Day of Wrath / Vredens Dag (1943)

Day of Wrath / Vredens Dag (1943)

“All things are revealed in God’s good time.”

In 17th century Denmark, shortly after an elderly woman (Anna Svierkier) is sentenced to death for being a witch, a young woman (Lisbeth Molvin) married to a widowed minister (Thorkild Roose) — and bullied by Roose’s disapproving mother (Sigrit Neiiendam) — falls in love with Roose’s son (Preben Lerdorff) from a previous marriage.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carl Theodore Dreyer Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Infidelity
  • Priests and Ministers
  • Scandinavian Films
  • Witches and Wizards

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Carl Dreyer’s austere tale of witchcraft set in a small Danish village in 1623” — “based on Norwegian Wiers Jenson’s play Anne Pedersdotter” — is “quite haunting, like a slow Kafkaesque nightmare,” which perhaps reflects the fact that it “was made during Germany’s occupation of Denmark.” He points out that “it’s creepy watching all these brooding characters in black moving through the frame as if they were between funerals,” and notes that “many shots will stay with you.”

He asserts that the film brings up mixed feelings for us as viewers, given how Movin’s character shifts over the course of the screenplay. While at first “she was solemn and passive”:

… after having an affair with Lerdoff “she becomes a changed woman”: “she laughs, sings, and is an aggressive, sexual temptress.”

Meanwhile, although we are “troubled by the incestuous affair of Movin and Lerdoff” given that “Roose seems like a nice man who is loving to his wife,” we also recognize “he’s the same man who burns people for being witches.”

It’s ambiguous whether Movin (and Svierkier) are being presented as actual witches, but Peary argues (and I agree) “it’s likeliest that Dreyer is stating that within an oppressive religious environment in which most everything is regarded as a sin, a paranoid, persecuted person will regard almost all his or her natural feelings (from joy to lust) as being devil-inspired.”

One of Dreyer’s most ambitious and successful decisions with this movie is to spend significant time showing the ongoing persecution of elderly Svierkier; the horrors she endures aren’t dressed down in any way, and (shockingly) we see her nearly-naked body being tortured:

… before she’s burned alive while a choir of children sing “Dies Irae”. Indeed, we see the true dangers of expressing any individuality or joy in this deeply repressive and biblically austere culture, as embodied by Roose’s coldly condemning mother (Neiiendam):

Carefree scenes of characters escaping into nature for awhile offer temporary reprieve from the oppression:

… but it’s always short-lived. Check out TCM’s article for more details on the film’s production and Dreyer’s vision.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Lisbeth Movin as Marthe
  • Anna Svierkier as Marte Herlof
  • Highly atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a fine and provocative film by Dreyer.


  • Foreign Gem


One thought on “Day of Wrath / Vredens Dag (1943)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as one of Dreyer’s best (and most satisfying) films.

    “Austere”, yes, but certainly not dull. For a relatively slow-moving film, it maintains a consistent edge. (Certainly a far cry from, say, Dreyer’s 1955 soporific ‘Ordet’.)

    One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is that it seems to take the approach that witches (esp. in this period) were very real. There is a strong suggestion (I believe) that Svierkier is intended to be a real witch – one who, still being half-human, simply does not want to die. Before she is burned, she threatens to ‘expose’ Molvin (who kept reminding me of Elizabeth Montgomery) – though she does not do that by way of public declaration.

    Instead… Molvin’s character (who had been so “pure”) soon begins to evolve mysteriously into… something else (and the change is startling in its stark contrast)… almost as if Svierkier, out of revenge, made her change into a witch from the grave.

    Other films / plays on this subject – i.e., ‘Witchfinder General’, Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ – take it for granted that the ‘denouncing of witches’ was nothing more than a very particular hysteria based in fraud and the social tensions of the day.

    But ‘Day of Wrath’ seems to go one step further; suggesting that a witch’s power was strong enough to be passed on after death.

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