Once upon a Time

(Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1922)

About the movie

Once Upon a Time, adapted from a national-romantic play by the Danish writer Holger Drachmann, is set in a fairytale past. The jolly old king of the rococo land Illyria lets his beautiful, but capricious, daughter have her way in all things. She not only rejects every suitor who comes to call, she also has them executed. Only the Prince of Denmark, happening by on his travels with his faithful sidekick Kaspar Røghat, has such a way with words that the princess lets him live, even while as she spurns him, too. Back home in the woods of Denmark, the prince meets a mysterious old man who gives him a magic kettle. Disguised as a pauper, the prince tricks the princess into letting him into her bedroom. Alerted by Røghat, the king comes charging in and banishes his daughter. She is now forced to live with the pauper in his cabin deep in the woods. By and by, her disposition softens and she learns to love him – so much, in fact, that she chooses him when she gets a second chance to marry the prince; fortunately, they are one and the same.

The film is an attempt to craft a Danish national film after the recipe presumed to be behind the success of the great Swedish films: working from a well-known work of literature and using nature as a backdrop. Schnéevoigt’s shots of Danish woods are terrifically atmospheric and beautiful. Personally, Dreyer thought the film lacked momentum, perhaps because Drachmann’s lyrical fairy play was unable to satisfy Dreyer’s wish for naturalistic and nuanced character descriptions. When the production ran into financial trouble, Dreyer was forced to make cuts, including the lavish market scene he had planned.

Once Upon a Time was a big success when it opened in Denmark, but apparently was never distributed internationally in any significant way. The film quickly fell out of view and was thought lost for many years. An incomplete print was found in the 1960s sadly missing the entire last quarter of the film and several other scenes.



basic information

  Other titles:     Der var engang (DK - original title)
Det var et gång (SE)
Érase una vez (ES)
  Country: Denmark
  Category: Feature
  Production company: Sophus Madsen Film
  Distributor: Fotorama
  Length/Running time: 2655 meter/75 min. (DVD)
  Technical data: 35 mm - 1,33:1 - b/w - mute
  Censorship classification: Allowed for all
  Release date and place: 3.10.1922 / Palads 
  Based on: A play by Holger Drachmann from 1885 (perfomed 1887), which he based on the fairytale "Svinedrengen" by Hans Christian Andersen and was first published in december 1841.


  Directed by   
  Carl Th. Dreyer  Director 
  Carl Th. Dreyer Screenwriter 
  Palle Rosenkrantz Screenwriter 
  Produced by  
  Sohus Madsen Producer 
  Cinematography by    
  George Schnéevoigt Director of Photography 
  Production Design  
  Jens G. Lind Art Direction 
  Peter Jerndorff The King of Illyria 
  Clara Pontoppidan The Princess af Illyria
  Svend Methling The Prince af Denmark
  Hakon Ahnfelt-Rønne Kaspar Røghat
  Torben Meyer Master of Ceremonies
  Karen Thalbitzer Bolette Fadebursterne
  Valdemar Schiøler Linck  The Parrot Champerlain
  Viggo Wiehe Schwiss
  Mohamed Archer 1. proposer
  Henry Larsen  2. proposer
  Lili Kristiansson 1. Lady-in-waiting
  Zun Zimmermann 2. Lady-in-waiting
  Bodil Faber 3. Lady-in-waiting
  Emilie Walbom Court Maid
  Lars Madsen The Pedlar
  Wilhelmine Henriksen "Doctor-Dorthe"
  Frederik Leth The Charcoal Burner
  Musse Scheel Head Housekeeper
  Gerda Madsen





The programme in Danish