The King's Choice (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
The King's Choice is a riveting, day-by-day re-telling of a story of Norway's decision to stand independent or join a fight they do not believe in in 1940 during World War II.
Gripping, well-acted, and beautifully shot.
Finds yet another fascinating story from a time period of world history which keeps bearing fruit for storytellers and directors.
From Norway, documenting a significant crossroads in Norwegian history, this film might have limited appeal beyond the arthouse.
Through the plethora of films made regarding stories of World War II, a viewer fatigue may keep people from exploring this movie.
Does this translate effectively to American audiences?
After just missing an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2016, The King's Choice, a Norwegian film documenting a pivotal moment in that country's history during World War II, arrives in theaters in the fall of 2017. Director Erik Poppe has crafted a riveting story of a largely symbolic King having to suddenly make a decision to either protect his country from being taken over by Nazi Germany, or stand on its own and fight to retain its independence.
Poppe and screenwriters Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Jan Trygve Røyneland give us a moment-by-moment breakdown of how King Haakon VII (Jesper Christiansen), the first elected King of Norway in 1905, is forced to act over approximately 48 hours in the spring of 1940.
Germany, under orders of Adolf Hitler, invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, though their effort was met with heavy losses and resistance. Norway's surprising retaliation at sea led to Germany unable to seize Oslo, Norway's capital. This delay allowed the Norwegian government and the Royal Family an opportunity to flee and escape by train.
Though the King had considerable power, Norway's decisions were largely made by a central government, and his monarchy was illustrative at best. Furthermore, his reticence to assert those powers, and serve as a symbol of stability and in unity with the government, made him a popular figure among Norwegian people.
Poppe's film shows us the impact that Germany's invasion had, not just on the Norwegian government, but on the King, his son, Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), and even Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics), the ambassador dispatched by Hitler to demand Norway acquiesce to Germany's advances and agree to place a Norwegian fascist, Vidkun Quisling, in power as Prime Minister. Bräuer, with a young wife and child, is stuck between convincing the King to abdicate his authority, and understanding the decision he is placing before a proud and respected man.
The proverbial choice here is whether the King allows Germany to seize control of Norway and save lives, or refuse, recognizing that German invasion forces have already attempted to come by sea, have advanced on land, and will likely strike from the air, immediately upon the King's refusals.
Parallels can be made between recent world conflicts and this particular moment in world history. Hitler sought the nation's iron ore reserves and the taking of Norway seemed easy enough, the country initially shell-shocked by the aggression and not prepared.
Thankfully, The King's Choice digs beyond the surface of the story, and gives us more than a bunch of politicians running around asking "What do we do?" Poppe works with a script that is smart, scant on melodrama, and gives us the proper context for understanding the sudden, immediate, and unbelievable pressure these 2-3 days brought on all involved.
History tells us the story of what King Haakon VII chose to do, and yet, Poppe's film is so well constructed that, while largely dialogue-driven, we are hanging on the backroom dealings and clandestine conversations that force the King to strip away his neutrality and take a stand, one way or another.
Impeccably shot by cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund, Poppe earns terrific performances from Jesper Christiansen in the leading role and Markovics' terrific turn as Bräuer. In appropriate places and in key moments, the movie plays like a suspense-thriller of sorts, with scenes feeling episodic but having purpose. Title cards acquaint us with time, hour, and place, and, if you engage with the material, they afford you the chance to catch your breath before the pressure amps up considerably.
Beyond cinephiles and history buffs, The King's Choice is a film that may not to appeal to a wide, mainstream audience. For those interested in it, although the movie runs a bit long at 130 minutes, much of the film provides riveting and compelling drama.
Jesper Christiansen's terrific turn gives us an authority figure we can empathize with, a kind, fair man, forced to act in an emergency, with an entire nation's present and future history held in his hands.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Jesper Christiansen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics, Tuva Novotny, Katharina Schüttler, Erik Hivju, Juliane Köhler, Rolf Kristian Larsen.
Director: Erik Poppe
Written by: Harald Rosenløw-Eeg, Jan Trygve Røyneland
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Samuel Goldwyn Films