wedding comedy that really help Spall connect with his character Herb here in Denmark.
He plays his role in such an understated way that it becomes just like the everyday man persona – a character that audiences can really relate to. No matter what Herb does, he always seems to get his unfair share of bad luck, and within the first 20 minutes, we see him at his wit’s end when the system and multiple relationships slowly turn their backs on him.
But when he sees a TV commercial one evening after being mugged, he thinks his luck is about to come in – by going to prison. Herb, thinking he has solved his woes, researches more about prison life in Denmark and reads that it is “ranked number one in prisoners’ satisfaction”. So, here’s his plan, get across Europe, commit a crime, and get a life of Riley behind bars.
From here on in, Denmark is a bittersweet comedy focusing solely on one man's pursuit of happiness to make his life better. With literally nothing to lose, but potentially so much to gain, he just needs to be arrested and sent to the Danish prison where the beds are warm, and the water is hot.
Including Rafe Spall's performance, where Denmark also succeeds is the score from Richard Hawley. It's top notch for a quirky, indie film such as this. The movie also has highlights in the themes. Yes, the narrative is quite absurd and humorous, but the matters it takes on are very real. People are struggling in the world with very little in terms of a support network to turn to. Denmark is an intelligently, comedic way of telling those stories.
Where the film falls down at times is the execution of such a good, original idea. Adrian Shergold (director) and writer Jeff Murphy are more used to television productions rather than feature films and it showed. To me, Denmark plays out like it could be a mini-series, there isn’t enough urgency in the movie. For 90 minutes, you expect it to fly by, but it feels a bit laborious at times and doesn’t quite linger on the best bits of the film to saviour.
When the climax arrives, you expect nothing less. I will leave that to your own imagination until you watch it. Denmark is so close to being such a polished film, and I wanted it to be in the top tier, but it just falls short. Don’t get me wrong, it is certainly entertaining and has a lot going for it, but perhaps another 30 mins of runtime would get the well-deserved, full-blown finale it should have had.
Cineroom’s rating: 3.5 stars
Denmark screened at the 2020 Glasgow Film Festival as part of the ‘Local Heroes’ strand.