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BERLIN 2017 Panorama Special

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The King’s Choice: The story of the monarch who called Hitler’s bluff

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- BERLIN 2017: After stirring audiences in Norway, Erik Poppe’s The King’s Choice joins a number of other films based on real-life historical events at this year’s Berlinale

The King’s Choice: The story of the monarch who called Hitler’s bluff
Jesper Christensen in The King’s Choice

It’s not hard to work out why The King’s Choice [+see also:
trailer
interview: Erik Poppe
film profile
]
was such a hit in Norway, sprinting past the competition to become the country’s contender for the approaching Oscars. The fifth film from director Erik Poppe, screening in the Panorama section of the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, shows the Nordic nation in a bracing new light as it takes us back to a decisive moment in its history, when it fell to King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen) to make a decision that would decide the country’s fate. Against a ticking clock and entirely alone, he must choose how to respond to the ultimatum presented to him by Hitler (circumventing the constitutional government): surrender or be crushed. Guided by his deep sense of duty and sacrifice and determined to preserve the dignity of his country and its democratic institutions, the King takes the more courageous path and decides that Norway will resist, elevating his “purely ceremonial” role with this decisive act of integrity and confronting his own fears while the bombs rain down.

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During these crucial days for the future of Norway, the Danish-born king crosses swords with various different figures, becoming embroiled in a series of tussles that serve to highlight the profound solitude of his position. On one side, there’s the German diplomat, Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics), to whom the Führer has entrusted the task of persuading the King to capitulate; on the other, there’s his own son, Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), who takes a very different view of the role that he will one day inherit. As we watch this politico-diplomatic drama unfold, the war rages on in the background. The roar of missiles is accompanied by a lavish orchestral score that ramps up the tension with a single repeated chord, seeming to rise up from the depths to reach a crescendo and then vanish, only to re-emerge later, like a predator lying in wait. 

Although it’s a deftly executed film, The Kings Choice does little to reinvigorate a familiar genre, ending with the usual biographical text revealing the fate of the central characters and the age at which they eventually died. However, when judged fairly by the standards of conventional biopics, this is a very polished piece of filmmaking, featuring some gorgeous cinematography. Where it falls down slightly is in the somewhat naive way in which its hero is portrayed, like an image from an oil-painting: a thoroughly decent man, an engaged, understanding father and a charming grandfather and father-in-law. The entire Norwegian monarchy, in fact, is bathed in an unfailingly flattering light. In this case, when we would find it impossible to doubt the propriety and integrity of the King’s decision, it would be wrong to judge Poppe too harshly for his rose-tinted view of the man who took on the most evil of all villains. Instead of testing the boundaries of its genre, The Kings Choice has opted for a classic finesse that amply justifies its warm reception on the part of the Norwegian public.

The Kings Choice was produced by Norwegian company Paradox Spillefilm and the Irish Newgrange Pictures; international sales are in the hands of Beta Cinema.

(Translated from French)

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