Contrasting human paradoxes and complexities against the cold rationality of Scandinavian civic institutions, the Danish series “Cry Wolf” presents a searing social drama built from an initially ambiguous premise.
Presented as part of Series Mania’s Buyer’s Showcase after having been selected for the festival’s international competition, the DR Drama-produced series tracks the cascading aftershocks once a 14-year-old girl writes an essay detailing her stepfather’s physical assaults.
While the veracity of those claims – at least for the first few episodes – remains unclear, the accusations set off a sequence of events that builds with grim inevitability. Beleaguered social worker Lars (Bjarne Henriksen) soon gets involved, placing young adolescent Holly (Flora Ofelia Hofman Lindahl) and her younger brother into foster care, all while the girl’s parents (Christine Albeck Børge and Peter Plaugborg) strenuously deny the charges, eventually taking their own daughter to court.
“I was fascinated by social services,” says show creator Maja Jul Larsen (“Borgen”). “They come into the most private part of your life, into your family life, and they have to judge whether you’re able to take care of your kids. They are there to help you, but also have the power to remove your children. That’s a lot of control to have over somebody’s life.”
As the eight-episode limited series follows child, parent and social worker alike as they grapple their way through Denmark’s rigid child protection process, it also intentionally plays up the ambiguity as to whether this abuse occurred as described.
“It is almost like boxing,” says Larsen. “All the way through editing, we explored how much to tell in one direction or the other. All humans have their own truth, subconsciously or unconsciously. We’ve thought a lot about the expression ‘truth is in the eye of the beholder,’ and have applied it both visually and in terms of the characters.”
“They all have their own truth,” she continues, “and they’re all lying to themselves in different ways. This is a story about the system, only, humans work in this system, and they have their own difficult pasts and traumas. They have their own stories, so they cannot be objective.”
“[In the world of the law] you need to judge in impartiality something that’s subconscious and surreal in a way,” says filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen (“Becoming Astrid”), who helmed the series’ first two episodes, with other episodes directed by May El-Toukhy (“Queen of Hearts”), Samanou Sahlstrøm (“Follow the Money”) and Niclas Bendixen (“Ditte and Louise”).
“There’s this saying, ‘The one who had to judge between the children went out and hanged himself.’ Who’s right and who’s wrong? What really happened? Maybe what she says didn’t really happen [as such], but maybe it was something even worse, and maybe she forgot. It’s really difficult,” Christensen adds.
In early episodes, the central open question lends the show a sort of nervous tension, leaving the viewer unclear as to the nature of this family trauma and the intentions of the various characters. Of course, this enigmatic quality also offers the prestige drama – which will air on Danish public broadcaster DR later this year – an instant hook.
“It was very important for us to get this crime part of the show up and running,” says Larsen. “It’s naturally interesting when there’s a mystery and investigation, and we knew that was very important in order to lure viewers.”
It was also important to impart upon the show – which also functions as a social services procedural that examines a case from all sides – an extra bit of verve.
“We’re not David Simon,” says Christensen, explaining that the show couldn’t be a pure examination of the system. “We knew that it needed to have sexuality and a subconscious… We wanted all the characters to have a kind of mystery. You don’t really know who they are, and what their motives are, why they act as they do.”
And for the show’s creator, that puzzle-like construction only heightened the show’s verisimilitude. “I hope it offers the truth about the nature of social work,” says Larsen.
“Social workers come into this kind of world and they don’t always know what’s up and down, where different people give different stories. Often in cases of abuse, the social workers only have circumstantial evidence to go on. The subject is taboo, it’s hidden, so the social workers have to make choices in a very complex reality.”
“We are storytellers,” she adds. “So we have to delve into the gray zones.”