The King's Choice
In 1940, when the British navy takes it upon themselves to place mines in Norway’s neutral waters, Nazi Germany decides to ‘help’ the Scandinavian country with their military presence. This forces Norway’s King Haakon VII to make a tough decision between choosing the loss of the country’s newly implemented constitutional monarchy, or the sacrifice of Norwegian lives in rebellion.
Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and German dialogue with English subtitles.
2 hours, 13 minutes
September 22, 2017
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Director: Erik Poppe
Writer: Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Jan Trygve Røyneland
Composer: Johan Söderqvist
Starring: Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics
Genre: Biography, Drama, History, War
Rating: Not rated
In case you haven’t had your fill of World War II flicks for the year, there is yet another one about to hit our screens. Co-produced by both Norway and Ireland, The King’s Choice tells the true story of how King Haakon VII handled Norwegian politics when the nation suddenly found itself unwantedly part of Nazi Germany’s goals. Considering its modest budget, many critics were impressed with the battle scenes and the tension within cabinet meetings. It seemed that The King’s Choice managed to find a nice balance between featuring the regular tropes of the war genre and producing enough fresh content to stand apart from the rest.
For those that follow the Oscars closely, this title will come as no surprise. The King’s Choice was Norway’s entry for the Best Foreign Film category in the 89th Academy Awards. It was short-listed, though it didn’t make the final selection, causing many to cry that it was snubbed. Though being short-listed was an achievement in itself given that the Academy received a record-breaking 85 foreign film submissions! Thankfully, Samuel Goldwyn Films eventually picked up The King’s Choice, so once it hits theaters, American viewers can finally watch and weigh in on whether the panel of judges made the right decision.
Violence/Scary images: This movie features a few military battles: bombing from above, structures exploding, and firefights between armies – the regular sort of fare. However, The King’s Choice is extraordinarily light on gore particularly given its genre. A soldier is injured and sports a bloodstained chest – some blood droplets splatter on the camera lens (but it could just as easily be mud; you could argue it either way). But that’s as gory as this film gets. There is also a scene where a man slaps a woman across the face.
Language/Crude humor: A minor swear word (“bl**dy”) is uttered once. God’s name is also once used in vain depending on how one interprets the context.
Sexual content: None.
Drug/Alcohol use: Numerous characters smoke cigarettes.
Spiritual content: None.
Other negative themes: There is a breakdown of a marriage, and a son repeatedly disrespects his father. However, neither of these actions are seen positively or promoted within the film.
Positive content: It’s one of the better films I’ve seen that really delves into the ideas surrounding what it means to be a democracy; the importance of the government representing the will of its people and what it all symbolizes.
When it comes to the war genre, films tend to take either one of two approaches. The movie will either try to emulate the experience of war, or it’ll provide more of an informative, straightforward narrative in a biographical format. The oft-praised Dunkirk is the former, though its style isn’t for everyone, particularly if you’re more of a stickler for facts. Luckily The King’s Choice is more traditional in its storytelling if that’s your preferred method when it comes to approaching the topic of war.
Despite an absolute glut of films representing this genre in 2017, it never ceases to amaze just how many stories can be conjured forth from the Second World War. The King’s Choice features less of the battlefront and more the politicking inside cabinet meetings, much like Churchill, though it’s uniqueness is found in its passivity. At the start of the war, Norway was a neutral territory, and it’s uncommon to watch a film that depicts a country that hasn’t officially taken a side. This movie isn’t about feeling compelled to action, rather we watch the action unwantedly impinged upon a pacifist nation. It’s certainly a refreshing and intriguing viewpoint of this historical time period.
The film’s greatest strength is its message and themes. While the narrative mainly follows the lives of three people, it is a character study of sorts when it comes to King Haakon VII. The Second World War came at an awkward moment in Norway’s history (not that there’s ever a convenient time to be invaded), having only recently dissolved its union with Sweden. Despite familial ties to Denmark, King Haakon VII fervently adopted his new homeland and was a much-beloved royal, even when the country later became a constitutional monarchy.
The film greatly focuses on his role in the nation’s affairs during the beginning of Nazi occupation. It sounds boring on paper, but in a world filled with political corruption, gosh it was delightful to see a movie where the person with all the influence actually had the good of the public in mind! The King was a figurehead – the power was really with the government and not with him. But due to his reputation, we watch as the story keeps forcing him into decisions that aren’t really his to make. Presented with a moral dilemma, the film raises the sanctity of democracy and what costs must be paid in order to keep society intact.
That’s not to say that the entire movie centers on a monarch sitting in parliamentary meetings and mulling over conflicting ideologies. As mentioned, there are two other main characters. One represents the German point of view and the other side of the debate. The other is a young soldier that embodies the will of the Norwegian people. Sadly, the latter feels out of place.
With all the other characters either related to the royal family or involved in the government, it seems odd to suddenly follow a rather random Joe Blow partway into the second act. It makes sense in regards to pacing, as it’s nice to step away from the parliamentary dramas, though it does feel like an excuse to see some military action. His presence is a necessary plot device to balance out the story, though his character journey still feels misaligned when compared to the others. The end credits try desperately to tie all the true stories together into a cohesive film.
The story does exude the feeling that it’s struggling to stay afloat. This is a film that could have easily been bogged down with heavy dialogue with little tension to warrant the crawling pace. It employs a number of techniques to counteract the narrative from stalling; some work, some don’t.
Title cards act like a ticking time bomb, but they inject a false sense of urgency, as the story is unclear whether there’s a true deadline that must be met. So their inclusion works great in the first act, though the momentum isn’t maintained throughout the movie’s runtime. The King’s Choice is essentially a game of cat and mouse. The title cards detail various geographical locations and further cement the idea of the closing of distances between predator and prey, though, for international audiences that may not be as knowledgeable of the landscape, it adds little to the tension.
The film also employs a lot of shaky cam. It may have been used to counter two issues: firstly, to make cabinet meetings feel more exciting than what they actually are, and secondly, a lot of the shooting locations look like they are real-life places, so it may have been too cramped to set up a wide camera angle in the space required. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t, and the scene just feels amateurish, revealing the production’s low budget roots.
The movie has a score and sound design that works well in servicing the continual flow the narrative. The music booms and bellows, which gives the film a much-needed sense of impending doom. However, some may feel it’s too similar to Inception. Those that have honed their sense of hearing may also pick up a Wilhelm scream in the mix – it’s a great little joke from the sound department, though it did detract from the moment.
Yet I feel like I’m being too nit-picky. Essentially, The King’s Choice is a great film that does well in conveying the story that it wishes to tell. It’s informative, has some great themes about democracy, and even features a bit of family drama. For the most part, there’s an ever-present sense of danger, and the movie does remarkably well with its battle sequences despite not having a budget comparable to productions made in Hollywood. But did I enjoy it? I can’t say that I did. This film isn’t what I’d describe as a piece of entertainment. It’s more for history buffs or for those who are regular consumers of this genre. I appreciate watching this film as I have gained a greater understanding of world history, though my love for this movie does not extend deeper, and it’s not a story that I feel the need to revisit any time soon.
+ Mentally stimulating themes.
+ Features refreshing aspects in an overused genre.
+ Amazing considering its budget.
+ Wilhelm scream.
- One character journey feels out of place.
- The story still feels like it's struggling at times despite smart filmic decisions.
- Viewers unfamiliar with Norway's geography may feel left out.
- Shaky cam feels amateurish in certain scenes.
- Not necessarily enjoyable/entertaining.