We look back at the Danish actresses' best movie hits from over the years
Adept at both thrilling and capturing hearts through the screen, the Danish actress Connie Nielsen is a Nordic treasure. Hailing from Frederikshavn, through the course of her career Nielsen has worked on both Danish and English productions, with her timeless performances solidifying her as a skilled actress.
After moving to Paris when she was just 18-years-old, she took on a number of varied roles, but her career really hit the big time when she portrayed Lucilla, daughter of the emperor, in 2000’s Gladiator. Since then, she’s gone on to play a whole host of other unforgettable roles portrayed with a calibre that has been consistent throughout her long-running career, from One Hour Photo to British dramas such as Close to Me. For Nielsen, her work has always been a craft, one that isn’t governed by Hollywood cliches, but rather by her own will to perform and grow, a desire to truly act the part.
Here’s our definitive list of Nielsen’s greatest performances:
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Nielsen plays Satan’s seductive helper in this late ’90s drama. Starring alongside greats such as Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron, this film marked Nielsen’s first international release upon moving from Denmark to the US. The story is set around hot-shot lawyer Kevin, who is pulled into a world of opulent wealth and hedonistic pleasure when he starts a big firm in New York City. Undeterred by his fearful wife, he falls deeper into the devil’s clutches as he loses himself and his morals in the process. For Neilsen, The Devil’s Advocate was a big milestone that set the tone for the rest of her impressive career.
In this neo-noir, Nielsen portrays an anxiety-inducing character whose relentless ambition soon falls foul and spirals into corruption, unable to control the dark events unfolding around her and her own twisted part in them. Starring alongside Gina Gershon, Chloë Sevigny and Charles Berling, Nielsen’s character Diane’s descent into immorality, violence and espionage for the sake of capitalistic gain is a great commentary on cyber culture and its modern exploitation.
One Hour Photo (2002)
This hauntingly sinister masterpiece begins with a misunderstood loner and builds, with picture perfect cadence, into a hair-raising thriller. Robin Williams gives a brilliant performance, while Nielsen too stands out as in her role as the kindly mother of the family who becomes the object of Williams’ obsession. The title refers to the one hour photo lab run by Williams’ character Sy, a quiet and seemingly harmless man. That is, until his self-proclaimed role as “uncle Sy'' goes way too far.
This Roman epic was one of the biggest historical dramas of the 2000s, its fan base consisting of pretty much every person who was old enough to watch PG-13 films at the time. A classic tale of succession and favouritism where two men raised as brothers become sworn enemies as they struggle for power and survival in the face of a new regime. Nielsen, as Princess Lucilla, sports one of the most haunting gazes in movie history, with her performance cementing her as an international household name. If you haven’t seen it already, what have you been waiting for?
This Danish drama follows the story of two brothers: the golden boy and the black sheep. Their narratives are suddenly interchanged when the ‘good’ brother Michael is captured on a mission to Afghanistan and presumed dead by his family. As Michael is forced to make unimaginable choices in captivity, his younger brother Jannik steps into the space he has left behind.
When they are finally reunited, the family unravels; unable to return to their normal family life now that the men’s hearts have been irreversibly altered. Nielsen plays the wife and mother caught between two warring siblings in a strong and ardent performance that takes centre stage.
A Shine of Rainbows (2009)
Nielsen plays the angelic and caring Marie, caretaker to young orphan Tomás in this sweet, feel-good film based on the novel of the same name by author Lillian Beckwith. Tomàs is saved by Marie’s love and the secrets she shares of the island, sea and seals near where they live. He is taught to look for the magic in everything, something he must find within himself when his newfound happiness and family life are threatened. Nielsen is heavenly in this adventurous coming-of-age story set amongst the stunning landscape of the strikingly beautiful Irish coast.
Wonder Woman (2017)
An epic superhero film with the world’s most powerful and legendary women at its helm. When Princess Diana, a beautiful Amazonian, learns of a war with potential to wipe out humanity she leaves her homeland and family behind to save the world. Nielsen, who plays Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons and Wonder Woman’s mother, gives nothing short of a regal performance in this feminist powerhouse production. And even she herself has called it a “beautiful film” and hails the cultural significance it has meant for women around the world then and still today.