#SheReviews – The Promised Land

June 18, 2024

When asked to review Nordic Western – The Promised Land I was intrigued. I do love an historical drama and when it is the film that was nominated as Denmark’s entry for Best International Feature at the Oscars you know it’s going to be good. This film shares a time and place that I know little about, but is a masterfully crafted epic tale of adventure, hardship, compassion and cruelty. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) this film is gritty and brutal, but it is a thrilling and moving watch telling a sweeping tale of hope, love and greed within the backdrop of the desolate Danish heath.

The Story

Adapted from the 2020 bestseller, The Captain and Ann Barbara, by Ida Jensen, who loosely based her story on real life characters, the film tells the story of Captain Ludvig Kahlen. Set in 1755 it shares an insight into a time and place where cruelty, hardship and an unfair distribution of wealth are commonplace.

Kahlen is a proud retired army captain determined to conquer the harsh, inhabitable Danish heath and create farmland. He hopes to create a colony here in the name of the King. In exchange he’ll receive the title he so desperately craves. But it is not only the harsh conditions he has to deal with.

The sole ruler in the area is the merciless tyrant Frederik de Schinkel, who arrogantly believes that all the land belongs to him. When he realises that his maid, Ann Barbara and her serf husband have escaped and taken refuge with Kahlen, the privileged and spiteful ruler swears revenge. He does everything in his power to drive Kahlen away.

Kahlen is such a strong character that he will not be intimidated and takes up this unequal battle – not only risking his own life but those of the family of outsiders he has created around him.

The Characters

Mads Mikkelson leads an exceptional cast in this epic journey. Mikkelson (Hannibal, The Royal Affair, Casino Royale) is an acclaimed Danish actor who plays the role of Ludvig Kahlen with a calm and brooding strength. He anchors the story with his emotional and steadfast performance and much of the film centres around his capable presence.

Ann Barbara, played by Amanda Collin, is also a strong and elegant presence who captures every frame she is in. Her steely determination belies the soft centre which comes through as the story progresses.

Newcomer, Melina Hagberg (Anmai Mus) steals the show at times from the experienced cast and her role eases the tension, providing some laughs but also sharing her humanity and need to be loved.

Watching the characters interact with her provides some much-needed insights into their true characters. At only nine years old hers is a talent to watch.

The villian role goes to Simon Bennebjerg who plays the ruthless madman, Frederik De Schinkel. You want to boo every time he comes on screen and some of his punishments to those who cross him will have you looking away. A villain of the worst kind whose descent into madness shows great acting prowess.

This movie is intense and will take you through a rollercoaster of emotions. My husband and I both loved this penetrating look into the human character and a time and place in history we were not familiar with. The film was full of tension but also humanity and the threads of romance running through it rang true for this romance writer. If you are looking for an epic historical film filled with action and humanity, The Promised Land, might be for you.

In cinemas June 20.

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