Nordisk Greenlights Biopics of 'Out of Africa' Author, Nuclear Science Pioneer

Karen Blixen, Niels Bohr Split - H - 2018
Credit: Nordisk Film

The Danish studio has acquired upcoming biographies of author Karen Blixen and scientist Niels Bohr to adapt as feature films.

Danish studio Nordisk Film has greenlit a pair of biopics based on the lives of two of the best-known Danes in history: Out of Africa author Karen Blixen and scientist Niels Bohr, one of the fathers of the nuclear bomb.

Nordisk has snapped up film rights to two upcoming books by famed author and historian Tom Buk-Swienty: The Lioness on Karen Blixen and The Great Dane on Bohr.

The Copenhagen-based shingle company is planning The Lioness as both a feature film and miniseries about the life of Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen), a Danish Baroness whose account of running a coffee plantation in Kenya was turned into the 1985 Oscar-winner Out of Africa. Mikael Rieks (Land of Mine) will produce with Jakob Weis (That Time of Year) adapting Buk-Swienty's biography for the screen. The new biography will be published in August 2019 via Danish publishing house Gyldendal. 

For his new historical account, Buk-Swienty had access to never-before used material detailing the accounts of Blixen's Karen Coffee Company. The book outlines Blixen's role as a pioneering female CEO, in charge of more than 1,000 workers and describes her often-troubled dealings with her uncle, Aage Westenholz, the main investor in her farm, who lost a fortune on the failed business venture.

“More than 30 years ago, Karen Blixen’s story took the world by storm in Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Klaus Maria Brandauer. It is therefore with great humility that we now carry on the torch,” says Rieks. “With Tom Buk-Swienty’s new narrative we have the material to tell a topical and exciting story that goes behind the many myths she created about herself in Out of Africa. We will depict the period in Karen Blixen’s life when she steps into the role of business woman and adventurer, presenting a highly fascinating portrait of a very modern woman whose life resonates deeply with the fundamental issues of our times.”

The film version of The Lioness is expected for 2021-2022. Nordisk is also looking to adapt the biography as a television miniseries.

Separately, Harry Potter and Gravity producer David Heyman is developing a TV series adaptation of Karen Blixen's original autobiographical novel Out of Africa from 1937. Heyman's Heyday Television — a joint venture with NBCUniversal International Studios — has acquired the rights to the book, with Oscar winner Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) attached to executive produce and direct.

Nordisk also signed a deal with Buk-Swienty to adapt his Niels Bohr biography, tentatively titled The Great Dane, which Gyldendal is set to publish in 2022. Famed as the founder of the so-called Copenhagen School of theoretical nuclear physics, Bohr was a towering figure of 20th century science. A Nobel laureate, he was considered by many to be Albert Einstein’s only intellectual equal.

Because of his Jewish heritage, Bohr had to flee German-occupied Denmark in 1943 to neutral Sweden and only just escaped from there to the U.K. He was then sent to the U.S. and, under a cover name, worked on the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb.  Buk-Swienty's new biography will chronicle Bohr’s breakthrough in the field of quantum physics and the road to the nuclear bomb but also track Bohr’s deep misgivings about the nuclear bomb and his, ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to prevent a nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

”For a long time, I have wanted to turn the life of Niels Bohr— and especially the events during and after World War II — into an international film. More than ever before, Tom Buk-Swienty’s biography on Niels Bohr will give us a much more intimate look at the scientist and the private man,” says producer Rieks, “I have no doubt that I’ve found the best possible starting point for an epic tale of war and love, creative power and curiosity, triumph and despair.”

Nordisk's film adaptation of The Great Dane is set for 2023.

Nordisk is one of Denmark's oldest, and most respected, production companies. Recent features include Gustav Moller's acclaimed thriller The Guilty, which made it onto the best foreign-language shortlist for the 2019 Oscars.