Danish helmer Soren Kragh-Jacobsen (“Mifune”) follows Dogme compatriots Lars Von Trier, Lone Scherfig and Tomas Vinterberg into the English-language arena with “Skagerrak,” an uneven romantic drama centered on a Danish drifter in Scotland. Despite stellar performances by lead thesps Iben Hjejle and Bronagh Gallagher, plot-heavy pic’s story stretches credulity and signals the outcome well before it should. Decent B.O. looks likely in Denmark, where film opened March 14, but in other territories — aside from Scotland, where most of pic was shot — a more uncertain future looms.
Friends Marie (Hjejle), a Dane, and Sophie (Gallagher), a Scot, are traveling together, taking odd jobs here and there. After some time on an oil rig in the North Sea, they come ashore in Peterhead, on the northeast coast of Scotland.
Sophie has an American b.f., Ken, who owns a small garage in Glasglow. In Peterhead, however, Sophie is beaten and robbed by guys the two femmes meet in a bar. Visiting Sophie at the hospital, Marie meets an old Scotsman, Sir Robert Lumley (James Cosmo), who invites her to his mansion to offer her a lucrative proposition.
When Marie arrives, she finds out that Lumley’s son Roman (Scott Handy) and his wife Stella (Helen Baxendale) want Marie to be a surrogate mother for them. Marie refuses at first, but later Sophie talks her into accepting their deal.
Later, as Sophie and Marie await the birth of the child, Sophie is killed in a car accident. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, b.f. Ken has died. From this point on, the script dovetails into an increasingly contrived series of developments.Of the Danish Dogme directors who’ve made films in English, the most successful have been Scherfig (“Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”) and, more controversially, Von Trier (“Dancer in the Dark”), with Vinterberg on the negative side with “It’s All About Love.” Kragh-Jacobsen’s pic falls somewhere between the two extremes, lacking the deeply-felt emotions and black humor that made “Wilbur” so good (coincidentally, both films take place in and around Glasgow).
Screenplay, co-written by Kragh-Jacobsen and Anders Thomas Jensen — Denmark’s foremost scripter, responsible for Susanne Bier’s excellent Dogme pic, “Open Hearts” — lacks focus. Script would have benefited from a look at Marie, Roman and Stella’s feelings in regard to the surrogate birth.
Kragh-Jacobsen has said he wants the pic to be seen as a fairy tale, but the film’s setting is realistic and the script’s contrivances simply don’t work.
Still, performances are fine. Hjejle (“Mifune,” “High Fidelity”), whose English is excellent, convincingly plays an angst-ridden woman. Gallagher is also good as the vulgar but warm-hearted Sophie, while Ewen Bremner, Gary Lewis and Simon McBurney manage to flesh out their roles as friends of Sophie’s American b.f.
On the tech side, film smoothly blends Scottish location work with interiors shot in Sweden, and gives a real feel in the Peterhead sequences of life in a small Scottish town on the North Sea coast.
Soundtrack makes repeated use of the classic Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams,” serving as an ironic comment on the often tragic events on screen. Film’s title is the name of the Glasgow garage, as well as the channel between Denmark and Norway.