The King’s Choice

You don’t have to be a history buff to become engrossed in this true story of King Haakon VII of Norway and the awful dilemma he faced at the start of WWII when the Germans changed their minds about letting Norway stay neutral and demanded he accept their occupation on behalf of the country.

If he refuses, Norway will be at war with Germany, with all the devastation and loss of life that will surely bring. If he collaborates the country will be spared these horrors but he will be selling out the patriotic armed forces and the partisans who’ve already taken up arms against the Germans. And he’ll be forever remembered for that betrayal, as was Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian politician who did become a German puppet and whose very name has come to mean ‘traitor’.

There’s is so much going on here of profound human as well as historical interest. Haakon, born into the Danish royal family, must have thought he was in for a cushy life when Norway asked Denmark to send them a king, for ceremonial purposes only, in 1905. His brother Christian (great-great grandpa and namesake of Our Mary’s little lad) stayed home to become King of Denmark. Haakon’s dilemma is made the more cruel when he learns that Christian has had to surrender Denmark to the German blitzkrieg.

Haakon, his family and his loyal government flee Oslo and head north, constantly on the move, often only hours ahead of the pursuing Germans, protected by a courageous but ill-equipped ragtag Norwegian army. At a roadblock he briefly chats to a teenage soldier so dumbfounded by meeting his sovereign that he addresses him as ‘King’ instead of ‘Your Majesty’. Hours later the boy lies wounded after a gun battle with approaching German soldiers; but he manages to throw them off the scent with a cunning porky about the strength of the Norwegian forces protecting the king.

Another important player is the German diplomat Brauer, who despises Quisling, admires the King and has no enthusiasm for war. Already in the bad books with the Wehrmacht heavies for this cissiness, and pressured by the Fuehrer himself, he arranges to be smuggled, blindfolded, to the King’s secret location for a desperate last-ditch attempt to urge him to sign the surrender. Brauer is a decent man and we sympathise with his plight. Both he and the King have agonising choices to make.

It’s all very moving and exciting, especially when you reflect that it’s true. It’s all there in the history books now but I suggest you wait till the credits at the end to find out what happens to Brauer, the teenage soldier and other real-life characters portrayed in the film.

I was inspired to do some post-movie googling and learnt that Harald, the King’s beloved grandson, is the present King of Norway. He is portrayed in this movie as a little boy playing with his siblings and his grandfather, then later enduring the terrifying flight from the capital. There comes a point where the family decides to split up, with Crown Princess Martha leaving her husband Olav and her father-in-law Haakon and making a dash for the Swedish border with the children. She was a Swedish princess, but the Swedes didn’t want to let her in lest she threaten Swedish neutrality. She ended up spending the war in America, where she campaigned tirelessly for the Allied cause and Norwegian freedom.

Now, I know our Lizzie and her parents stuck it out in London through the Blitz, and that Liz even drove ambulances, but what a story this one is! Who says only the Brits have an interesting royal family?!

This excellent Norwegian/Irish film has been doing the rounds as part of the travelling Scandinavian Film Festival, but now it’s getting a solo release, presumably because it’s so good. It was also Norway’s entry as Best Foreign Film in the Academy Awards last year. It didn’t make the final nominee shortlist, although it was up against some tough competition: the wonderful Australian film ‘Tanna’ and the Iranian film ‘The Salesman’ which deservedly won. But it should have been there in place of the German film ‘Toni Erdmann’, which was overrated, in my view. (All three movies are reviewed separately on this website.)

This review was first published on Facebook in August 2017.