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KING'S CHOICE, THE

SYNOPSIS:
On the 9th of April 1940, the German war machine arrives in the city of Oslo. The Norwegian King (Jesper Christensen) faces a choice that will change his country forever. (Based on a true story.)

Review by Louise Keller:
If you are interested in history or character driven films based on real events you will be fascinated by this little known war saga involving the King of Norway and the burden of responsibility he carries for three long days in April 1940. Nominated as Norway's selection for Best Foreign Film in the 2017 Academy Awards, The King's Choice is a powerful drama involving principles, morality and obligation. Beautifully directed by Eric Poppe (A Thousand Times Goodnight, 2013), the fate of the King, his family and country hangs in the balance as this potent tale explores the consequences of duty and sacrifice.

In the opening sequence and set on a blanket of icy snow, we meet King Haakon VI playing hide and seek with his grandchildren. The irony of the imagery does not escape us: the next three days play out in true hide and seek fashion as the King is part of a dangerous game in which the sovereign nation becomes a pawn. On the pretext it is protecting Norway, Hitler's Germany is vying for Norway's allegiance - namely for its strategic coastline and rich reserves of iron ore.

The film is wordy, long and concentration is required - especially in the early scenes - to understand who is who and to appreciate the implications of the action and relationships on both a large and small scale. But it is well worth the effort. With its growling soundtrack, tense battle scenes and poignant interactions, it is ultimately the relationships (professional and personal) that hold the most interest and bring the greatest rewards.

The main dynamics lie in the relationships between the King (Jesper Christensen, excellent), his son Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) and the German envoy Curt Brauer (Karl Markovics), the ultimate 'yes man'. Look out for the scene in which Brauer finds himself on the other end of the phone to Hitler himself. We can feel him almost standing to attention. Perhaps the most surprising element is our involvement in Brauer's personal life (with his wife, Anna - Katharina Schuttler). Worthy of note are other story strands involving a young wide-eyed soldier named Seeberg (Arthur Hakalahti) and the warm bond between the king and his three year-old grandson Harald (Magnus Ketilsson Dobbe).

It is not until after the events play out that the film's true emotional impact descends. So much of the action and reactions are contained, so it comes somewhat as an emotional release when decisions are taken, the final card is played and consequences result. Haunting and memorable, The King's Choice is an intelligent and compelling film that offers a fresh and different perspective.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Erik Poppe's beautifully calibrated historical drama is immersive and impressive, both for its authenticity and its story telling power. It's not just what happened in Norway when the Nazis invaded, but how .... how the people in power - the men who had to make big, heart wrenching decisions - managed it. So it's as much an intimate story about duty and responsibility as part of the package that goes with power, as it is about a moment in history that scars the Norwegian soul.

You don't have to be a history nut or a WWII enthusiast to be drawn into the film. Poppe and his team (especially editor Einar Egeland and cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund) make great use of the tools of cinema to make us feel 'in the zone'. This is one film in which I wholly understand and agree with the use of the hand held camera, for example. It's discerning use adds to the story telling, which editor Egeland does with finesse, power and intelligence.

The central figure of King Haakon VII is the key to the film's success; Christensen, who also executive produced, delivers a portrayal which zings with authenticity - even if we have nothing by which to assess that. The understatement of the dilemma he faces and the subtle yet clear inner conflicts are superbly captured, alongside the all-important glimpses of the King as a loving grandfather.

His relationship with his son, the Crown Prince Olav, is also effectively portrayed: a well observed mix of mutual respect, occasional conflict and ultimately love.

Of the superb supporting cast, I am especially impressed with Kark Markovich's portrayal of the German Envoy to Oslo, Curt Brauer, a character sympathetically drawn; he is clearly determined to try and find a peaceful way for the Germans to treat Norway. His role in the drama - and in the film - is crucial to our emotional engagement. And young actor Arthur Hakalahti as the teenage soldier, Seeberg, whose story personalises the hell of war.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

KING'S CHOICE, THE (M)
(Norway, 2016)

Kongens nei

CAST: Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics, Tuva Novotny, Katharina Schuttler, Erik Hivju, Svein Tindberg, Menig Hakalahti, Ketil Hoegh, Gerald Pettersen

PRODUCER: Finn Gjerdrum, Stein B. Kvae

DIRECTOR: Erik Poppe

SCRIPT: Herald Rosenlow-Eeg, Jan Trygve Royneland

CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Christian Rosenlund

EDITOR: Einar Egeland

MUSIC: Johan Soderqvist

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Peter Bavman

RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 24, 2017







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