Norway was pulled into World War II when Germany invaded the previously neutral country on April 9, 1940. But conventional warfare there lasted only two months, until Norway surrendered to the Nazis on June 10. “The King’s Choice” looks, with a microscope, at those first couple of days of occupation, skirmishing and confusion.
No one in this slow-moving Norwegian drama, which has been shortlisted for a 2017 Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film, seems more confused — at least initially — than Norwegian King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen) who, as the story begins, is shown to be a slightly befuddled old man with a bad back, playing with his grandchildren. But befuddlement abounds.
There’s Col. Birger Ericksen (Erik Hivju), who can’t immediately decide whether to fire on the German ships that have slipped, undercover over darkness, into the harbor outside the fort under his command. And then there’s German envoy Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics), who keeps arguing for a negotiated settlement despite the clear preference of the military brass for plowing ahead with their battle plans, with or without a treaty.
The film’s title refers to a decision — resist or surrender — that ultimately falls on Haakon, the figurehead of a constitutional monarchy in which decisions had been traditionally left to the prime minister and his cabinet. For the most part, the film switches back and forth between Haakon, in flight from the advancing Germans with his government, and Bräuer back in Oslo, whom Hitler has authorized to pressure the king into concession — if he can find him.
Set up like a suspense thriller, with on-screen titles that count down the minutes — not days or weeks — “The King’s Choice” has the feel of a film that probably played better in its native country. The performances are fine and nuanced, but the stakes seem, for some reason, more theoretical than actual. Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian officer and politician who eventually ran Norway’s puppet government under Nazi occupation, and whose last name has become synonymous with “traitor,” is only mentioned and never seen. That lends “The King’s Choice” the feeling of a chess game, not a matter of life and death.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains some violent war imagery. In Norwegian and German with subtitles. 133 minutes.