Film-goers say ‘yes’ to the king’s ‘no’

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Norwegians streamed to local cinemas over the weekend to see the new film Kongens nei, about the three dramatic days in April 1940 when the late King Haakon VII flatly refused to cooperate with Nazi German invaders. The film has made many Norwegians proud of the royal defiance, which ultimately turned the royals themselves into refugees in exile abroad.

King Haakon VII (played by Danish actor Jesper Christensen) flees a German bombing raid with his son Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) after delivering his historic "no" to any form of royal cooperation with Nazi German invaders during World War II. PHOTO: Filmweb/Agnete Brun

King Haakon VII (played by Danish actor Jesper Christensen) flees a German bombing raid with his son Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) in one of the new film’s many dramatic scenes. PHOTO: Filmweb/Agnete Brun

The powerful film, based on a book by Alf R Jacobsen, packed many cinemas around the country after it formally premiered on Friday. Nordisk Film Distribution reported that nearly 118,000 people bought tickets to see Kongens nei (literally, The king’s no) during its opening weekend. That comes in addition to the roughly 10,000 people who braved pouring rain last week to watch the film in a special outdoor showing on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo, with members of the royal family in attendance.

Thousands more saw the film in other special pre-release showings, bringing the total by Monday to nearly 140,000. That puts it close to the premiere crowds at earlier major Norwegian films including Max Manus (named after the Norwegian resistance hero during the war), Bølgen (The Wave) and even Kon-Tiki. “This is fantastic,” said the film’s producer, Stein B Kvae. “We’re extremely glad that the Norwegian public seems to be flocking to see Kongens Nei.

Ongoing fascination with the war
Interest is clearly fueled by Norwegians’ seemingly endless fascination with World War II and its dramatic, lasting effects. The film, directed by Erik Poppe, has won almost universally good reviews and become one of Norway’s candidates for a foreign film Oscar. After sitting through the more than two-hour account of April 8-11, 1940, it’s easy to understand why. It’s a gripping film praised for its historic accuracy and honesty, which also portrays no lack of personal drama between Norway’s first modern monarch and his son, the father of the current Norwegian king.

The film is also highly relevant, coming at a time when Norway has found itself hosting thousands of refugees from the war in Syria and other deeply troubled nations. It wasn’t too long ago that Norway also produced war refugees and hundreds of thousands of emigrants seeking better lives abroad.

The film also offers a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of the German ambassador at the time, shown here being lectured by an invading Nazi German officer. PHOTO: Filmweb/Agnete Brun

The film also offers a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of the German ambassador at the time, Curt Bräuer, portrayed here as being lectured by an invading Nazi German officer. PHOTO: Filmweb/Agnete Brun

The film also offers a surprisingly sympathetic version of the role played by the German ambassador to Norway at the time, Curt Bräuer, who came as close as he could to defying his invading countrymen and Hitler himself as he insisted on trying to use diplomacy to negotiate directly with King Haakon VII. The film goes on to show Bräuer losing the support of his wife and being literally shut out of invading military officers’ decisions, while text at the end of the film notes that Bräuer himself was later sent to the eastern front.

It was to Bräuer that King Haakon, a former Danish prince who was clearly proud of being the only monarch in Europe to have been elected at the time, delivered his refusal to bow to the Germans and turn over leadership of the country to Hitler’s forces and their puppet government led by coup maker Vidkun Quisling. Several Norwegians attending the royal showing last week carried flags in backpacks “to celebrate our freedom,” one of them, Arnt Telhaug, told newspaper Aftenposten. On Tuesday, 20-year-old Kari-Anne Helland Barland wrote in Aftenposten that she was “proud to be Norwegian” after seeing the film, stressing that late king’s “no” was a resounding “yes” to democracy and rule by the people.

Commentators have tempered such patriotism outbursts a bit in recent days. Lars West Johnsen of newspaper Dagsavisen, noted, for example, that the king’s defiance was followed “uncomfortably quickly” by Norwegian pragmatism that took over after the royal family and elected government fled the country. “Life had to go on,” Johnsen wrote, and many Norwegians did end up cooperating with their occupiers. He also noted, however, how the film was “made with care and respect for the factual events,” which will allow it to stand as a “document over a central part of our history.”

More historic war films likely
There’s also reason to hope that the film, and its popularity, will boost interest in other sides of Norwegian war history including how retreating Nazi German occupiers used “scorched earth” tactics to burn most all the buildings and homes in the northern county of Finnmark while withdrawing. That created another wave of around 50,000 Norwegian war refugees, many of whom weren’t welcome even in other areas of their own country.

Other film topics in the years to come may include the Battle for Narvik, which Tommy Wirkola has expressed interest in directing, along with war stories from Western Norway, not just Oslo. Some critics have claimed that war films made so far tend to concentrate on Oslo, with the exception, of course, of Telemark. Kongens nei, for example, is being hailed in Hedmark County where most of the drama and initial fighting actually played out.

“The question is raised every year,” wrote Johnsen, by journalists, historians and commentators: “Will we never be finished with the war? Is there really more to tell? Clearly yes.” Eyewitnesses and others who experienced the war are dying out, but new archive material continues to pop up. New generations are curious about the seemingly unreal events that took place in the early 1940s, with photos of Oslo used in the film still so eerily similar to the Oslo of today. More films will come, and at least one of those seeing Kongens nei already wants to see it again. Berglund


  1. jamesnorway77 says:

    I wonder if they will make an accurate film about the many Norwegians who also collaborated with the Nazis and had relationships with the Germans during the occupation .. or is it only flag waving patriotic films allowed ?

    • richard albert says:

      Many such films have been made in the past. Perhaps the most thought provoking is “Philby, Burgess and Maclean, about three Cambridge types became moles for the Soviets. Why?

      The reason nobody is currently examining this cinematically is that absent some unique instance, or opportunity for dramatization of some O. Henry twist, is that the subject is banal, although this was well managed in “They Came to Cordura”, which had it not been for an all-star cast, would have flopped.

      Perhaps it would be better to frame an exercise in the epic failure of the “War to End All Wars”, the perniciousness of the Versailles treaty, and the following world depression from the standpoint of some radicalized Norwegian.

      We have a strangely inverted view of history. We, not the Mycenaeans or the Egyptians are the ‘ancients’ of recorded history,

      Such a film, if well done, would indeed be welcome. I am merely responding to your question “why” (not). Actually, I can see it now. The omniscient narrator is a Karalian Finn…


      (I would urge those who are interested in this topic to read “Hitler’s Pre-Emptive War” by Henrick Lunde)

  2. Is this an accurate story of what happened? I spoke to some norwegians and they told me a different story. They said the king was a coward and run away to UK to save his own skin. He was not as brave as what the movie said.

  3. (posting on behalf of Bob Pearson)

    Apologies for coming late to this thread.

    Having researched the King’s movements in my book, ‘Redd Gullet!’ (2010), my conclusion was that the King acted in the best way he could. He didn’t want to leave Norway, that was clear but circumstances dictated his eventual move to the UK. To label King Haakon as a coward, but would be a gross misrepresentation of the man Rather, for those Norwegians in London preparing to take the fight back to Norway, the King was a much trusted and respected man, unlike many of those in the exiled Norwegian government.

    But are there any more stories to tell from WW2?

    Much of my research is carried out at the National Archives (UK), King’s College, London, Churchill College, Cambridge, Hjemmefrontmuseum, Oslo plus other museums in Norway. It never ceases to astound me the countless untold stories of bravery and sacrifice. Some of these stories will never see the light of day with regards to films and books, but where possible I copy the files and send them on to relatives. I am also part of a group that applies for the release of Special Operation Executive files on Norwegian agents at the National Archives. Again, when released and where possible, copies are sent to relatives. These files relate the agents personal details, training and operations, if any, they participated in. Many of the stories that I read would be almost impossible to make up, such is the complexity of the adventure.

    Kaptein Guthorm Kavli is a classic example of a file revealing fascinating history. Kavli is little known amongst the masses, yet almost single handedly he saved Norwegian artwork at the end of WW2. But for his work, coupled with various museums and the resistance, in particular the Oslo Gang, then perhaps much of Norway’s art would have been ‘lost’. An article on Kavli was published in the American journal, ‘Sons of Norway’, I am now writing a novel based around Kavli and his work.

    Secondly, I am also involved with documenting the secret flights between Bromma, Sweden and Leuchars, Scotland. With agent files bring released, and armed with knowledge of their aliases, we are able to plot their movements, thus bridging time and location gaps in the TNA files. This has impacted favourably on my own research permitting me to detail one particular agent whose files states that he was in the UK, when in fact he was on a very special operation.

    Finally, for some time I have been researching and writing about the two men who were Ian Fleming’s initial inspiration for his literary fictional character, ‘James Bond’. Historical documented evidence, supported by various interviews with Fleming, gives that Norway played a significant part in the creation of ‘James Bond’. So, to the question: Are there any more stories to tell from WW2? The answer is a resounding yes.

    Bob Pearson

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