THE KING’S CHOICE, drama, not rated, in Norwegian and German with subtitles, The Screen,
Norway never stood a chance. The moment Germany invaded, the end was a foregone conclusion. The only question was whether Norway would go quietly or resist. Adolf Hitler preferred a regime that would play nicely and give cover to his claim that the invasion was for Norway’s own good — to protect it from the British. The choice was up to the king. The king said no. In a sketch skewering World War II movies from the brilliant ’60s British satirical revue a commander calls a pilot in for a suicide mission: “I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war.” The choice King Haakon VII ( Jesper Christensen) faces in this movie, an historically accurate retelling of the events of a few days in April 1940, is not dissimilar. Resistance is futile, and the consequences are likely to be measured in massive loss of life, perhaps including the king’s. But the conscience of Norway demands it.
Erik Poppe’s drama opens a window into a pocket of history that is not widely known these days outside of its home country. The film begins with some quick background on King Haakon, a Danish prince tapped in 1905 to become constitutional monarch of a Norway newly separated from Sweden. The post was largely ceremonial, but that ceremony became a crucial element of the Nazi invasion.
The first blow is struck by the Norwegians, when the commandant of the Oscarsborg Fortress fires on an invading flotilla of German warships steaming into the Oslofjord, sinking one and forcing the rest to retreat. This buys a bit of time, and the king, his son Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), and the rest of the family are able to escape to the north.
The German envoy, Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics, in a very Christoph Waltz role) is ordered by Hitler to persuade the king to accept Germany’s protection. Bräuer gives his best “good German” effort, but the king is intractable, especially because collaboration would mean accepting as prime minister the detestable pro-Nazi Vidkun Quisling, whose name has become synonymous with traitor (Poppe does not even deign to give him screen time).
There are wooden stretches and some clichéd diversions (the freshfaced teenage soldiers holding back advancing German forces) that fit the model and detract from the film’s impact. But Christensen makes a haggard, noble King Haakon, and shows us the human being inside the royal garb. And he gives us a glimpse into why this man, who held fast to his principles, remains a cherished figure in Norway today. — Jonathan Richards