Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, adapted by David Farr
Long before the advent of Nordic Noir, Danish cinema was already on the arthouse thriller map thanks to the efforts of Thomas Vinterberg and the signatories to the Dogme 95 Manifesto in creating Festen.
The writer of that iconic film, which also made a successful transposition to the Almeida stage in an unforgettable evening adapted by David Eldridge and directed by Rufus Norris, subsequently teamed up with Tobias Lindholm, the co-writer of perhaps the best TV political series set around the world of politics, Borgen, to write a feature film, Jagten or The Hunt.
As one would expect with this pedigree, the result is a dark, gripping narrative that hits far too close to home to leave any viewer feeling comfortable.
Its basic premise draws from everybody’s worst nightmare or to be more exact two of them.
On a stage dominated by a claustrophobic glass house, courtesy of designer Es Devlin, the evening opens in happy enough fashion at a junior school harvest festival in a remote outpost of the frozen north.
Subsequently, Tobias Menzies as divorced schoolteacher Lucas does a colleague a favour, looking after a pair of six-year-olds whose parents have neglected to collect them.
The consequences are literally terrifying. At the press performance, Taya Tower nervelessly played Clara, as introverted as her teacher but nevertheless imaginative and articulate. She may only be six, but the little girl manages to tell a coherent tale, unwittingly accusing Lucas of the kinds of acts that lead to long-term imprisonment.
The events that follow proved to be devastating for all concerned. Lucas is arrested and becomes an outcast, threatened with physical harm by his vigilante ex-friends.
Clara apparently has bad dreams, although they may owe more to the dissension between her parents, played by Justin Salinger and Poppy Miller, who have enough problems of their own without having to deal with a daughter who has allegedly been the victim of molestation.
A tale that starts off as a psychological thriller quickly moves into Kafka country, as accusations pour in from tiny tots, as eager to jump on the communal bandwagon as the girls in The Crucible.
What becomes increasingly apparent is that whether or not Lucas was guilty of the crime ceases to be of relevance. Once a populist mob takes against someone, there is no return, while anyone that inadvertently gets in the way is likely to be badly hurt, whether a beautiful pet dog or a brave teenaged son played by Stuart Campbell.
Rupert Goold’s heavily atmospheric production capitalising on David Farr’s spare text is tense, and often unbearably so, from the moment of the first accusation to the end of 2¼ gruelling hours that should make every single viewer think again about their own value systems, the society in which we live today and the primacy of truth.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher