Review: The King’s Choice

Taught political drama broadens the theatre of world war with an impossible dilemma. What price the crown?

Australian audiences are used to being fed WWII narratives predominantly from the British or American perspective, so it’s truly refreshing when filmmakers step outside of the well-relayed corners of this all-consuming maelstrom to relay stories less well known.

Danish writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s Best Foreign Language Oscar-nominated Land of Mine (Under Sandet) was a brilliant recent example, detailing the morally dubious press-ganging of Hitler youth into removing the German-set land mines scarring the Danish coast, with many, many casualties.

If Norwegian director Erik Poppe’s The King’s Choice (Kongens Nei) isn’t quite as emotionally involving, it’s no less fascinating in elucidating one of WWII’s oft-overlooked dilemmas.

Working from a screenplay by his 1,000 Times Good Night (Tusen Ganger God Natt) co-writers Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Jan Trygve Røyneland, Poppe’s film takes place over the course of three dramatic days in 1940 that tried the nation’s 35-year young constitutional monarchy.

Norwegian King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen) is of a mind to tow the Swiss line of neutrality, recognising his army was in no position to fight back against Hitler’s forces and that to do so would condemn many thousands of his citizens to death. His son, Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) believes they have a duty to stand against the encroaching aggressor.

That division is soon tested when the Fuhrer’s warships sail into Oslo’s harbour bearing with them the horrifying realisation that it may already be too late. Karl Markovics impresses as the German diplomat pressing for a peaceful surrender as the only real option, though his authority is soon called into question when the fatherland’s soldiers arrive.

Beyond this compelling strand, The King’s Choice is, perhaps unsurprisingly though a touch frustratingly, focused predominantly on the royal family. Though theirs is a privileged background, there’s nonetheless a frightening sense of the disorientating madness of war as everything they know dissolves in an instant, with flight the only option. The mayhem is exacerbated by John Christian Rosenlund’s juddering handheld camera and Christensen and Christiansen do well in conveying the crossfire of duelling duties.

A civilian storyline involving a young soldier (Arthur Hakalahti) could have been teased out a little more to broaden the film’s scope and it does seem more than a little odd that collaborator politician Vidkun Quisling, whose very name has become synonymous with treachery, is mentioned but never seen. Even Hitler gets a brief vocal cameo care of Udo Schenk.

Playing mostly in the tense rooms where tortured decisions are made before madness breaks, Poppe does stage an exhilarating snow shoot out and a deafening air raid, the latter most successful in demonstrating the true civilian cost of important men’s decisions. If at time it’s a little too stuffy in its overlong historical lesson, The King’s Choice is still commendable in mapping out a battle far wider than we’re often shown.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords