The persecution of women who have been declared witches for various reasons has been a favorite hobby of many religious fundamentalists across Europe for centuries. One such case, which really happened in the 17th century in Norway, was dealt with by the legendary Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer. As this film was made during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, “Day of Wrath” can also be seen as a subversion and allegory to the situation at the time and the complete helplessness that the Danes encountered at the time. Dreyer and his collaborators made the film based on the 1909 play Anne Pedersdotter by Norwegian writer Hans Wierss-Jensen, and moved the story to Denmark in 1623.
However, at that time Denmark and Norway were one kingdom, and although it is quite obvious that “Day of Wrath” is archaic and that Dreyer has its roots in silent film, this director, who is considered by many film connoisseurs to be one of the greatest in history, showed the social circumstances of the time, the repression and paranoia that reigned at the very mention of witches and witchcraft. It was very easy to end up at the stake then, and anyone who probably wanted to get rid of his wife, mistress or mother-in-law, just had to accuse her of being a witch and it is very likely that she no longer caused him problems.
At the heart of the story is Anne, a young woman married to a respected but much older priest. Her mother was accused of being a witch, but the priest protected her in order to take Anne as his wife, but this girl will fall in love with her stepson and the priest’s son from her first marriage. Love will be mutual, and of course that connection will not be able to remain hidden for long, and once it is found out, it is safe to say that it will cause scandal in a conservative and fundamentalist community. “Day of Wrath” seems surprisingly realistic for that time, and the tempo is quite slow, so Dreyer wanted to allow the characters to develop and the viewer to gain the dynamics of the relationship between them.
And before Anne is accused of being a witch, in the incredibly shocking burning scene we will see how the Danes struggled with this “problem”. This film deals with the false morals and hypocrisy of the society that ruled at the time because when Anne is confronted with accusations that she is a witch and that she enchanted her lover, it is easy to assume that there will not be many who are on her side. Interestingly, “Day of Wrath” was the first film Dreyer directed after the horror film “The Vampire” he shot in Germany in 1932, and immediately after finishing this historical drama, he fled to neutral Sweden. With this film, he also built a style that will characterize his later sound films, which are long shots, slow tempo, patient storytelling and monochromatic photography.