Gripped by disturbing melodrama

Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt
Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt

BY chance Danish film The Hunt (Cert 15) arrives in Britain at a timely moment when allegations of child abuse are in the air in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal resulting in at least one case of false accusations.

Thomas Vinterburg’s gripping melodrama is a disturbing story of how when rumour, suspicion and malice are allowed to flourish in a close-knot community, the effect can be devastating.

Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, who lives in a small village with a circle of friends who include deer-hunting drinking mates. At 40 he is going through a difficult divorce and is working as a nursery assistant after losing his job as a teacher when the local school closed.

But a new relationship with an East European work colleague (Alexandra Rapaport) and the prospect of renewing contact with his teenage son suggests things are looking up.

Then he inadvertently upsets one of the nursery schoolchildren, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), daughter of his closest friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) and when she is questioned by the concerned head (Susse Wold) blurts out the lie that Lucas exposed himself to her.

It is her word against his and the view is taken that children never lie – a complete reversal of what historically occurred – and the allegation gathers momentum as the small community is gripped by hysteria, igniting a witch-hunt that threatens to destroy an innocent man’s life.

Mikkelsen, best known to international audiences as the baddie in Casino Royale, is superb as the flawed hero who tries to fight his corner but finds himself ostracised by virtually everyone and subject to violent attacks.

Adding to the tragedy is the confusion and sorrow of Klara (a wonderfully expressive Wedderkopp). It is an immensely powerful film from the director of the influential Festen.