The Promised Land Film Review

The Promised Land Rating

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The inimitable Mads Mikkelsen heads the cast of this epic drama, set in 18th Century Jutland, Denmark. The main narrative revolves around one Captain Ludvig von Kahlen (Mikkelsen,) a long-time soldier, and his attempts to cultivate a seemingly uninhabitable heath as a new settlement. His nemesis, a local landowner and all-round villain, Frederik De Schinkel is played with utmost, epicene gusto by Simon Benebjerg.

Director and co-writer, Nikolaj Arcel, (Riders of Justice, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,)has been painstaking in his attention to historical authenticity and it is something to appreciate. Tricorn-hats-off to the costume, art and lighting crew – the result is exquisite. The mist o’er the heath, the frosts, the driving rain, the howling wind and the bleak, unforgiving darkness, contrasted with the luminous firelight, candle-light, lamp-light and ever-living sunshine. Pick out the mise en scene from any one particular shot and you have a classic study in chiaroscuro – cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk.

Based on a loose adaptation of the book, from a tenuous story about the real Kahlen, the plot gets off to a gripping start, when the loathsome Schinkel realises that the Captain presents a threat to his own ambitions and authority. Local pastor, Anton Eklund, who is sympathetic to the Captain’s cause, introduces him to tenant farmers and labourers, Johannes and Ann Barbara – both fugitives from their cruel master, Schinkel. (All three actors, Gustav Lindh, Morten Hee Andersen and Amanda Collin turn in faultless performances.) Throw in the complication of a love-triangle, the aristocratic Lady Edele Helene, (Kristine Kujath Thorp), and the stage is set for a classic tale of good v evil, justice v injustice, plebs v aristocracy…

The Promised Land

It’s impossible not to be drawn in to the growing relationship between Ann Barbara and the Captain – especially after her husband is captured, tortured and literally boiled to death by Schinkel. An outcast, Romany-child, Anmai Mus, is befriended by the duo – and the trio become an unlikely family group. Happiness subtly creeps up on all three of them – unfortunately, the Captain’s overwhelming ambition is their undoing…

A word has to be said on Mikkelsen’s performance which is generally, brilliantly nuanced – a warmth in the eyes, a curl of the mouth, a smile. He certainly has cornered the market in strong, silent and minimalist. Romany-child, (Melina Hagburg,) is so utterly beguiling that even Mikkelsen stands a good chance of being upstaged.

What is truly disappointing, is that the last act of the film devolves into sentimentality that has the audience question all that we’ve learnt about that world, the main character, his hardness and obsession. Unfortunately, the ending lacks credibility and even borders on the ludicrous, especially given the time period that had supposedly elapsed. A realistic ending, true to the time would have been more powerful, and may have said more about ambition and the ‘hollow crown’ – than the presented fairy-story ending.

Despite some flaws, to misrelate the words of the Desiderata – “it is still a beautiful film”.

My Rating: Four glasses of champagne.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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