SONS OF DENMARK (DANMARKS SØNNER) / CERT 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ULLA SALIM | STARRING: ZAKI YOUSSEF, RASMUS BJERG, MOHAMMED ISMAIL MOHAMMED | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The 1966 picture It Happened Here told of a Britain that had been invaded by Nazi Germany during World War II, and as a result of capitulation and collaboration, had become a vassal state. The title referred to the opt-repeated phrase, “it couldn’t happen here” whereby western civilisations think themselves above the sheer, naked brutality of a race-based ideology.
Recent history would beg to differ, however, and Ulaa Salim’s Danmarks sønner (Sons of Denmark) takes place in an all-too-recognisable near-future, and not one that can be said to be unique for the Scandinavian nation. Recent events in countries across Europe - sadly including our own - have seen a lurch to the right, accompanied by a rhetoric of the other; that someone else is to blame for what ails society, something that must be rooted out because national exceptionalism teaches it can’t possibly be a problem of our own making.
There are several innocents in Sons of Denmark but none of the main characters come out of the film with clean hands. Zaki Youssef’s Malik is an undercover policeman tasked with rooting out a terrorist cell amongst immigrants from Iraq, Syria, and other countries, in the Copenhagen of 2024. The first portion of the story is sympathetic to the plight of these often war-torn refugees, but there’s no mistaking that, for all his charity and concern, community leader Hassan is every bit as exploitative as those he blames for the immigrants’ ills.
The threat to the security of the people of Denmark - as opposed to Danish people - comes from two opposing ideologies, both adopting a position of reactive justice, but is also just as enabled by the Danish establishment, and Danish voters, who create the environment necessary for the events of the story to take place.
Presented in parts in both Arabic and Danish, with English subtitles for those of us not fluent in both (or either!), the script is not expository, rather allowing the feel of the piece, excellently shot in a dull palette by cinematographer Eddie Klint in his first feature, to carry the weight of the story and the emotions it provokes.
This is not a happy film, nor - we suspect - is it meant to be. As with the best science fiction (although its barely eligible, the future setting its only qualifier), it’s a warning as to what can happen if we continue on a path we can very easily turn around. Your mileage may vary, but Britain of the 2020s does not look to have gotten off to the best of starts; Sons of Denmark is a very real projection of our possible future. It happened here? Let’s make sure it doesn’t.