THE KING'S CHOICE
Director: Erik Poppe
Cast: Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics, Tuva Novotny, Katharina Schüttler, Erik Hibju, Svein Tindberg, Arthur Hakalahti, Juliane Köhler, Ketil Høegh, Andreas Lust, Gerald Pettersen, Jan Frostad
Running Time: 2:13
Release Date: 8/22/17 (limited); 9/29/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 29, 2017
Within a few hours, the entire country of Norway was put into disarray. In the early morning hours of April 9, 1940, German warships appeared along the coast. Bombing runs began as the day progressed. The military was unprepared, because the government had been convinced that its state of neutrality in the burgeoning war would protect the nation. They believed that the Führer's proclamations of nationalism applied to each country individually, and surely, the leader of Germany would not attempt to claim the nations of Scandinavia as his own.
This was, of course, an error in judgment. The peninsula possessed strategic worth, with its ports and its position in regards to Britain, and a wealth of iron ore, which was necessary for the growth of the Nazi war machine.
All of this information is essential to know, and it's impressive how The King's Choice, a dramatization of the first three days of the German invasion of Norway, establishes an understanding of the background details, without sacrificing the mounting atmosphere of hopelessness and a claustrophobic sense of shrinking options. The film's focus is on the King of Norway, a man who was elected to his position after the country became its own sovereign state in 1905. It opens with archival footage of the king's arrival from Denmark with his family—met by a crowd of cheering Norwegians. The celebration was for him, but it was also, one assumes, for the fact that this king would only serve as a figurehead.
His election and agreement not to hold any official power within the state pointed to a democratic government. That was the vital part.
When the German warships arrive on the coastal cities of the country, that government becomes even more important, even though it had failed to prepare for this scenario or to have any plan should it occur. King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen) had suggested that the government ready the military. His son, the Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), had been even stronger in his opinion on the matter, wanting his father to do more to convince the government.
The king, though, knew and respected his place. Whether or not he was the correct decision is irrelevant to Haakon. It was the right one in the big picture of democracy, in which no single person has the authority to decide the fate of a country and its people. The man in Germany could never understand that, which is why he believes the key to conquering Norway is to kill, capture, or, in the best scenario, convince the king to turn over control of the country to Germany.
The screenplay by Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Jan Trygve Røyneland, then, provides us with a fascinating protagonist—a man whose primary through line is to avoid making decisions. This does not translate into indecisiveness, mind you, because his inaction is founded on principle. He has made one, key decision in his time as monarch, and that is that he will never decide for the country.
The thrust of the story is—obviously , given the film's title—to place Haakon in a position in which he must decide whether or not to give up that principle. Is the principle what matters, or is the greater good the values upon which that sole principle was founded?
It's not much of a question under the circumstances, but the film's point is to establish the overwhelming strain of that situation. The temptation in such movies of historical import is to give us the facts, an outline events, and a basic understanding of the people involved. This one rises above such easy and straightforward objectives, simply by way of making the story about a conflict between principles and the reality of trying to stay true to them.
The plot is partly structured as a sort of chase, as the king, the rest of the royal family, and the government flee Oslo while German forces begin to overrun the cities of Norway. The cabinet of the prime minister (played by Gerald Pettersen), the parliament's president (played by Jan Frostad), assorted member of the legislative body seem uncertain of how to proceed, save to mobilize the military and hope for the best.
Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics), the German envoy to Norway, has an agreement for the government to cede power to Hitler, just as Haakon's brother, the King of Denmark, has to save his country from destruction. Both the government and Bräuer want to negotiate. As the German military begins to take control of activity with direct orders from Berlin and after a coup by a Nazi sympathizer within the country, the envoy's principle of maintaining peace with and neutrality for Norway seems impossible.
It's apparent that Rosenløw-Eeg and Røyneland have done their research, but the film, directed by Erik Poppe, is never weighed down by passages of background and expository details. Poppe and cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund employ a handheld-camera approach, giving intimacy and immediacy to the discussions and debates. The performances are natural, with Christensen offering a king whose sense of devotion to his country never feels like hagiography.
The heart of the film becomes the relationship between the king and the prince, and the film's most affecting moment is one in which the father, as he gives what could be his final advice to his heir, communicates the depth of his feelings toward his son without saying a word about them. This is not the kind of subtlety we expect from a historical drama, but in its political and personal aims, The King's Choice has chosen nuance over historical melodrama.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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