fri 10/07/2020

DVD: The King's Choice | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The King's Choice

DVD: The King's Choice

Slow but engaging film tells the story of Norway's own darkest hours in 1940

Jesper Christensen as King Haakon VII: trying to do the right thing by Norway

It’s fascinating to compare this Norwegian film, which despite being Oscar-nominated (it made the Best Foreign Film shortlist of nine, but not the final five) has slipped out without a cinema release in the UK, with Darkest Hour. Set over a crucial few days in April 1940, it’s a parallel story of powerful personalities and their personal and political dilemmas in the face of Germany’s invasion of Europe. But the parallels don’t extend to directorial style; where Joe Wright opted for overly artful set pieces and CGI flourishes in Darkest Hour, for The King’s Choice Erik Poppe adheres to the Dogme school of handheld camera and minimal artifice, save for a few visual effects.

The film opens with a classic montage of newsreel archive giving the backstory. Danish prince Carl accepted the Norwegian throne in 1905 when Norway declared independence from Sweden. We see the celebrations as Carl is crowned King Haakon VII. Grainy black and white footage of the glamorous royals, graciously playing their roles as figureheads over the decades, is abruptly superseded by the Germans torpedoing ships in Norwegian waters in April 1940. Norway’s neutrality means nothing to the Nazis; Germany wants its coast for strategic purposes and the country’s interior for its iron mines. Invasion is inevitable and the king is faced with a choice – surrender or fight the Nazi war-machine with wholly inadequate Norwegian forces.The King's ChoicePoppe dramatises the next three days in painstaking detail. We cut between the royal family fleeing the city (pictured above: Haakon and the crown prince strafed by Nazi bombers), the baby-faced soldiers who are trying to defend them in the countryside, and the Nazi envoy to Norway, Kurt Braüer (Karl Markovics), who is trying to mediate with Berlin. The infamous Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian politician who became a puppet leader under the Nazis, is heard spouting insidious commands on the radio, but never seen.

There are some great performances in the film – particularly by Danish veteran Jesper Christensen as King Haakon – and some powerful dramatic scenes that really capture the fear and tension of that time. Filmed in snowy landscapes or on deserted city streets, the muted colours and interiors are quite beautiful. Adhering to Dogme rules, there is a very minimal but effective music score and sound effects. It’s a refreshingly restrained war movie which focuses on the royal family, moral dilemmas and local characters.

But it’s a long watch and not without its clichés – as young women in beautiful cardigan-and-blouse combinations look anxiously at the uniformed men around them barking orders, it’s almost impossible not to have the Downfall bunker parodies come to mind. And while the story of Haakon’s brave stand against inevitable invasion is a cornerstone of modern Norway’s sense of itself as a nation, it’s possibly not of huge interest outside the country. This DVD release comes with unimpressive extras – film of the premiere in Oslo with reactions from pensioners, and a fragment detailing the effects used to create the navy explosions.  


Overleaf: watch the Edinburgh Film Festival trailer for The King's Choice

Director Erik Poppe adheres to the Dogme school of handheld camera and minimal artifice


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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