English screenwriter, film editor and director Peter Watkins` documentary drama which he wrote with additional ideas from students at the Nordens Folk High School in Biskops-Arnö, Stockholm in Sweden, is based on a screenplay he wrote in 1979-1981. It premiered in Sweden, was banned from TV in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, was filmed at the Orion Theatre in Stockholm and is a Swedish production which was produced by the rector at the NFHS Birgitta Östlund. It tells the story about a Swedish man, playwright, son, brother, husband and father named August Strindberg who was born in the winter of 1849 in Stockholm, Sweden and raised in a cultured and pietistic Christian home by his mother, a former serving girl named Ulrika Eleonora Norling who gave birth to eleven children and who was the housekeeper and mistress of his father, a commissioner for a steamboat company, named Carl Oscar Strindberg before they were married. A Finnish woman, mother, wife, Baroness and only child named Siri von Essen who was born in the autumn of 1850 in Borgå, Finland and raised in an aristocratic home by her mother named Elisabet Charlotta In de Betou and her father named Karl Reinhold von Essen, whom August Strindberg met as a 26-year-old author and assistant at the Royal Library in Stockholm in 1875 where he studied the origins of the Chinese language after previously having worked as a journalist, and who would become an unprecedented woman in his life, the inspiration for some of his autobiographical books and the mother of some of his children.
Distinctly and precisely directed by European auteur filmmaker Peter Watkins, this finely paced biographical tale which is narrated mostly by Anders Mattson as the male protagonist, by Lena Settervall as the female protagonist and from multiple viewpoints, draws a versatile and heartrending portrayal of a renowned, admired, hated and debated polymath, his relationship with his children and with women, struggles as a writer, psychological, scientific and religious conflicts, his support of the lower classes in Sweden and women`s rights, criticism of the aristocracy, the monarchy, the military, the church, politicians and ultimately his contradicting views on women which might have derived from his experiences with them, his jealousy, his notion of there being a feminist conspiracy against him or literary reasons. While notable for it`s distinctly naturalistic and various milieu depictions, sterling cinematography, production design, costume design and use of sound, this narrative-driven and monologue-driven story reconstructs pivotal scenes from August Strindberg`s life through readings from his novels, plays and letters, photographs, re-enacted interviews with oppressed female writers of his time who were instigated by a feminist movement, attacked social, religious and moral conventions, unmasked hypocrisy in the Swedish society at the time and described a middle-class woman`s situation in marriage as like being a bird in a cage who can`t fly away, emigrants who left their country and families due to social and sanitary conditions, a prostitute, his father and a Norwegian actress who was his third wife named Harriet Bosse.
Whilst conversations with the students about the subjects of their film and their views on them adds an interesting look into their process, this independent production where the narrators communicate directly with the audience and shares their own reflections, examines some of the many themes August Strindberg addressed in his comprehensive body of work like the power struggle between men and women, the oppression of the working class, equal rights for men and women, artistic freedom, the gender roles made and preserved by society and the marginalisation of children, depicts two multifaceted and invigorating studies of character about an uncommonly talented, ambitious and tormented 19th and 20th century modernist poet from the Province of Uppland who wrote with a still perceivable fire, turned words into flames, created political debate, was crucially marred by his upbringing, childhood events and the adversity and criticism he faced which drove him and his family into exile and which may have caused his persecutory delusions, and an independent-minded and multilingual Finnish-Swedish actress who came from “the land of a thousand lakes”, had a good childhood and was found of dancing as a child, centres on the relation and duality between these two artists who were both looking for self-fulfilment and traces four decades in the history of a literary genius who drew largely from his personal experiences simultaneously as it discusses the role of the mass media and its concentration on political, social and economic power, and contains a timely score.
This informative, theatrical, at times humerous, eloquently romantic and epic chamber piece and collaborative full-length video production which is set mostly in Sweden and France in the late 19th century, expresses many theories regarding why this non-stereotypical person who was married to three women who respectively came from Finland, Austria and Norway, fathered six children and who as a boy was told in the utmost severity by his mother to be wary of bad women, at a late point in his career went against his own views on women, is impelled and reinforced by it`s fragmented narrative structure, subtle continuity, silent cinematic portraits, atmospheric scenes of August and Siri, acute examination of a marriage, existentialistic undertones, the loving, hate-filled and lyrical words of the main subject and the fine acting performances by Anders Mattson who was ordained as a priest and Lena Settervall who was a student of ecology during the filming, Swedish actress Gunilla Abrahamsson and Swedish actor Krister Henriksson. A cinematographic, literary and prominently reflective period drama from the early 1990s which is a fine companion piece to Peter Watkins` earlier documentary drama “Edvard Munch” (1974), which broadens one`s perception of cinema as an art form, encourages critical thinking, makes room for our participation and which prevails as a homage to an inspirited Nordic intellectual who may have been both a philogynist and a misogynist and an equally inspirited Nordic stage actress who crossed paths more than one and a half century ago.