Miniseries review: Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairy Tale (2003), directed by Philip Saville
My knowledge of Scandinavian storytellers is … not brilliant. I know Selma Lagerlöf lived at Mårbacka and was a lesbian, August Strindberg had a crazy hairdo and Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) … well, he’s Danish, basically.
In My Life as a Fairy Tale, we meet young Hans Christian (Kieran Bew), who lives with his mother (Geraldine James) in Odense, Denmark. All he wants to do is to sing and dance and perform, but when his father dies, he has to try and make a living. He goes to Copenhagen.
In Copenhagen, he meets both royalty and the famous Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Flora Montgomery), with whom he falls head over heels in love. After a rather bizarre audition at the theatre, Jonas Collin (James Fox) decides to take the young man under his wing. His son Edward (Mark Dexter) takes an instant dislike at the rival of his father’s affection, but the daughter Jette (Emily Hamilton) is delighted, especially when she overhears him telling stories, fairytales, made up on the spot …
Collin sends Hans Christian to school, as he’s never received any formal schooling, and he starts to write down his stories. Stories that are picked up by a publisher (Hugh Bonneville) and suddenly, the whole world seems to want to hear what the eccentric young man from Odense has to say.
Also starring Simon Callow as Charles Dickens, Steven Berkoff as Meisling and Alison Steadman as the, uh, not-so-charming Mrs Meisling.
Interspersed with excerpts from Andersen’s fairytales, using the characters as actors in it (e.g. Jenny Lind as the Nightingale, and so on), the life of Denmark’s famous storyteller really surprised me. I have no idea how legitimate the portrayal is, but if he was half as eccentric as he’s portrayed here, he would definitely have been diagnosed with some sort of disorder in today’s day and age. Autism spectrum somewhere, I bet. Still, big surprise.
Also, surprised to see him “happening” upon the royal family just like that, like some kind of 19th century Forest Gump.
With the excerpts from his stories, it made the viewing somewhat bizarre, but it fitted in very well, nonetheless. It’s a good story, a fascinating life, even if the man behind Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid, to name but a couple, seems to have been special … in more ways than one.
3.5 out of 5 royal rings.