The bloodiest event in Europe during peacetime. This is how historians refer to the Stockholm Bloodbath 500 years ago.
On 4 November 1520, Christian II of Denmark was happy to be crowned and celebrated as the rightful King of Sweden during a three-day feast for the Swedish elite at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. The day after the feast, he summoned the guests to the palace’s great hall and slammed the gates shut. Together with Archbishop Gustav Trolle, he then accused and sentenced a number of leading nobles and clergymen to death. A total of 82 people were beheaded over the next few days at Stortorget square, because they were opposed to the king’s plans to unify Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark under one king.
Viewers have high expectations of visual quality, and these demands have to be met, even if we have limited funds”Patrick Bratt, SVT
If the story sounds familiar, it may be due to its resemblance to the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, where Lord Walder Frey takes similar revenge on King Robb Stark.
Four weeks to produce a 20-second sequence
It is precisely the high production quality that viewers have grown to expect in streaming series such as Game of Thrones that manifests itself in SVT’s two-part documentary about the Stockholm Bloodbath, shown one week apart at the end of 2020/start of 2021.
“Viewers have high expectations of visual quality, and these demands have to be met, even if we have limited funds,” says Patrick Bratt, Executive Producer at SVT Documentary.
SVT outsourced this task to an external producer, Daniel Skogström from Faktabruket, who has recreated Stockholm in 3D and made use of green screen effects to depict the bloodbath as realistically as possible. Professional actors are involved, and the costumes and scenography are as close to reality as possible. Overall, this helps to elevate the impression of scenes that are evocative of a Hollywood production.
The documentary also uses crowd animations and fly-over shots, illustrating through aerial footage the gradual formation of the large Danish army as thousands of soldiers make their way to Stockholm.
“We’re only talking two sequences lasting 20 seconds in total, but that has taken a freelance animator with experience from the world of gaming four weeks to produce. However, we do use it several times,” explains Daniel Skogström.
500 years ago in Stockholm, heads were rolling – quite literally so. Although the documentary was planned for the late night slot after 21:00, the bloodiest details have been downplayed.
The script presented the greatest challenge
In Daniel Skogström’s opinion, however, the greatest challenge was not the technical aspects, but rather the writing of the script.
“It was a huge task to reduce the narrative to a story you can follow over a few hours. You have to simplify it without it becoming inaccurate to ensure that the narrative is still historically correct.”
Consequently, Daniel Skogström has allied himself with one of Sweden’s most respected historians, Bo Ericsson, who guarantees its historical accuracy.
When asked about the background to producing a documentary about one of the bloodiest chapters in Swedish history, Patrick Bratt says:
“We’re all part of our history, and we need to know about it. Perhaps what drives people now isn’t all that different from what drove them back then. And in this case, history reveals a sliding doors moment. Gustav Vasa would never have had the chance to become king, if all the leading noble families hadn’t been executed.”
Part of the filming took place in Copenhagen and Bergen, where Christian II – or Christian the Tyrant, as he was known in Sweden – also wrought havoc.
This is a Nordic co-production supported by DR, NRK and YLE.
Stockholms blodbad (SVT)
Co-producers: DR, NRK and YLE
Production company: Faktabruket
Premiere: January 2021