As a frequent admirer of Rafe Spall’s performance filmography, it brings me great displeasure to announce that his latest feature Denmark, is a meandering sob story for the upper middle class. As one of the greatest contemporary British actors of our generation, raging from brilliant comedic deadpan in the righteous comedies from Edgar Wright, and dramatic nuance in films such as Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and Adam Mackay’s The Big Short, Denmark seems to be a step back for Spall and his wildly vast and varied performance record. From beginning to end, Denmark is nothing more than pompously shallow entertainment; a dreary exploration on class indifference told in the most uneventful way conceivable.
When the inciting incident of a film revolves solely on a Good Mythical Morning YouTube episode, that’s when things become genuinely concerning. For a film which highlights an interesting concept on governmental prison systems, it’s a shame that director Adrian Shergold couldn’t even bother in delving deep into both the advantages and disadvantages of vast European society, customs, and regulations; especially in a post-brexit world. The aforementioned Good Mythical Morning episode is in fact the only real glimmer we get into this concept, where Shergold instead shifts the story towards a poorly constructed romance into full overdrive. Why should we care for yet another Manic-Pixie Dream Girl “foreigner” trope all over again, when the film can’t even focus on one simple idea.
Even from the distinct tonal shift from both halves of the film, both sides are arguably both equally underdeveloped. We barely get any information or key detail on Herb’s relationship with his son, and his prior crumbling marriage. When Herb does eventually fall head over heels for a bartender, the self-realization of hope and potential reconciliation is unwarranted and unearned. It’s lazy, punctual story writing at its most conventional and accessible. Introducing a subject is one challenge. Providing insight on this subject is an entire beast on it’s own. Denmark fails to develop ideas properly, and instead meanders through as an exhausting, soulless rollercoaster.
The pleasing landscapes and the present energy of Spall’s performance are the only elements keeping Denmark from being a complete and utter disaster. On a technical level, it’s competent filmmaking at its most averagely acceptable. Though in terms of storytelling, it’s a failure on all levels. It’s a nothing movie; a film which provides not an ounce of insight or even emotional resonance with its subject. Admirable from a technical scale at best, Denmark should be best avoided, and never to be talked about or even mentioned ever again.
Denmark screened at this year’s Glasgow International Film Festival in the Local Heroes program. The film will screen again on March 7th at 4:00 PM