Cineuropa: Series review: The Dreamer – Becoming Karen Blixen

By Cineuropa / Davide Abbatescianni



Set in the 1930s, the first two episodes of the new Viaplay show skilfully depict the Danish writer’s inner turmoil after returning home from Kenya.

The first two episodes of The Dreamer – Becoming Karen Blixen set out the premises for an overall engaging drama series revolving around part of the life of revered Danish writer Karen Blixen (1885-1962), who returns home divorced, sick, jobless and penniless after spending almost twenty years in Kenya owning a coffee farm with her ex-husband. The brand-new Viaplay original show, directed by Jeanette Nordahl (Wildland [+]) and penned by Dunja Gry and Per Daumiller, premiered at this year’s Canneseries (1-6 April).

A slow-paced initial set-up shows us a woman who has lost everything and ready to pose an end to her life. Connie Nielsen, playing the title role, imbues her part with the right balance of fragility and pride. What starts as a rather classical – though astonishingly shot and acted – period drama, however, develops into a complex psychological tale where the conflict between Blixen’s wish to become independent and her inner demons takes centre stage. This emotional turmoil is not only depicted through several episodes from her biography but, more interestingly, through her flashbacks and oneiric visions. In the latter, she often plays a fictional role, interacting with the imaginary characters of her own literary work. The colourful visual work by Aske Alexander Foss makes these excursuses, predominantly set in exotic locations, pleasant to the eye and highly fascinating.

There is also some fair work in writing and directing the secondary characters surrounding Blixen, such as her mother Ingeborg Dinesen (portrayed by Hanne Uldal), Blixen’s sister Elle (Lene Maria Christensen), her younger brother Tommy (Joachim Fjelstrup) and her brother-in-law Knud (Lars Mikkelsen). Tommy in particular reveals himself as a caring, supportive figure, despite his doubts about his sister’s concrete chances of living off her writing career.

A turning point for Blixen’s ambitions seems represented by the opportunity to travel to London, where she may meet with an important publisher. Previously, the woman had sent her manuscripts to the publishing house only to receive a standardised rejection letter. Presumably, the series will further develop Blixen’s path to become a full-fledged writer. What emerges throughout these first two episodes is certainly the presence of a well-oiled ensemble of actors, an excellent production and costume design and a good attempt to merge narrative elements typical of both period and psychological dramas. The first episode hits the mark at introducing the relationships between the characters and, as we enter Blixen’s mind, we will be able to both explore her fears and to familiarise ourselves – at least in part – with her rich literary oeuvre.

The Dreamer – Becoming Karen Blixen was produced by Denmark’s Zentropa, in co-production with Belgium’s Belga Films. It is set to premiere exclusively on Viaplay over the course of this year.

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