THE KING’S CHOICE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Erik Poppe

Stars: Jesper Christensen, Karl Markovics, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Arthur Hakalahti.

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In April 1940, the German war machine invaded Norway on the pretext of protecting it. Germany’s actions had violated Norway’s traditional stance of neutrality, and the parliament, led by the Nazi sympathiser Quisling, was in disarray. The long serving King Haakon VII (played by Jesper Christensen, who we saw in the Bond film Casino Royale, etc) was presented with an ultimatum by the German envoy Carl Brauer (Karl Markovics) – either surrender or die. The King had to make a tough choice, and he faced a huge burden of responsibility that would determine the future of his country. He knew that Norway’s army could not withstand the might of the German army, but he didn’t want to surrender meekly either.

This film, based on little known historical events, follows three crucial days in April as the King debated the best course of action with his son, Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen, from Kon Tiki, etc), and his closest advisors. The king’s immediate family sought refuge in neighbouring Sweden for the duration of the war. The King and Olav sought shelter in the farming community of Elverum, and eventually made their way to England where they provided inspirational leadership to the resistance movement.

A strong subplot follows young and inexperienced soldier Seeberg (newcomer Arthur Hakalahti), who is thrust into combat, and his story gives us some insights into the horrors and futility of war. And we also follow Brauer as he tries to negotiate a deal with the king, and we meet his family.

This inspiring historical drama has been based on a script written by Harald Rosenlow-Eeg and Jan Trygve Royneland (both of whom collaborated on 2013’s 1,000 Times Goodnight). The film also deals with themes of heroism, duty, sacrifice, responsibility, power, leadership. It has been directed by Erik Poppe (Troubled Waters, etc) and is Poppe juggles the several narrative strands with skill, and he effectively brings plenty of tension to the material. The film has been nicely edited by Einar Egeland, who weaves between the narrative strands with clarity. The film also rings with authenticity as Poppe has an eye for the sets and costumes and realistic period detail.

The film has been crisply shot in widescreen by Poppe’s regular cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund (the Norwegian disaster film The Wave, etc) who uses hand held cameras during a couple of harrowing combat sequences to take us into the thick of the action.

Christensen captures Haakon’s dilemma beautifully with a regal performance full of gravitas, and he conveys the very real conflicts he faces. He also gives him a sense of humanity through his warm relationship with his son Olav. Markovics delivers a sympathetic portrayal as Brauer and he brings a hint of dignity to his role as the envoy who has been charged with the difficult task of negotiating with the king.

The King’s Choice explores one of the darkest periods of Norway’s history, and was the country’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars.
★★★☆

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