We Shall Overcome

We Shall Overcome


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Sometimes it’s not what you say but the way that you say it that counts. That’s certainly the case with this charming and beautifully acted Danish drama.

There is nothing particularly new in the story of Frits. He’s a typical 1969 kid, living on a farm with his mum, dad and sisters and about to start at "big school". Without warning, in the holidays, his dad suffers a breakdown and is shuttled off to the local institution to recuperate, leaving mum – the school nurse – and the kids alone.

Copy picture

They are coping fine, although Frits is an introspective sort, dwelling on things more than he ought to, or perhaps just taking more of an interest in his studies than an average boy. His pal sums it up when he asks, “Why do you have to be so weird?”

Big school means big change and there is also a growing tide of evolution in the education establishment. This is boiled down to a clash between the old and new order, in the form of a sadistic, corporal-punishment-obsessed headmaster (Bent Mejding) and a young, flower-power generation trainee music teacher (Anders W Berthelsen).

When a bit of girls' shower room spying goes drastically wrong, Frits falls foul of a vicious attack by the head. Focussing on Martin Luther King Jnr, whom he is studying as part of the slave trade and has seen for real, courtesy of his family’s newly acquired TV, Frits adopts the sort of stoicism and resolve of principle which only the young seem truly capable of and sparks a school management conflict, which could potentially ruin his family.

Although the plot is reductive – the young take on the old, the trendy take on the establishment, a boy comes of age – this is a sign of strength, not of weakness. By keeping the plot simple, the characters are allowed to find their voices and flourish.

Co-writer/director Niels Arden Oplev has a back catalogue filled more with TV output than movies, but he has a sharp eye for the bigger picture. He perfectly captures the contrast between the open spaces of the farmland where Frits plays and the school where he is frequently bullied. He also elicits a compelling performance from Janus Dissing Rathke (Frits), who displays the fragility and determination of childhood in equal measure, reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment in years gone by.

The scripting is sparse, yet beautifully formed, which (credit to the subtitlers) retains its poetry even in translation. This is a family film, for older children. It has an emotional heart, free from sentimentality.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2006
Share this with others on...
We Shall Overcome packshot
A boy takes on the school establishment in Sixties Denmark.
Amazon link

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Writer: Niels Arden Oplev, Steen Bille

Starring: Janus Dissing Rathke, Bent Mejding, Anders W. Berthelsen, Sarah Juel Werner, Peter Hesse Overgaard, Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis, Jens Jørn Spottag

Year: 2006

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Denmark


CFF 2007

Search database:

If you like this, try:

My Life As A Dog