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Copenhagen (2002)

Not Rated | | Drama, History, War | TV Movie 27 September 2002
A television adaptation of Michael Frayn's celebrated and award-winning stage play about the meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941 Copenhagen. At this time the... See full summary »


Howard Davies


Howard Davies (adaptation), Michael Frayn

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Cast overview:
Stephen Rea ... Niels Bohr
Daniel Craig ... Werner Heisenberg
Francesca Annis ... Magrethe Bohr


A television adaptation of Michael Frayn's celebrated and award-winning stage play about the meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941 Copenhagen. At this time the young Heisenberg was leading a faltering German research program into nuclear energy, while the middle-aged and apparently isolated Bohr was in contact with allied agents, and still held a position of great influence in the nuclear physics research community. After the meeting the two men put different interpretations or impressions of why Heisenberg requested the meeting, and what he hoped to gain from it, a theme which mirrors the ambiguity of the "Copenhagen" interpretation widely used in quantum physics. Did Heisenberg go to the avuncular Bohr to seek his blessing for his role in nuclear research? Why did Heisenberg concentrate on the development of a nuclear reactor, and not perform the calculations which would show that a bomb could be made to work via a fast-neutron reaction in Uranium 235? ... Written by Simon Shearn

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | History | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »


Official Sites:

PBS [United States]





Release Date:

27 September 2002 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Copenhage See more »

Filming Locations:

Copenhagen, Denmark See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The original Broadway production of "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn opened at the Royale Theater on April 11, 2000, ran for three hundred twenty-six performances and won the 2000 Tony Award for the Best Play. Michael Frayn's script was used as the basis of the screenplay for the movie version. See more »


When Bohr digresses on the fission chain reaction, he indicates that one fissioned uranium atom is enough to move a speck of dust, then "until eventually after, let's say eighty generations, two hundred and eighty specks of dust have been moved, enough specks of dust to constitute an entire city." Rather than 280, the number is 2^80, as the result of eighty doublings (indicating the rather important carat exponent symbol was left out of the script or omitted by the actor). The number reads as two to the eightieth power... about a trillion trillion. See more »


Featured in Zomergasten: Episode #18.3 (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

Brilliant drama of ideas
9 February 2003 | by F Gwynplaine MacIntyreSee all my reviews

I saw Michael Frayn's stage play 'Copenhagen' in London ... in fact, I was technically *IN* the play, as Peter Davison's set design seated some of the audience members onstage directly above the actors, like a tribunal sitting in judgment, and I chose to watch the play from one of these onstage seats. (I also saw the play on Broadway in the same circumstances, so technically I was onstage during both productions.) This brilliant drama is basically an interplay of ideas between three highly intelligent minds: a concept which works better onstage than in a film or a teleplay. So, when 'Copenhagen' was adapted for television by the BBC, I was eager to see how they would 'open up' this story ... and whether or not the transition would work.

It works astonishingly well. During the Second World War, brilliant young physicist Werner Heisenberg was in Germany, working towards the Nazi government's efforts to develop a nuclear bomb. Meanwhile, Heisenberg's older mentor and friend, Niels Bohr, was working quietly in his native Denmark (under Nazi occupation at the time) along with his wife Margrethe. Bohr's wife was not a trained physicist, but many people who knew the Bohrs stated that she was an active partner in his work, and that Mrs Bohr deserves to share credit for Bohr's achievements. In 1941, Heisenberg journeyed to Copenhagen to visit his old friends the Bohrs, although their disparate allegiances during the war had strained the friendship. To this day, historians debate why Heisenberg visited the Bohrs at this time. Also debated is Heisenberg's loyalty to the Nazi cause. Did Heisenberg actively try (and fail) to develop an atomic bomb for the Third Reich? Or was Heisenberg secretly an anti-Nazi who covertly harmed the German war effort by pretending to work on the bomb whilst sabotaging his labmates' efforts? As with the assassination of JFK, there are many different theories as to what 'really' happened here. Heisenberg devised the Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics, so it's ironic that we can never be certain about what really occurred in Copenhagen.

The TV version of 'Copenhagen' is brilliant. The action is opened up by having Heisenberg journey to Copenhagen (on a vintage 1940s railway train) while an internal monologue plays on the soundtrack. When he meets the Bohrs, the three of them stroll through various (extremely beautiful) buildings and landmarks in Copenhagen, with an occasional Nazi soldier walking past to remind us that Denmark is effectively part of the Third Reich. The period detail is impeccable throughout, and the locations are a delight to look at.

The script of this teleplay is actually superior to the stage version. In the stage play, after Bohr is identified as 'the pope of quantum physics', his wife replies: 'yes, you were the pope ... but Einstein was God'. This is a cheap joke, meant to raise a laugh from audience members who recognise Einstein yet who lack of knowledge of Bohr's achievements. With due respect to Einstein, the historical fact is that Niels Bohr achieved far more in the field of quantum physics than any other three scientists combined, including Einstein ... so I was grateful that the Einstein joke was removed here. (Einstein's achievements were in relativity, not quantum theory.) Another, much better line from the stage play is retained, when Heisenberg contemplates the concept of 'quantum morality' ... in other words, the journey from Good to Evil (or vice versa) can only be made in a single quantum leap, with no gradual transition from one state to the other. Intriguing!

I wish that the script of 'Copenhagen' (stage or screen version) had included a crucial irony which was mentioned in the playbill of the London production: namely, that most of the important work in the development of the atomic bomb was achieved by Jewish scientists, precisely **because** of policies implemented by the Nazi government. In Nazi Germany, applied physics was considered a much more prestigious field of research than theoretical physics, so Jewish scientists were shut out of employment opportunities in the former, and they concentrated their research efforts in the latter ... which was the field that developed the atomic bomb.

The excellent actor Stephen Rea does fine work as Bohr, and his castmates are splendid too. If you're looking for car chases or action sequences, 'Copenhagen' is not for you. But if you want to experience brilliant acting, sumptuous locales and an exchange of provoking ideas, then I recommend 'Copenhagen' ... and I rate this TV movie 10 points out of 10. This fascinating drama won't Bohr you. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)

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