The latest in a wave of films about epic events in Norway’s history was getting a royal reception this week. Kongens nei, which is about King Haakon VII’s refusal to surrender to Nazi German invaders in April 1940, has also won rave reviews and been nominated as among Norway’s candidates for an Oscar.
The film’s release coincides with the 25th anniversary this year of King Haakon’s grandson, Norway’s current King Harald V, as the country’s monarch. King Harald and Queen Sonja decided it would be fitting to include the film in their silver jubilee celebrations, and have invited the public to watch it along with them at its first open screening outdoors on the grounds of the Royal Palace Thursday evening.
Nearly 20,000 Norwegians had responded to the invitation by the beginning of this week. The film will be shown at 8pm, just after darkness falls at this time of year, on a large screen with the Royal Palace that the Nazis eventually occupied looming in the background.
“It’s incredibly great that so many are interested,” palace spokeswoman Marianne Hagen told newspaper Aftenposten. She said around 4,000 have reported their attendance while another 15,000 said they were interested and planned to come as well. Hagen said the outdoor showing was moved to a larger area of the park around the palace, to accommodate as many people as possible.
King Harald was only three years old when Nazi Germany invaded Norway at the beginning of World War II. He and his family fled along with the recently widowed King Haakon, with Harald, his mother and sisters eventually spending the war years and his childhood in exile as war refugees in the US. King Haakon and his son, the then-Crown Prince Olav (Harald’s father), escaped to England and re-established the Norwegian government in exile in London until they could all triumphantly return to Oslo when Germany surrendered and the war ended in 1945.
The film concentrates on three dramatic days in April 1940, when King Haakon receives an ultimatum from the Nazi German invaders: Either surrender or die. They’re considered among the three most critical days in Norway’s modern history, when the king resolutely refused to surrender, remained on the run and ultimately escaped on a British navy vessel. Crown Prince Olav stayed with him, after sending his family into initial safety in Sweden, the homeland of his wife, the late Crown Princess Martha.
Film critics in Norway have given the film high marks, with even the monarchy-critical newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) calling it a good “description of the process until the final word was uttered, almost a psychological portrait of a plagued man (King Haakon) and the relation he had to (his son) Crown Prince Olav.” As films go, it’s also been said to be relatively accurat at a time when several other historical films have regularly been criticized for taking too many artistic liberties.
The film, which opens in Norwegian cinemas on Friday, will also be shown outdoors that evening at the Oscarsborg fortress on an island in the Oslo Fjord. It also played a critical role during the German invasion, after the commandant of Oscarsborg ordered the firing of a torpedo on a German troop ship sailing towards Oslo. Its sinking is credited with delaying the invasion long enough that the royal family had a chance to escape.
Wednesday’s night’s royal premiere was to be attended by King Harald and Queen Sonja, the king’s only surviving sister Princess Astrid, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Princess Martha Louise. The public was urged to bring something to sit on and warm clothes.