With the Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival now only a month away – and tickets now available around the country – we thought it would be a good idea to review the featured film from last year – the critically acclaimed “The King’s Choice” (or, more fittingly known in Norway – “Kongens Nei”). For those of you who’ve already seen it, you’ll know the incredibly moving, historic story – for those who haven’t, this film is a stirring history-based one and is set in WW2 Norway during the German invasion.
So – a WW2 drama… haven’t we had enough of those? Bloodshed, fighting, bad Nazis, good Allies and so on & so forth…. but The King’s Choice is nothing like any WW2 film you’re likely to to have seen before. Norway’s short-listed Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film is mostly about the behind closed doors bureaucratic chess game of war… it celebrates Norway’s great defiance against Germany in a way that can’t help but stir national pride and reinforce the whole spirit of the Norwegian people.
Set over the course of three days in April 1940 as Hitler’s forces sweep through Norway, securing all major cities with virtually no military resistance, the Germans approach the Norwegian government offering somewhat of a Mob style “protection” from the British – who allegedly laced the seas outside Norway with underwater mines. However, as we discover, what Hitler is really after is Norway’s strategic coastline and its massive reserves of iron ore (thank goodness no-one knew about Norwegian oil in the 40s!).
It’s this quandary that King Haakon VII (the first sovereign Norwegian king since the 1300s – and one of the only democratically-elected monarchs in the world) finds himself contemplating – should surrender to the Nazis and allow it to be ruled by Vidkun Quisling (a Nazi collaborator and politician) – or, to take arms against this sea of oppressors and deal with whatever consequences may come.
Early on in the movie, there’s a combat sequence where a German battleship approaches the coastline and the Norwegian General in command orders the cannons to fire. They sink the vessel successfully – but what the Norwegians don’t know is that more battleships are coming, and by the Norwegians not surrendering, the Nazis’ will to conquer has been enflamed.
Possibly one of the most fascinating characters in “The King’s Choice” is the Nazi envoy – Kurt Braüer, who seems intensely conflicted about his role – and committed to preserving Norway’s neutrality in the war. With the naivete of a German in 1940 before the Hitler-train had built too much steam, he doesn’t seem to fully understand the whole gameplan of his superiors, in that they essentially want to take over the world. This is especially evident when he’s speaking with his superior in Berlin and Hitler himself orders Braüer about how the invasion needs to go.
“The King’s Choice” implies that any delay in surrendering will bring on massive casualties — yet despite the King’s delays, and the whole obstinate honor of his nature, the bloodbath remains mercifully limited. An end title informs us that Haakon’s actions became a defining moment for the Norwegian spirit. Yet it’s not at all clear how those three days in 1940 represented anything more than a way for a country that was being steamrolled by brutes to convince itself it had saved face.
The Norwegians weren’t willing collaborators, but that was the whole horror of their predicament: They never did have a choice.