Award-winning film ‘Unruly’ explores dark chapter in Danish history that lead actor Emilie Kroyer Koppel says no one talks about

Unruly‘ is a new Danish feature from director Malou Reymann, which won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at Gothenburg film festival.

Set in Denmark in 1933, when society has very specific expectations of how young women should think and behave. Seventeen-year-old Maren, played by Emilie Kroyer Koppel, is wild and rebellious, so she is sent to a women’s institution on the island of Sprogø to learn new behaviours.

However, the stay introduces her to the other women there, and she soon inspires something in fellow female patient Sørine, and the two of them form a bond which will change the rest of their lives.

We speak to Emilie about taking part in this important portrayal of women’s plight in the 1930’s, as well as what she’s working on next and what books she’s been reading lately.

Photo Credit: Nikolaj Thaning Rentzmann 

Nordic Watchlist: Tell us about your character in Unruly and how the role came about for you?

Emilie Kroyer Koppel.: I play the character of Maren, who is your typical teenager living in the 1930’s. Her life takes an abrupt turn when all of a sudden she has her freedom taken away from her.

The story really reasonated with me when I heard about it. It shines a light on a dark chapter in Danish history, that maybe has been forgotten or hidden because we are not proud of it or like talking about it.

What drew me to this story was definitely the tale of womens’ fight for justice and freedom – I think it still carries a lot of weight in the modern day.

When I read the script I had this overwhelming feeling of injustice that just hit me and I had this powerful urge to bring this story to life with my character in a compelling and impeccable way.

What drew me to this story was definitely the tale of women’s fight for justice and freedom.

NW: You certainly did that with an outstanding performance. I want to talk a little about Sprogø because I certainly knew nothing about it apart from it appearing in a Department Q film – Journal 64 where it was part of this fictional story. How much did you know before getting the role or is just something that is just unsaid in Denmark?

EKK: I had heard of an island called Sprogø, but I never learned anything in school about it. So I was really surprised I had to go and learn about this myself – not only is it a big chapter in Danish history but also in women’s history between the 1930s-60s, which is a really long time.

I was surprised to learn about it through a film script and not at high school. It’s just not talked about at all.

Photo Credit: Sverre-Sørdal

NW: How does your character Maren play her part in this history and bringing this story to life?

EKK: Maren is just like any other teenager, who has all of these feelings: being happy, stubborn, angry, curious, and a desire for life – and this is what she is punished for.

In a way, that is the whole point of the film; it is how we have been treating women. For me it was finding the balance in portraying her fighting spirit but also her fragility and vulnerability.

It was a balance because we knew these women were victims but we didn’t want to portray just that aspect, we wanted to also show their power and how they fought against a system that was totally fucked up.

For me it was finding the balance between her fighting spirit and her fragility and vulnerability.

The film is shown through her eyes, but then crosses over with other characters on the island, such as one of the girls there who clashes a bit with Maren.

Jessica Dinnage (Left), Josephine Grau (Centre). Amalie Drud Abildgaard (Right) Photo Credit: Sverre-Sørdal

NW: That character you refer to is played by Jessica Dinage and the chemistry between you was fantastic as your characters clash but soon begin to have some mutual understanding for each other. How well did you know each other before and if you didn’t, how did you bring that chemistry alive between you both?

EKK: We hadn’t worked together before or knew each other, but we had chemistry during casting before we got the roles and just hit it off together.

It felt so natural between us and afterwards the director felt that it had to be us – it felt right and we bonded in real life.

When shooting a film like this that is so brutal and go through so many things whilst filming for two months without seeing anyone else – that creates a bond that made me feel like I had known her years when it was only for months.

Photo Credit: Sverre Sørdal

NW: The film has been out in Denmark since March now, how was it received given the history it was unearthing and sharing on screen?

EKK: The most crazy thing was that two days before the premiere of the film the Danish government said out loud they wanted to give an official apology to the women of Sprogo.

So that was our biggest moment for the film since we shot it almost two years ago. How had the government not taken any responsibility for this or even acknowledged that this happened?

Then just before the film was about to be released this happened and I was just overwhelmed – I called my parents and cried.

Suddenly everything felt so very real with the film we had done.

Two days before the premiere of the film the Danish government said out loud they wanted to give an official apology to the women of Sprogo

At the premiere I even met someone who was involved with Sprogo and even though I was not directly playing her character, we shared how elements of it were so true.

I genuinely feel now that the film has received the right attention now both as a focus on the history and also how it is just as relevant today despite it being set in the 1930s.

It is what we come from as women – we are constantly aware or how society looks at us as women – that has roots in my grandmother’s generation.

There has been some really positive dialogue that has come from the themes covered in the film.

Photo Credit: Nikolaj Thaning Rentzmann

NW: What have you got coming up next?

EKK: I am working on my own short film with one my co-stars from Unruly which is all about motherhood. Then I am taking to the stage in Denmark and doing theatre which I am excited and nervous about.

Also I am in Ehrengard which is on Netflix – I shot it last Summer and it was really great fun project to shoot.

I had just come from shooting Unruly to playing this princess who laughs a lot. Just being in all these beautiful dresses designed by the Queen of Denmark was amazing,

NW: Finally, what have you been watching and reading recently? Any recommendations?

EKK: I have been reading a lot of Alex Schuman, he has done these books called The Survivors, Burn All My Letters, and Forget Me. I didn’t know about him before but his books feel so cinematic.

Burn All My Letters has been adapted into a film which was released in Denmark but go read the books first – they are amazing.

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