Whilst the title suggests some new reality dating show for royals, The King’s Choice is actually a powerful, and somewhat parochial, look at the events leading up to the German occupation of Norway during World War 2. The movie bears some similarities with The Promise in that it explores a particular series of events that haven’t been explored much previously in film, if at all. The events of the film take place over the course of a few days as Norway finds itself under attack from Germany and it ultimately becomes the story of two upstanding men trying desperately to avoid a military conflict between the two countries. One of these is King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen), while the other is Curt Brauer (Karl Marcovics), the German envoy to Norway who is desperate to negotiate a diplomatic solution, despite myriad obstructions from individuals on both sides.
A Danish prince elected as King of Norway in 1905 following the dissolution of their union with Sweden, Haakon is devout in his commitment to the best interests of the Norwegian people but, until this point, has served primarily as a figurehead with no influence in the day-to-day political machinations of the country. However, some 25 years later with German troupes gathering en masse in Norway and the parliament overthrown in a coup d’état that saw the installation of a pro-Nazi puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling, the King finds himself as the person on who Norway’s fate solely rests. A meeting is arranged between Haakon and Brauer in a bid to reach a compromise that could end the conflict before it really begins, but would require Haakon to endorse the Quisling government. As the history books attest, Haakon’s commitment to the people of Norway and refusal to sanction a government that was not democratically elected, resulted in the lack of any agreement between the two countries, leading to the German occupation of Norway until 1945.
Director Erik Poppe paints Haakon as a benevolent monarch who possesses a strong love for his country and his family and it is the fate of both that weighs on his mind in trying to determine the right course of action. However, it is Brauer who perhaps leaves the biggest impression as a German diplomat who is clearly not supportive of the Nazi agenda (although he could never say this) and is desperate to prevent any kind of military conflict, ultimately receiving instructions direct from Hitler himself that only Haakon’s support of the Quisling government will bring any semblance of peace (albeit with Germany assuming control of the country). It is impossible not to admire both Haakon and Brauer, the former for his unwillingness to compromise the sovereignty of his country despite the potential consequences, and the latter for his efforts in trying to broker a deal that might prevent any significant bloodshed. It is perhaps not surprising that whilst Haakon remained as King until his death in 1957 and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Norwegians of the 20th century, Brauer was recalled by Hitler, ushered into service as a soldier and ultimately spent nine years as a prisoner-of-war in the Soviet Union.
Whilst much of the movie is centred on the political argy bargy, we also see the human consequence that is inevitable when countries flex their military muscle, following the plight of Fredrik Seeberg (Arthur Hakalahti), a young soldier who finds himself on the front line. Politically and militarily neutral prior to the German’s arriving, it is not surprising that the Norwegian military struggle to hold their own against the Nazi insurgency and it goes without saying that Seeberg finds himself in the thick of the action. The film serves as a disarming portrait of a king with a rare common touch. In the first 15 minutes, we see him chatting with his grandson’s toy pig and engaged in a game of hide and seek, and his man of the people status is further cemented by an exchange with Seeberg. Handheld camera combined with a propulsive score captures the tension of the situation in which the royal family find themselves as they are forced to flee north from Oslo. The performances – from Christensen and Marcovics especially – are universally strong, while the period production design is nicely done and serves to further enhance the authenticity of the piece. Despite a running time in excess of two hours, The King’s Choice never labors and emerges as an enthralling examination of a highly ethical man.