Jesper Christensen in The King’s Choice (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Whether intentional or not, the title of The King’s Choice cannot help but recall The King’s Speech, the 2010 Oscar winner for Best Picture. Both films deal with a monarch’s responsibility to his people during the early years of World War II. Both films also engage with the personal struggles of kings, as fathers, citizens, and rulers dealing with a growing lack of power residing within the monarchy in the mid-20th century.

While The King’s Speech feels like a story of personal triumph with huge ramifications, The King’s Choice is told on a larger scale. The film balances one man’s decision with depictions of the world in which he influences, moving between scenes of warfare and the German envoy’s attempt to negotiate with Norway though a private audience with the king.

The drama takes place over three days in early April 1940, as Germany begins an invasion of neutral Norway. King Haakon VII (Spectre’s Jesper Christensen), who was elected first king of Norway after the separation of the country from Sweden in 1905, is caught between the Norwegian government, which wishes to negotiate with the Germans, and his son, the Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christensen), who sees no choice but to fight off the invaders. Debates about what to do follow the King and his family as they flee northward with the cabinet.

With the Germans in pursuit, the King’s daughter-in-law (Tova Novotny) and grandchildren are forced to escape for Sweden, and the king is called to meet with the German envoy posted in Norway, Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics). Hitler has ordered Bräuer to negotiate Norway’s capitulation only with Haakon. Seeing himself a pawn in this war but also responsible for his country and his people, the king cautiously agrees to meet.

Jesper Christensen gives an outstanding performance. The responsibility of his position and the decisions he makes are etched in his performance. He’s regal at times but also riddled with anxiety as he lies on the floor or searches for an open window to get fresh air. This is also seen in the moments with his family. The relationship he has with his grandchildren, which is immediately apparent in the opening scene of them playing hide-and-go-seek, is endearing; his accountability is not only to his people but the family he forced into royalty. Physically, he is weighed down by the decisions he has to make and how these decisions put his country and family in danger.

Anders Baasmo Christensen also stands out as his son, who is both concerned for his father and determined to stand up to Germany. Their relationship becomes more and more complex as the King wonders what dangers might befall his family if he refuses to cooperate.

The film does run long, and while the beginnings of the war, the experience of Norwegian soldiers, and the subplot about Bräuer and his family add historical dimension, I found myself wishing the focus remained more on the king. Director Erik Poppe gives the film a sense of realism with a shaky hand-held camera effect, but the vibrant colors and gorgeous landscapes convey a film that’s less a documentary and more a grand historical drama. Despite some of these inconsistencies, the low-key The King’s Choice is an engaging look at a crucial moment in history.

Directed by Erik Poppe
Written by Harald Rosenlow-Eeg and Jan Trygve Royneland
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films
Norwegian and German with English subtitles
Norway. 133 min. Not rated
With Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics, Tuva Novotny, and Katharina Schüttler