It’s desperate times for democracy in Erik Poppe’s The King’s Choice as Norway’s monarch attempts to save both King and country.
Battle Royaleby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Documenting the three-day invasion of Norway by the Nazis in 1940, Erik Poppe’s The King’s Choice is a piece of history. Not only is every new event stamped with an intertitle detailing location and time, there’s also a rigorous authenticity to the rapid events that saw Norway turn from neutrality to declaring war on Germany within three days. Attention is paid to all of the blitzkrieg’s main stakeholders – from German Envoy Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics) hoping to bring about peace through negotiation and Oberstleutnant Hartwig Pohlman (Andreas Lust), with orders to take Norway by military force, as well as Prime Minister Nygaardsvold (Gerald Pettersen), Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht (Ketil Høegh), Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) and King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen), forced to go beyond his purely ceremonial role when Hitler sends Bräuer on a mission to get the King to accept fascist leader Vidkun Quisling, who has set himself up as Prime Minister following a coup.
For the most part however, Kongens Nei sticks close to the King, following him as he chases up the country like a hunted stag, eluding the grip of the approaching Nazi jackboots. And while documenting the events that saw Norway rapidly enveloped in war – from the sinking of a Nazi warship at Oscarsborg to Norway’s fleeing parliament, still attempting to lead the country while under attack from both the skies and approaching ground forces – it’s the King’s eventual participation in the politics of the day that forms the film’s backbone, when, threatening the government with abdication, he forces them to reject the handover of power to an unelected usurper. It’s an impossible choice, between saving democracy or saving lives, and an undemocratic one at that – the King’s only political intervention in Norway’s history.
An exceptional story of a king on the run and the unique circumstances surrounding Norway’s decision to declare war, Erik Poppe’s The King’s Choice is a compulsive and visceral experience. It’s slowed down by its cumbersome intertitles and weighed down by an unnecessarily thrumming score, but it is nevertheless a fascinating account of democracy and monarchy put to the test.
The King’s Choice is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival