'The King's Choice': Film Review

Courtesy the Norwegian Film Institute
Royals resist Nazis in this vivid but superficial spectacle.

This Oscar-shortlisted foreign film scrutinizes Norway's role during World War II.

World War II stories continue to resonate with Oscar voters. Three of the nine movies on this year’s Oscar shortlist for best foreign-language film — Paradise from Russia, Land of Mine from Denmark and The King’s Choice from Norway — are set against that backdrop. The Norwegian entry may be the most conventional of the three, but it’s no less effective as a result. It has no American distributor as yet, which might change if it advances when the final nominations are announced on Tuesday. Handsomely mounted and well acted, the film breaks no new ground but remains engrossing.

The film has already been a critical and commercial success in Norway, undoubtedly because it retrieves a stirring piece of Norwegian history. The country’s role in the Second World War is not well known elsewhere, except perhaps for the betrayal of the traitorous Quisling, who cooperated with the Nazis in their bid to seize control of the country. Quisling is an offscreen character in The King’s Choice; the main characters are the King and members of the royal family who tried to resist the German aggressors.

The entire action takes place over a three-day period in April 1940, when German ships appeared in Norwegian waters, ostensibly to “save” the neutral Norwegians from interference by the British. The first German battleship is bombed and destroyed, but then the Germans advance by land as well as by sea. King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen) would like to maintain Norwegian neutrality, but it soon becomes clear that Adolf Hitler wants to occupy the country, which has a valuable harbor as well as mineral resources. If the King surrenders, he may save lives, but his country will remain under Nazi influence.

One of the most interesting characters is the German envoy (exceptionally well played by Karl Markovics, who starred in the Oscar-winning The Counterfeiters, as well as in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) who would like to find a peaceful solution that would allow the King to retain a measure of sovereignty. He is clearly intended to be the one “good German” in the story, and his performance adds complexity to the film.

The other characters are not so sharply defined in the writing. Christensen conveys the helpless anguish that is not always amplified in the script, and his relationship with his son (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is affecting. The film tries to broaden its scope by introducing the character of a young Norwegian soldier fighting the Nazis, but his character, like too many others, is fairly stock.

The pic benefits from excellent cinematography by John Christian Rosenlund. Large-scale battles and confrontation scenes are skillfully staged by director Erik Poppe. Although The King’s Choice works better as a grandly illustrated history lesson than as a piercing character study, it does retrieve a part of the past that deserves to be remembered.

Production companies: A Nordisk Film Distribusjon release of a Paradox Films production
Cast: Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics, Tuva Novotny, Katharina Schuttler
Director: Erik Poppe
Screenwriters: Harald Rosenlow Egg, Jan Trygve Royneland
Based on the novel by: Alf R. Jacobsen
Producers: Stein B. Kvae, Finn Gjerdrum
Executive producers: Jesper Christensen, Peter Garde, Henrik Zein
Director of photography: John Christian Rosenlund
Production designer: Peter Bavman
Costume designer: Karen Fabritius Gram
Editor: Einar Egeland
Music: Johan Soderqvist

133 minutes