At the international première of The King’s Choice, director Erik Poppe advised the audience that he had tried to create a film that was “more historical than fictional.”
Using archival footage to set the stage for the ascension of King Haakon VII—Norway’s first democratically elected monarch, sifting through mountains of documentation and interviewing those both in and outside the Royal Family who had experienced the German invasion in April 1940, Poppe convincingly achieves his primary goal.
From a storyline point of view, the 133-minute production might be succinctly summed up in three words: doing one’s duty.
The actual choice was simplicity itself: sign a pact of cooperation with Hitler and thousands of lives would be saved; refusing the virtually non-negotiable agreement would mean losing all notion of being neutral in the Britain-Germany conflict and forced to join the fight.
Given just a very brief mention was the fact that Britain had already placed mines in Norwegian ports (ostensibly to cut off the vital supply of iron ore to the Third Reich). Accordingly—argued the Germans—Norway had already lost its neutrality.
Like so many films in this awards season (cross-reference below), protecting the lives of young, innocent children is strongly woven into the narrative fabric. In this case, King Haakon’s grandchildren deftly represent so many, many others. Indeed, writers Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Jan Trygyve Røyneland bookend this incredible journey with the Norwegian sovereign interacting with his Piglet-loving urchins.
The other baby face in the mix is eternally boyish Private Fredrik Seeberg (Arthur Hakalahti nails the part: particualry effective are the extra-long salutes to his commander in chief and the—temporarily—mood-lightening handstand-in-front-of-mates-before-battle scene).
Representing Germany in Oslo (prior to and during the invasion) is Envoy Kurt Bräuer (superbly played by Karl Markovics). Much of the film’s sense of humanity and good-evil balance stems from his tireless efforts to get the pact signed—if only to save lives. But the hapless diplomat (given his unbending masters) stands to lose much more than his position (failure to get the deal done is not an option). Striking his politically astute wife (Katharina Schülttler is a model of stoic dignity) in a fit of pique is as reprehensible as it is believable: war’s victims are frequently on the same side.
Masterfully rendered and eerily chilling to the bone is Bräuer’s phone conversation with the Führer. From that moment on, even those unfamiliar with the actual events will realize that many fates have been sealed by the despot who knows better than anyone what is best for the world.
The other key figure is Crown Prince Olav, the King’s son and heir to the throne. Anders Baasmo Christiansen is more than up to the challenging part, displaying equal amounts of hotheadedness along with deep, familial love.
Johan Söderqvist’s original score—with its preponderance of dark, low strings and menacing brass—admirably reinforces the mood and tone. Cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund and editor Einar Egeland have combined their considerable skills in a way that keeps the eye constantly engaged.
Having had the courage to do his duty to those who put him on the throne, King Haakon set an example demonstrating to many others sitting on the international sidelines that Hitler could/should be stood up to, even at a horrific price. JWR