Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

Day of Wrath -- Setting, Details, and Design

The setting, details, and design of Day of Wrath were generally well executed and aided greatly in creating an accurate impression of the time. It was apparent throughout the film that care was taken to make sure that these factors were all historically accurate, and that they contributed to creating the desired mood for the film. The general disposition of the film was dark, which was important as the film is depicting what it was like to be living in the era of witch hunts in Scandinavia. 

Geographic Locations

Throughout the film, locations and scenes accurately represented seventeenth century Denmark. Scenes in the film correctly portray what the landscape would have been like. In the film Anne and Martin go to a little creek to meet in secret. On the way there you can see that they go through a few large fields and around the creek there is a wooded area. Towards the end of the film Absalon is called to a house to perform a ritual. He must go through or around a bog. On Absalon's way back to his home he is walking through the bog during a storm which has very high winds.

The fields of grass, wooded areas, and freshwater streams are all typical elements of the Danish environment.(1) About ten percent of Denmark's area is covered in woodlands. The first trees to come to Denmark had been the birch, the hazel and the aspen.(2) In the film you can hear Absalon's son and Anne talking about going to the birch trees. During this time in Denmark you could find two different types of bogs, lowland bogs and the high bogs.(3) The scene in which Absalon was returning home from his visit with the archbishop illustrates typical weather patterns in Denmark. A significant storm with heavy winds hindered his journey back home. Since Denmark is a peninsula, it commonly receives heavy winds coming off of the surrounding bodies of water; so this scene was a depiction of a realistic situation.

Day of Wrath was filmed in Denmark during World War II while Denmark was occupied by Germany. This was a time when public entertainment was limited by the Germans. The film was shown for six months at a Copenhagen Cinema because it was an alternative to showing German films during this period.(4)


Until the mid-sixteenth century, nobility and commoners lived in similar housing structures—ones that were largely wooden and built fairly crudely. Before the seventeenth century began, however, around seventy brick manor houses had been built. (5) The architecture present in the film was also representative of seventeenth century Denmark. (6) At the onset of the film, Herlof's Marte, a lower class woman, is shown in her home.  Characteristics that stood out were the stone and dirt flooring, the wooden structure, and its modest size. In contrast, the home of Absalon and Anne was much larger with intricate wooden carvings, vaulted ceilings, and stone pillars. The contrast between the two structures accurately represented the uneven distribution of wealth between the social classes. Almost all of the wealth during this time was within the monarch and nobility, which included the clergy, and little was left for the developing middle class and lower class citizens.(7)


The costuming in the film is largely representative of the fashions of the time. Absalon, a wealthy member of the clergy, is shown wearing a large white collar, or ruff, with a black cassock. Additionally, the members of his family also wear similarly dark clothing, but ruffs were only worn by upper class men. Absalon’s son, Martin, is never shown wearing a ruff; however, he does wear a collar that bears resemblance to a fashion called a small falling band.(8)

In men’s 17th century fashion, there were two types of breeches that were popular. Cloak bag breeches were puffy and stopped above the knee. These were popular until the 1630s. The film takes place in 1623, but most men are shown wearing pants that more similarly resemble the other style, Spanish breeches. These come below the knees and are slimmer.(9)

Men also wore doublets around this time. Martin’s doublet is close fitting—accurate for an upper-class man, but a working man’s would be looser, fall to the thigh, and be cinched with a belt.(10) The lower-class men, when shown, do wear this sort of fashion. Lower-class clothing was less formal and made of wool.(11)

One particular accessory that stood out was the type of hat that both men and women wore. These hats were black, and had stiff flaps that covered the ears. (12) These hats were worn throughout the film. When Anne first appears, she is wearing one. The hat covers her hair. This modest hairstyle was more accurate than the style Anne wears later in the film. As Ruth M. Green and Jack Cassin-Scott note in Costume and Fashion in Colour 1550-1760, ​popular seventeenth century hair “lay flat across the top of the head, standing out at the sides.” Green and Cassin-Scott describe how a bun would rest on top of a woman’s head, and the rest would be “frizzed or curled to frame the face.”(13) This description is more grand than the hairstyle Anne wears; however, as a clergy member’s wife, it could be possible that Anne would be expected to appear more modest. Later in the film, Anne frees her hair from the cap, and it appears loosely curled, a style that is much more reminiscent of 1940s than the 17th century. This is perhaps to make her seem more attractive to modern viewers or to represent her growing boldness in her relationship with Martin.


An interesting, well thought out detail was included in the opening scene of the film. In this scene, there was a calligraphy scroll that had the lyrics to the theme song of the film. This melancholic song was played during pivotal points throughout the film to evoke an emotional response from the audience. The words that show throughout the opening song are adapted from an ancient 13th-century poem written by Thomas of Celano. While there are similarities, the words in the film do not closely follow the original poem. (14)
This theme song was an important detail to the film, but there was also a more obscure detail present on the scroll. This detail was a picture of Hans Pothorst, who was a Danish explorer from the time. His image was commonly found hanging from the arches of Danish churches due to his popularity within the country. (15) The presence of his picture on the scroll is an example of how meticulous the filmmakers were. They strove to make every aspect of the film historically accurate and were quite successful in doing so.

Another accurate detail is the presence of a Danish Bible.  There is a scene in the film that shows Anne reading from Absalon’s Bible. Christian III’s Danish translation of the Bible was published in 1550, so it is accurate that the characters would have been able to read out from the Bible in their own language. (16)

In the film, there is a disturbing scene in which it is clear that Herlof’s Marte has been tortured. It was not uncommon for people accused of witchcraft to be tortured. Torture played a part in getting these women to confess. Common torture devices were the rack or strappado. On the rack, a woman’s hands would be tied behind her back. Her bindings would then be attached to a pulley system, and she would be lifted, the weight of her body supported by her arms and shoulders. More pain could be inflicted by adding weights to her feet. (17) This resembles the torture device shown during Herlof’s Marte’s interrogation. Her hands are tied, and a man is shown attaching/removing a hook from her bindings that would have lifted her up. 

1. Ewan Butler, Horizon Concise History of Scandinavia (New York: American Heritage Pub. Co, 1973), 40.
2. Axel Sømme, Geography of Norden (J.W. Eides Boktrykkeri A.S - Bergen 1968),119.
3. Sømme, Geography of Norden,122.
4. Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Figuring out Day of Wrath." Jonathan Rosenbaum. December 3, 2016. Accessed February 7, 2017.
5. Byron J. Nordstrom, Scandinavia Since 1500 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 47.
6. Bent Rying, Danish in the South and the North, Vol 1 (Copenhagen: Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1981), 7.
7. Rying, Danish in the South and North. Vol 2, 70 and 90.
8. Phillis Cunnington, Costumes of the 17th and 18th Century (Boston: Plays, Inc., 1970), 25.
9. Cunnington, Costumes, 16, 18, 29.
10. Cunnington, Costumes, 14.
11. Rying, Danish in the South and North, Vol 2, 102-103.
12. Rying, Danish in the South and North, Vol 2, 102-103.
13. Ruth M. Green and Jack Cassin-Scott, Costume and Fashion in Colour 1550-1760 (Poole: Blandford Press, 1975), 42.
14. CyberHymnal, last modified August 2007,
15. Rying, Danish in the South and North, Vol 2, 87.
16. Norden, Scandinavia Since 1500, 40.
17. Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 44.

Written and edited by Ali Froslie, Rachel Olson, Jacob Aberle and Tim Carlson.

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