Review of “Margrete: Queen of the North”: a sumptuous and majestic historical epic

The shadow of some massively popular fantasy TV show hangs over Charlotte Sieling’s ‘Margrete: Queen of the North’, a glossy period drama that amounts to a hypothetical expansion of an incident from medieval Scandinavian history. . And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – anyone who misses their weekly fix of lavishly recreated George RR Martin will have their itchy rash slightly scratched by the courtly power plays, passing mumbles, and spy aspects in the movie’s bedroom though. padded with Sieling, although dragons and ice zombies are notable for their absence.

However, the comparison of “Game of Thrones” also has its downside: where the series excelled at making multiple plots work simultaneously, so that even the simplest scene felt plagued by a subcutaneous plot, “Margrete” follows a storyline with devoted, at times leaden fidelity, proceeding at a pace that might be appropriate in a 20-hour TV season, but that feels unusually forgiving in a feature film. The slower stretches – like the whole first hour – tend to tread heavily, which gives ample opportunity to feast your eyes on Søren Schwarzberg’s majestic production design and Manon Rasmussen’s stunning elaborate costumes, but also makes the story a bit too easy to disengage. .

It doesn’t help that after a tantalizing glimpse of a body-strewn battlefield that teases a more action-packed narrative than what is delivered, the film quickly settles into a calmer pace, establishing the sage political sense of Queen Margrete (Trine Dyrholm). Through her adopted son, King Erik (Morten Hee Andersen), she reigns over the Kalmar Union of Norway, Sweden and Denmark – the creation of which is largely her work – and is apparently appreciated and respected by all the representatives of the different territories, even if old internal rivalries are bubbling up not far from the surface. His most vital ally is Bishop Peder (Søren Malling), who represents the interests of the church, and has committed manpower and resources to the creation of a Union army, which will defend the region against the attacks that Germany thinks are in sight.

To further stabilize the new Union’s position in Europe, Margrete negotiated Erik’s engagement with Philippa, the 13-year-old daughter of the King of England. She arrives at court with the libertine diplomat Bourcier (Paul Blackthorn), who has been sent to negotiate the terms of the marriage. But that same night, information circulated through Margrete’s lavish welcome party that a man claiming to be Margrete’s son, Oluf, who would have died some fifteen years earlier, suddenly showed up nearby and the Norwegian envoy has already recognized it, and not Erik. , as a legitimate king. Margete summons the man (Jakob Oftebro) and denounces him as a liar in court. He is imprisoned, awaiting conviction.

At this point, the film admired Margrete to a slightly heavy degree. Brilliant crusading women leaders who never get it wrong – despite a few unsubstantiated rumors of a ruthless past – don’t necessarily make the most complex or interesting protagonists. But eventually the film, which is never very comfortable with ambiguity, shifts into high gear, and Dyrholm manages to imbue his portrayal of Margrete with some humanizing notes of doubt and uncertainty, when the script deviates the most from accepted history: Margrete has a change of heart and begins to believe that the man is, in fact, her long-lost son (most sources suggest that the historic “False Oluf” was quickly and definitively exposed as an impostor). This puts her in conflict with Erik, who fears being deposed in favor of Oluf, and ultimately also with half the Union, as each of the nobles is forced to take sides.

Design departments aside, the artisan MVP here is likely DP Rasmus Videbæk, whose masterful camera work makes candlelit interiors as imposing as the awe-inspiring landscapes, to the accompaniment of Jon Ekstrand’s elegant and classic score. . But the sheer magnificence of the entire production, from its assortment of Nordic acting skills to its conscious lionization of a remarkable woman wielding immense power in an otherwise suffocating environment, also serves a more contemporary agenda. At one point, Margrete saves a young woman, Astrid (Agnes Westerlund Rase) and pointedly reminds the pirate who captured her that the rape is a hanging offense. It’s a streak that, along with the depiction of the worthy Queen, proudly locates a forerunner of the region’s modern reputation for advancement in gender equality and women’s rights, since the 14th century.

All of this gives “Margrete: Queen of the North” just enough historical and political weight to justify the epic scope of the set, though its true dramatic heart is with a smaller, more unassuming story: that of a forced grieving mother. to make an Impossible Judgment of Solomon, which is grave and touching and, ironically, almost entirely fictional.

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