'The King’s Choice' is a humanizing yet flawed glimpse into World War II
The Second World War was a watershed moment for the world, and since the war’s conclusion in 1945, it has been adapted to the screen from many perspectives: from the bravado and valiance of American soldiers shown in historical fiction like “Fury” and “Inglourious Basterds”, to the sobering tragedy and triumphant heroism in films based off of true events like “Schindler’s List” and “Flags of our Fathers”. “The King’s Choice” finds its place among the latter, although its plot seems too outrageous to be true.
“The King’s Choice” is a film marred by choppy cinematography and editing, but shines in the performances by the actors. While the subject matter for this film was a unique take of World War II filmography, covering the early expansion of the Nazi regime across Europe and the subsequent consequences this had on government officials, it relies heavily on common movie tropes, and the King’s ultimate “choice” at the end of the film is all but completely predictable.
Director Erik Poppe depicts the three day German invasion of Norway, following King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen) and the royal family as they flee the capital of Oslo for the countryside, Nazi soldiers pursuing them all the while. Simultaneously, the German envoy to Norway, Curt Bräur (Karl Markovics), desperately tries to find a diplomatic solution between Germany and Norway to maintain peace and Norwegian sovereignty. Torn between surrender, or the death of thousands of his countrymen as they resist the invaders, King Haakon VII is forced to make an impossible choice.
First, it is worth mentioning that the film did have its positives. It was Norway’s submission to the 89th Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, after all. The score by veteran composer Johan Söderqvist is impeccable, intertwining his music with everything from the most intimate scenes to the most thunderous. The acting is immaculate, and is the strongest component of the film. The chemistry that Christensen has with actor Anders Baasmo Christiansen, as their characters (father and son) argue and settle their differences, is award-worthy in itself. Christensen also uses a specific mannerism for King Haakon, where he curls up into the fetal position, that makes him a much more endearing, human character, instead of a powerful, stone-faced monarch. That being said, the film’s imperfections certainly outweighed its successes.
The wonderful performances in “The King’s Choice” are overshadowed by a great deal of technical flaws. From the beginning of the film to its final moments, the cinematography did not fit the style of the movie whatsoever. It was as if all the necessary equipment to the film had been accounted for but a tripod or dolly to stabilize the shots, and the moments where the camera decided to zoom were jarring and took the viewer out of the scene.
There wasn’t a stable scene in the entire movie. In regards to the two (very short) battle scenes in the film, the cinematography was less of a problem, as the instability of the camera made sense in this context. But in these two brief scenes (which account for virtually all of the action in the film), the special effects of the explosions and fires were not very convincing, and took the viewer away from the scene. As far as the rest of the film, there was no reason for the camera to be moving as much as it was in scenes where there were negotiations in a small room or dialogue between two characters in a quiet, peaceful setting.
The film was plagued by poor editing as well, with many intimate scenes with Envoy Bräur being abruptly cut short, leaving the viewers wondering where the scene was even going. It could be forgiven if it justified the lengthy 133 minute runtime, but many scenes with the King seemed to drag on without much purpose.
This is a critique that can be given to the entire film as a whole. There were plenty of scenes that seemed to have absolutely no purpose at all. There is a scene where King Haakon speaks with a young soldier named Fredrik Seeberg (Arthur Hakalahti) at a checkpoint they are passing through. While this serves as an introduction to a new character in the film, these two characters never meet again for the rest of the film, leaving the viewer to wonder why they had to endure those five minutes.
While it had some major technical setbacks, the actors held this flimsy, predictable film together, and they should be lauded for their performances. The film added very little creativity to the World War II filmography, as it relied on every trope in the book, from the horrors of war and the impact it can have on a family, to an ultimatum delivered to a conflicted man who must eventually make a costly sacrifice. While viewers have not seen the war from this perspective, “The King’s Choice” brings nothing new or special to the table.
The King’s Choice was released in theaters September 22, 2017
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