Astrid Henning-Jensen (DK)

Director, actor, editor, scriptwriter. Born 1914, died 2002. Married to director Bjarne Henning-Jensen (1908–1995) with whom she had a son Lars, who featured in several of the couple’s films, including Palle Alone in the World/Palle alene i verden (1949).

1914 - 2002

Astrid Henning-Jensen was brought up in Frederiksberg by wealthy parents. After graduating high school she worked as an actor at Riddersalen and other places between 1935 and 1938, where she met her husband-to-be Bjarne Henning-Jensen; he sang the famous song Sangen om Larsen in Kjeld Abell’s theatre comedy Melodien der blev væk. The couple married in 1938 and when Bjarne entered the film industry, Astrid quickly became his assistant. The two made a couple of short films at Nordisk Film, before their feature debut Naar man kun er ung in 1943. One of her first jobs independently of her husband was as assistant camera on Carl Th. Dreyer’s film Mødrehjælpen from 1942. Shortly after this she travelled to Sweden, where the Government Film Committee of Denmark asked the couple to make a film about training Danish police officers in Sweden. This film, Dansk Politi i Sverige from 1945, was her first as sole director, as Bjarne was unable to travel because of the war.

Their big breakthrough came after World War II with the feature Ditte, Child of Man/Ditte menneskebarn from 1946. This film adaptation of Martin Andersen-Nexø’s novel about poor girl Ditte with the bright mind and the heavy social legacy, became a Danish and also an international success, winning the Prix International at the Venice festival in 1947, as well as other awards. It was compared to films of Italian neorealism. In 1947 the title was followed by yet another feature film success Those Damned Kids/De pokkers unger, jointly directed by Astrid Henning-Jensen and Bjarne. This film also depicts poor childhood, this time in Copenhagen’s inner city. Kristinus Bergman from 1948 was their next film together. This beautifully shot film noir about an adult man’s revenge for childhood abuse was well received by critics, but not audiences, who stayed away. Henning-Jensen’s next success story was the short film classic Palle Alone in the World, based on a popular children’s picture book, with her son Lars in the predominant lead role. In the early 1950s Henning-Jensen travelled to Norway, where she directed two feature films. After a couple of short films and documentaries, including Ballettens børn, she made Boy of Two Worlds/Paw in 1959. This was another film starring a child in the lead role, and one with West Indian roots, making it the first Danish film about racism. The film was nominated for an Oscar.

In the first half of the 1960s, Astrid Henning-Jensen joined the Danmarks Radio TV theatre department where she directed eight TV films, including two dramatizations of author H.C. Branner. The feature film Unfaithful/Utro, from the novel by Tove Ditlevsen, came along in 1966 and received a mixed reception. Between 1967 and 1979 Astrid Henning-Jensen directed the radio soap Karlsens kvarter; but she also made the feature film Winterborn/Vinterbørn (1978) which marked her comeback. It follows everyday life on a maternity ward, including footage of a real childbirth. The film sold 800,000 tickets and won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival. Her next feature appeared in 1980, The Moment/Øjeblikket, about cancer patient Line. She shot another Tove Ditlevsen film adaptation with Early Spring/Barndommens gade in 1986 based on her own screenplay, with a young Sofie Gråbøl in the lead role and a theme song by Anne Linnet. She finished off an impressive career with Bella, min Bella in 1996, which she directed at the age of 80. She pent the latter years of her life as an actor once again, including a role in Lars von Trier’s debut feature The Element of Crime/Forbrydelsens element.
Astrid Henning-Jensen is regarded as one of the first women directors in Denmark, alongside Alice O’Fredericks and Bodil Ipsen. Her long career in short film, documentary film and feature film, along with spells working as assistant camera, stills photographer, clapper/loader, editor, scriptwriter, assistant director and director (she is not credited in many of her husband’s films she worked on) make her a highly versatile filmmaker. Her films often centre around humanitarian, social and justice-seeking issues, and children and women are nearly always in front of the camera. She achieved great international recognition, and with Those Damned Kids from 1947 was the first one to properly make children’s film in Denmark. Her heyday was the 1940s, where together with Bjarne Henning-Jensen she made a raft of realist, socially engaging films which are recognized as indisputable classics of Danish film. Later on in her career she was criticized for being outdated and sentimental, but she as an energetic, staunch woman who had no sympathy for the feminist movement. In 1967, she told Danish daily Berlingske Tidende: “What I least want (…) is to be regarded as a woman who makes film. When I work, I am without gender. (…) Today I don’t believe there’s anyone in my circle who thinks of me as tall or short, woman or man. I’m just the director, the one who makes the decisions. Just as it should be….”

Birgit Granhøj, forskningsbibliotekar,
Det Danske Filminstitut
(Translated by Matt Bibby)

Basic info

Main profession: Director
Born: 1914
Died: 2002
Active: 1942-2000


Bella min Bella (2000)
Trods alt (1990)
Barndommens gade (1986)
Øjeblikket (1980)
Vinterbørn (1978)
Mig og dig (1969)
Min bedstefar er en stok (1968)
Nille (1968)
Utro (1966)
De blå undulater (1965)
Der er noget i luften (1964)
Et minde om to mandage (1964)
Vend dig ikke om (1964)
Den jagede (1963)
Hest på sommerferie (1962)
Forræderiet (1962)
Kvinden og soldaten (1962)
Een blandt mange (1961)
Et brev til en søn (1961)
Paw (1959)
Kærlighed på kredit (1955)
Ballettens børn (1954)
Tivoligarden spiller (1954)
Solstik (1953)
Ukjent mann (1951)
Kranes konditori (1951)
Vesterhavsdrenge (1950)
Palle alene i verden (1949)
Kristinus Bergman (1948)
De pokkers unger (1947)
Stemning i April (1947)
Denmark Grows Up (1947)
Den danske brigade (1946)
Brigaden i Sverige (1945)
Dansk politi i Sverige (1944)
S.O.S Kindtand (1943)
Cykeldrengene i Tørvegraven (1941)
Ditte Menneskebarn (1946) (instruktørassistent)
Flyktningar finner en hamn (1945) (instruktørassistent)
De danske Sydhavsøer (1944) (instruktørassistent)

Kort er sommeren (1962)
Nye venner (1956)
Naar man kun er ung (1943) (drejebog)

En sælfangst i Grønland (1955)
Føllet (1943)

Det gælder din frihed (1946)
Mødrehjælpen (1942) (fotografassistent)

Derudover en række skuespillerroller

Read more about the films at the Danish Film Institute (DK)

Read more about the films at Svensk Filmdatabas (SE)

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