Political Film Review #550

Norway played a unique role during World War II. Titles at the beginning of the film inform filmviewers that Norway became independent of Sweden in 1905, when King Haakon VII (played by Jesper Christiansen) was imported from Denmark, where his brother was on the throne. Fastforward to 1940. World War II has begun, and Denmark surrenders to overwhelming Nazi military forces, though Norway and Sweden remain neutral. Britain and France put mines in the waters along the coastline of Norway to prevent a German takeover in order to seize the country’s iron ore. But the Nazi army has the strength to overcome the mines, conquer Norway, and thereby gain not only the iron ore but the strategic coastline that guards the Baltic and North seas. Norway’s political parties are unsure what to do, and the military commander initially decides to fire on the first intrusion of German warships, albeit not ordered to do so by the Norwegian government. The King’s Choice, directed by Erik Poppe, is a docudrama that recreates the essence of what happened each day in various locations during early April 1940, with titles to indicate exactly where and when.

When German forces begin to take control of towns in the south, the Cabinet resigns en masse, leaving the king in charge. Opinions differ among the leaders, from diplomacy to surrender to military options; the king’s son favors the latter, but the king hopes for diplomacy. Meanwhile, Widkun Quisling seizes power in the capital, beginning rule similar to the Vichy Republic. But German ambassador Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics) seeks a diplomatic solution, and the division within the Cabinet precludes agreement. Adolf Hitler himself then orders Bräuer to obtain an agreement signed by the king similar to Denmark’s acceptance of German dominance that will leave the king in place as the titular head. Bräuer knows that Quisling will be opposed by the people, whereas the king would legitimate the German takeover. As the king and Cabinet flee north, an inconsequential roadblock is set up to stop the overwhelming German advance. Ambassador Bräuer gets through to talk directly to the king, who indicates that in a democracy he lacks the power; the people’s representatives must approve. But they are still divided, so the king must make the definitive decision—and he does.

Titles at the end indicate that three days later, the Norwegian army surrenders to the Germans. Bräuer’s failure at diplomacy results in his reassigned to the Eastern Front. The king takes his family and others into exile in England and returns after the war. Details of the dates of the death of the main characters end the film. But there is unfortunately no mention of the way in Quisling’s unpopularity stimulated a massive if subtle effort of the Norwegian people to terrorize the occupying German forces, a possible subject of another film. While awaiting that sequel, the Political Film Society has nominated The Kings Choice for best film exposé of 2017 and best film on the virtues of peaceful conflict resolution of the year. MH