The Humanity Present in the Films of Lone Scherfig

Today marks the twelfth anniversary of the release of Lone Scherfig’s popular film One Day.

Though perhaps most well-known for her British dramas, Lone Scherfig is Danish; she was born on May 2, 1959 in Copenhagen. Originally working in advertising, Lone actually won the Lion d’Argent prize at the Cannes International Advertising Film Festival. After graduating from the National Film School if Denmark in 1984, Lone directed a television movie, Margrethes elsker, the very next year. In 1990, Lone won the Grand Jury prize and the Club Espace Award at the Rouen Nordic Film Festival for her debut film, Kaj’s fodselsdag.

Lone Scherfig’s breakthrough came in 2000 with the release of Italian for Beginners.

After the success which her first film brought her, Lone worked in theater and radio, while continuing to write and direct her own short films. Then her breakthrough came in 2000 with the release of Italian for Beginners, a romantic comedy which follows an ensemble cast through the streets of Copenhagen. A startling success, Italian for Beginners grossed over twenty-seven times its budget, and won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Lone’s next film, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, moved her setting across Europe from Denmark to the United Kingdom. Most of Lone’s future films would continue to be set in England, including her crowning achievement, 2009’s An Education. With a screenplay written by celebrated author Nick Hornby, the film follows the relationship which blooms between Jenny (a teenage girl) and David (a much older man) in the London of 1961.

Speaking to FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner about An Education, Lone explained, “It’s almost the time, and not Jenny, that’s the main character in An Education. And it’s the fleshing out of this specific time that makes the film work I think.” This time period, with its memorable setting, costumes, and post-war anxieties truly allowed Lone’s vision, one of subtlety and yet strength, to shine through. An Education was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress for Carey Mulligan’s powerful portrayal of Jenny.

In 2011, Lone directed One Day, a drama based on a novel by David Nicholls. The film stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as two friends who the audience revisits on the same day every year in different locations and different phases of their relationship. I myself can testify to One Day’s success; it was a staple at slumber parties I attended growing up, and continues to be a mandatory annual rewatch for some of my friends.

However, in her 2011 review of the film, Jan had a different take on the film than my preteen self did. Though my friends and I lauded One Day as the most tragic, romantic story of our time, Jan did not see the film as a romance at all. About the film’s protagonist, the entitled Dexter, Jan writes:

I have known real “golden boys”… But I think this is the first time I’ve ever walked wearing his shoes instead of my own, and the journey is extremely illuminating.

But if One Day is not a romance (as it has been characterized by most critics since its release), then what is it? One Day is a story about masculinity, failure, and, eventually, overcoming. Dexter is not a romantic hero, or a hero at all. Lone could have very easily turned One Day into a stereotypical romance film, but she chose not to. Her exploration of Dexter’s character, rather than the romance between him and Emma, turns One Day into a story of growth and self-love rather than romantic love. Emma’s love alone would have left Dexter the same. His eventual love for himself and those around him is where the story lies.

Lone directed her next feature in 2014, The Riot Club. A step further than the masculinity presented in One Day, The Riot Club tells the story of a group of hedonistic Oxford boys. Though the film branches out from what Lone is known for, the toxic masculinity and violence present on screen allow for Lone to prove her directorial talents wholly outside the romance genre.

I love that the world Their Finest represents was this time when movies really matter dearly to people.

Lone’s next film, Their Finest, is a war dramedy which centers on a group of British Ministry of Information officials tasked with making a film to boost morale during the days of the London Blitz. When speaking with FF2’s Leslie Coffin about the film, Lone shared, “I love that the world it represents was this time when movies really matter dearly to people. It was a time when the movies were so important.” The difficult task of the characters within the film reminds the audience of Lone and other director’s own task today—one not only there to entertain, but to inform.

On February 7, 2019, The Kindness of Strangers, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film follows Clara, played by Zoe Kazan, who has recently escaped an abusive relationship and now struggles to survive and protect both herself and her children. FF2’s Georgi E. Presecky writes, “The Kindness of Strangers follows New Yorkers who cross paths in the most dismal places – homeless shelters and hospitals are just a few. [The film is] dark and attempt[s] to package complex and profound themes about life and humanity in just two hours.” Lone’s subtle directing style excels here in a film about the small and subtle ways that hope can shine through.

Lone Scherfig’s decades-long career has been marked with both success and compassionate storytelling. Her films, whether romances, dramas, or something completely different, all tell realistic stories about the human condition. She seeks to link her audience through a better understanding of each other, and, in that way, her films will always be relevant.

© Reese Alexander (8/19/23) – Special for FF2 Media


FF2 Media has a long and strong relationship with Lone Scherfig which started way back when Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner ran a “hobby site” with her hubby called Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples. (Later, of course, the FF2 in Films for Two became the FF2 in FF2 Media® LLC, but that’s a story for another day.)

Jan and Lone met f2f for the first time in 2009 when Lone came to Chicago to screen An Education at the Chicago International Film Festival. Click here to read the write-up of Jan’s conversation with Lone, and click here to read Jan’s review of An Education.

Follow this link to read Jan’s review of One Day (in which she rejects the “romance” label and describes One Day as a “bildungsroman” instead).

Follow this link to read a review of Their Finest by FF2 alumna Georgi Presecky, and click here to read the write-up of FF2 alumna Leslie Coffin’s conversation with Lone about Their Finest.

Follow this link to read Georgi’s review of The Kindness of Strangers.

Finally, we’re delighted to end this post with some terrific news: A new film is on the horizon directed by Lone with a screenwriting team that includes Isabel Coixet (another one of Jan’s favorite filmmakers). According to IMDb, this new film – The Movie Teller – is scheduled for release in October!


Anne Hathaway & Jim Sturgess in the film ONE DAY (2011) directed by Lone Scherfig. Credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: CMN4JX

Director Lone Scherfig on the set of her film ONE DAY (2011) with her eyes on her star-crossed couple. Credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: PM7GBM

Tags: An Education, Chicago International Film Festival, Danish Filmmakers, Films for Two, Georgi Presecky, Isabel Coixet, Leslie Coffin, Lone Scherfig, One Day, The Kindness of Strangers, The Movie Teller, Their Finest

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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