Gabriel Axel: Director, producer and actor who became the first Dane to win an Academy Award for best foreign film


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The Independent Online

Gabriel Axel, who has died at the age of 95, became the first Dane to win an Oscar for best foreign film with his international breakthrough, Babette's Feast (1987). Based on the novel by the Danish writer Karen Blixen, the film tells the tale of a 19th century Parisian woman, played by Stéphane Audran, who finds shelter in a remote, puritanical Danish village, living with two sisters who maintain a strict religious philosophy.

As well as an Academy Award, Babette's Feast won a Bafta. More recently, in 2010 the future Pope Francis told journalists that it is his favourite film.

Gabriel Axel Moerch was born in 1918 in Denmark's second city, Aarhus, but divided his time between his homeland and France. He grew up in Paris, where his father owned a factory, and at the age of 18 he returned to Denmark to work as a carpenter making furniture. But the theatre drew him, and he enrolled in the Royal Danish Theatre Actors' School, graduating in 1945. He dropped his last name when he joined the Paris theatre troupe formed by the French actor and director Louis Jouvet. Axel directed several large projects for French television then returned to Denmark, producing series for the country's public broadcaster as well as directing films in the 1950s and 1960s. He also acted.

Axel's other works include Prince of Jutland, a 1994 film telling the story of Amled, the Danish prince whose life inspired Hamlet. In 2003 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival.


Gabriel Axel Moerch, actor, television producer and film director: born Aarhus, Denmark 18 April 1918; married Lucie (died 1996; four children); died 9 February 2014.