The King’s Choice is a prestigious, often sumptuous and emotionally rich outing. It’s yet another pic that obviously uses the facts in a famous factual tale to make a powerful point about the right here and right now.
Oslo-born director Erik Poppe’s previous effort 1,000 Times Good Night was an urgent contemporary drama about war (and protagonist Juliette Binoche’s desensitisation to it), but this historical epic takes us back to one of the key moments in Norway’s history in the 20th Century.
Opening with helpful exposition about Norway’s royal family and glimpses of the real people involved in faded black and white footage, this then introduces us to King Haakon VII, played with great and lovely restraint by Danish actor Jesper Christensen (who also signed on as a producer). It’s 1940 and his son, Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), and his family are uneasy about the potential arrival of invading German forces. Early scenes feature fine playing by Jesper and the rest of the cast as they debate whether the Nazis would ever really do such a thing.
The Third Reich does invade though, of course, and after a brilliantly tense sequence involving the bombing of battleships in the dark of night, featuring some excellent FX, The King’s Choice then follows the royal family and remaining government ministers as they’re continually forced to escape from one hiding place to another, and by train, car and on foot. We also cut back and forth from German envoy Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics), a well-intentioned man with the impossible job of trying to set up negotiations between the Germans and the Norwegians, although his superiors keep blowing things up. As the King eventually asks, how is it negotiating if one side wants complete surrender? And although he doesn’t have much real power (monarchs tend not to) will His Majesty stand up to the aggressors?
With wonderfully subtle playing throughout the cast, from Christensen and Christiansen to Tuva Novotny as Princess Märtha and (introduced rather late in the action) Arthur Hakalahti as frightened soldier Seeberg, this is a stirring biographical saga which never feels too long, even at 133 minutes. Again, like so many historical dramas, it’s obviously studying the past, but also all about the here and now — especially now that Nazis are making a comeback, damn them.
Rated M. The King’s Choice is in cinemas now