Sons of Denmark (3 stars)

Sons of Denmark

Heartfelt and compassionate examination of radicalisation and racial tension

Arriving in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack, Sons of Denmark is a sombre, delicately-shot drama which addresses radicalism and racial tension with welcome sensitivity. From debut writer-director Ulaa Salim and set in a near, depressingly plausible future, it finds Denmark's Muslim population cowed and fearful as the wider public turn to nationalists in the aftermath of a subway bombing.

The year is 2025 and, with their terrifying promise to send back all immigrants, the National Movement party look poised to seize power. Led by the ostensibly respectable Martin Nordahl (Rasmus Bjerg), their rise has empowered others in the far-right, including extremists Sons of Denmark, whose tactics range from threats scrawled in pigs' blood to acid attacks.

19-year-old Iraqi immigrant Zakaria (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed) is directionless but blessed with a fond family life; he shares a home with his little brother (Ivan Alan Ali) and mother (Asil Mohamad Habib), with whom he is as affectionate as he is cheeky. When his mum expresses her anxiousness about the increasingly hostile climate and racist graffiti appears near their estate, Zakaria feels compelled to act. He is taken under the wing of the shadowy but apparently well-meaning elder Hassan (Imad Abul-Foul) who offers to help Zakaria defend their community and partners him with Ali (Zaki Youssef).

Sons of Denmark bears some of the hallmarks of a flashier thriller – there are shifts in perspective, twists in the tale and an explosive ending – but, in the main, it opts for subtle probing and an intimate aesthetic. While the close focus heightens understanding of its tormented protagonists and its political backdrop reflects unsettling real-world trends, what's sometimes lacking is a firm grasp on the bigger picture. The titular organisation are held at a remove, and when the film infiltrates the police some aspects of this feel narrow and curtailed; the wrongheadedness of an institution that's supposed to serve and protect all of its people is inadequately captured.

Nonetheless, there are echoes of Infernal Affairs and A Prophet in a largely impressive debut that acts as a timely warning against populism and letting those who would divide us win. Salim has crafted something gripping and compassionate, whose concern for the direction in which we are all headed is palpable. And, as a study of how violence begets violence, it speaks powerfully.

Selected release from Fri 13 Dec.

Sons of Denmark

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Denmark
  • 2h 3min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ulaa Salim
  • Cast: Zaki Youssef, Mohammed Ismail Mohammed, Imad Abul-Foul

Zakaria (Mohammed) is a 19-year-old Iraqi immigrant living in Denmark in 2025 and facing the rise of the anti-immigrant National Movement party. Depressingly plausible thriller which sometimes lacks a firm grasp on the bigger picture, but is gripping and compassionate.