Film review: The King’s Choice
Christine Foster Meloni
The King’s Choice (Kongens nei) was named Best Norwegian Film of 2016 by the Norwegian Film Critics Association. It was Norway’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Academy Awards and it made the shortlist of nine films that were considered for an Academy Award nomination.
In this year’s FilmFest DC, which offered 80 films from 45 countries, the Norwegian film placed third in the Audience Award’s Best Feature category.
Directed by Erik Poppe, this biographical war film was a co-production of Norway and Ireland. It focuses on King Haakon VII, who had to make the crucial decision whether Norway should continue to resist the German forces that had invaded his country or should accept the German demands and surrender to Nazi Germany and Vidkun Quisling’s puppet regime. The film highlights the events that immediately precede and follow King Haakon’s decision.
In the opening scene, King Haakon is playing in the snow with his three small grandchildren. (One child is Harald, Norway’s current king.) His enjoyment is suddenly interrupted when he is given some devastating news—the Germans have arrived in Oslo. The date is April 9, 1940.
The invaders tell the Norwegians that they have arrived to protect them from the British who have laid land mines in the local harbor. The Norwegians do not accept this benign explanation. They understand that the Germans are interested in Norway’s coastline and iron ore reserves and have arrived to take control of the country. Norway had hoped to stay neutral during the war but now it is clear that this is no longer possible.
King Haakon VII had been Norway’s reigning monarch since 1905, when Norway gained its independence from Sweden. Although he was only a figurehead, the Norwegians loved and respected him and looked to him for the final decision. Unlike his brother King Christian of Denmark, who surrendered his country, Haakon refused to capitulate to the Germans and became the leader of the Norwegian resistance.
The film alternates between dramatic scenes in which the king and his family are pursued by the Germans, who are particularly interested in capturing Crown Prince Olav’s baby son, and scenes in which the king discusses strategic plans with government officials. In the end they manage to escape and safely reach Great Britain where Haakon and Olav lead the resistance and remain the most important inspiration to the people of Norway. Throughout the film one observes the close relationship between Haakon and his son Olav. Haakon is his son’s friend and his guide.
Norway’s situation during World War II is not very familiar to American audiences, and this film serves to show an important period of Norwegian history. The acting is excellent with Danish Jesper Christensen as King Haakon, Anders Baasmo Christiansen as Crown Prince Olav, and Karl Markovics as Kurt Braüer, a German diplomat who finds himself out of step with his own government and pushes unsuccessfully for Norway’s neutrality. As the King and his family flee across Norway, viewers are able to catch glimpses of the magnificent countryside of Norway.
The King’s Choice has been screened in many U.S. film festivals, with a wider theatrical release projected for this August. You can catch it at the Seattle International Film Festival June 9 and 11. For more details, visit www.siff.net.
This article originally appeared in the June 2, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.