For three tense days in April 1940, the future of Norway hangs in the balance. Germany has invaded and King Haakon VII just barely escapes from Oslo ahead of the encroaching army. The King’s Choice (Kongens Nei), a historical drama directed by Erik Poppe, delves into the nitty gritty details of those three days, following the royal family as they try to stay one step ahead of the enemy. The film’s title alludes to the choice King Haakon must make when the German envoy to Norway arrives with an ultimatum straight from Hitler himself: surrender or resist.
The history chronicled in The King’s Choice is part of the foundational story of modern Norway – the film was a massive hit at the Norwegian box office last year – but is fairly unknown outside of Scandinavia. Thankfully, Poppe makes frequent use of intertitles to provide factual background information, as well as dates, times and locations. He also starts us off with historical material depicting the king’s arrival in Norway in 1905 following the establishment of the country’s constitutional monarchy, and then briefly traces how Haakon became such a beloved figure leading up to the German invasion. The rest of the movie often mimics the style of archival film footage, with lots of shaky camera work and almost reality TV-esque angles.
Clocking in at just over two hours, the feature does at times lose its sense of pacing, with a few too many sentimental shots of the king playing with his grandchildren (one of whom is Norway’s current king, Harald V). And be forewarned, this is not a typical action-filled war movie; rather, Poppe focuses on decisions taken behind the scenes in family living rooms, drab government offices and the snowy Norwegian woods.
The King’s Choice was Norway’s official submission for the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at this year’s Oscars, and while it ultimately did not make the final five, it is certainly a solid, well-made film; for anyone interested in Second World War history, it is a welcome addition to the cinematic record.
Kongens Nei (The King’s Choice) does not have a UK release date yet.
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