Nordic Tales and Twisted Strings

Karen Blixen, known to the English-speaking world by her pen name, Isak Dinesen

It’s not the news that Bille August is adapting a novella by Karen Blixen for Netflix that’s particularly surprising, but rather it’s his choice of set and costume designer. Long before she ascended to the throne in 1972, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark was painting, illustrating, and heading out on archeological digs with her grandfather, Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden. She not only helped translate The Lord of the Rings, but to the delight of J. R. R. Tolkien himself, her illustrations were used for the Danish editions. Margrethe has designed her own clothes as well as costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet and Peter Flinth’s 2009 film, The Wild Swans.

As an honorary member of the Association of Danish Scenographers, Margrethe has also worked as a set designer on Danish film, television, and theater productions. For Bille August, Margrethe’s tastes and talents are a perfect match for Ehrengard, a Gothic fairy tale about a court painter who aims to seduce a maid of honor in the Grand Duchy of Babenhausen in the early nineteenth century. Variety quotes from August’s announcement: “The Queen has created the most fantastic decoupages for the occasion, and they will be the dominant feature of the film’s overall scenographic expression. ‘Fantastic’ (in the most literal sense) is our starting point for the film; we wish to use humor and elegance to create a devil-may-care, burlesque, fabulous, and autonomous visual universe.”

A few months after Blixen passed away in September 1962, Robert Langbaum noted in the American Scholar that the posthumously published Ehrengard was the last work “completed to her satisfaction.” For the English-speaking world, Blixen wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen, and her best-known work is a memoir, Out of Africa. Sydney Pollack directed the 1985 adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. A good number of Dinesen’s stories have been adapted as well, most famously The Immortal Story (1968), directed by Orson Welles, and Babette’s Feast (1987), directed by Gabriel Axel.

August is one of a handful of directors to have won the Palme d’Or in Cannes twice, the first time for Pelle the Conqueror (1987), which also won an Oscar, and then for The Best Intentions (1992), based on a semiautobiographical screenplay by Ingmar Bergman. Anders August, the director’s son who is known primarily for his work in Danish television, has written the screenplay for Ehrengard.

Also in the Works

Paolo Sorrentino, whose The Hand of God will premiere in Venice on Thursday, is setting up a biopic based on the life of talent agent Sue Mengers. In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Mengers’s roster of clients included Cher, Brian De Palma, Steve McQueen, Mike Nichols, and Barbra Streisand, who was Mengers’s maid of honor when she married Belgian writer and director Jean-Claude Tramont in 1973. Deadline hears that Jennifer Lawrence is “circling” the lead role and that the project will probably land at Apple.

Shooting has wrapped on The Northman, Robert Eggers’s Viking revenge thriller set in tenth-century Iceland. The Los Angeles TimesGlenn Whipp has been speaking with one of film’s stars, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), whose “schedule is booked solid for the next two-and-a-half years.” She’s just completed work on David O. Russell’s current project, about which next to nothing is known, and Whipp mentions in passing that Taylor-Joy is slated to work with Eggers again on a remake of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, the 1922 horror classic loosely based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Taylor-Joy first appeared on the big screen in Eggers’s debut feature, The Witch (2015).

Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) is currently directing Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, and Toby Jones in The Wonder, an adaptation of the 2016 novel by Emma Donoghue (Room). In the Irish Midlands in 1862, an English nurse arrives in a tiny village to determine whether an eleven-year-old girl who claims she has not eaten for four months is a miracle or a fraud.

Liv Ullmann has signed on to play the grandmother of a young woman seduced by an ancient Nordic spirit in The Nix. This will be the first feature from thirty-two-year-old Niclas Gillis, who has been directing commercials and short films since he was in his teens.


Hou Hsiao-hsien will serve as executive producer on Twisted Strings, a seven-part anthology series starring Lee Kang-sheng, the actor best known for appearing in every one of Tsai Ming-liang’s films since 1992’s Rebels of the Neon God. The series will be written and directed by Huang Xi, whose Missing Johnny (2017) scored him a Golden Horse nomination for best director.

Ildikó Enyedi, who won the Golden Camera in Cannes for My Twentieth Century (1989) and the Golden Bear in Berlin for On Body and Soul (2017), will direct Balaton Brigade, an eight-part series set at a Hungarian summer resort in 1986. The story centers on an agent working for the Stasi, the East German intelligence service, who spies on vacationing comrades.

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