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Book and Film Reviews

Book and Film Reviews (2)

The 2016 movie The King’s Choice demonstrates that the virtues of courage and a sense of duty are closely interlinked. This film tells the true story of Norway’s King Haakon VII’s (1872 to 1957) refusal to acquiesce to the 1940 German invasion and subsequent occupation of his nation. The movie is interesting because this dramatic true story unfolds against the backdrop of Haakon VII’s phlegmatic personality which creates the initial impression that His Majesty will ultimately accept the German occupation.

This probable acquiescence is apparently a plausible scenario as the film is viewed despite the initial resistance by the Norwegian military to the German invasion in spite of adverse odds and the flight of Haakon VII and his government before the advancing Germans take the Norwegian capital Oslo. The prospects for capitulation increase when Haakon VII attends a hastily convened emergency session of the Norwegian parliament (the Sortinget) in which His Majesty indicates a preparedness as a strict constitutionalist to follow the decision of the Sortinget President (i.e. the parliamentary Speaker) as to whether to acquiesce or to resist the ensuing German occupation. The former scenario seems more probable because it is apparently the will of the parliamentary majority.

The prospects for capitulation are also increased due to the strident efforts of Kurt Brauer (the German ambassador to Norway) to maintain the existing constitutional order should Haakon VII accede to this invasion. Another factor which could have orientated Haakon VII toward acquiescing to the German Nazis was the decision of his brother King Christian X of Denmark to adhere to the decision of his government to accept a German occupation.

While following the constitutional direction of his government, Christian X did not ultimately discredit the Danish monarchy. This is because Christian X did actually publicly wear a Star of David when he rode on horseback through the streets of Copenhagen to show solidarity with his fellow Jewish subjects. Hitler became so exasperated by Christian X’s public symbolic acts of defiance that he finally had the king and the royal family interned in August 1943. Therefore when the German Nazi occupation of Denmark ended in May 1945 the prestige of the Danish monarchy was so high that republican jokes have since been a staple of Danish society because republicanism hardly exists in this kingdom.

Haakon VII during the early stages of the German invasion attempts to phone his Danish brother and fellow king to seek his advice. The Norwegian king does receive counsel from his son, Crown Prince Olav to resist the Germans. That Haakon VII will ultimately decide to resist is indicated by the painful departure of his daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Martha. This departure by Crown Princess Martha and her children is conveyed in a poignant scene in the film. Although Sweden granted Crown Princess Martha (who was actually originally a Swedish princess) and her children asylum, that the Swedish government refused sanctuary to Haakon VII is not mentioned in this film.

Following the departure of the Crown Princess and her children into exile there is a scene where Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav discuss their overall family situation. This scene serves the purpose of allowing the viewer to gain a broader knowledge of the context in which the Norwegian royal family lived. Among the topics which Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav discuss are the king’s late wife, Queen Maud’s frequent absences in her native Britain where she indulged her passion for horse riding. Also discussed was the strong republican sentiment in Norway which existed between the wars despite the monarch’s aloofness from politics. (Such republican markedly sentiment dissipated following Haakon VII’s triumphant return in 1945).

That Haakon VII was ultimately to choose the winning Allied side was not an apparently viable option in 1940 when German domination of Europe seemed all but assured. The king was therefore warmly welcomed in Britain where he took refuge during the war. From Britain Haakon VII skilfully directed the Norwegian resistance which was one of the most effective in Nazi German occupied Europe. British admiration of Haakon VII and the Norwegian people was manifested by them adopting ‘Quisling’ as a pejorative term to refer to traitors.

Vidkun Quisling was the leader of the fascist Nasjonal Samlilng (NS or National Union) who moved into the breach following the king and his government’s flight from the capital by proclaiming himself head of the Norwegian government. Another dramatic scene in the film is Quisling’s radio broadcast in which he seeks to usurp power for himself.

Haakkon VII Rejects Fascism

Other dramatic scenes in the film are when a usually courteous, if not diffident Haakon VII, indignantly refuses the intense entreaties of the German ambassador to sign Norway’s surrender thereby guaranteeing that a constitutional order will be maintained to endow the occupation with a degree of legitimacy. There is another scene, perhaps the pinnacle in the movie, where Haakon VII meets with the nation’s parliamentary leader where he refuses to capitulate.

In this scene Haakon VII informs the assembled political leaders that he will abdicate and permanently leave Norway should they decide to surrender. It was therefore a plausible scenario that the Sortinget not been shamed by the king to resist the Germans, there might have been a parliamentary vote to accept the occupation!

As it was Norway’s parliamentary party leaders shifted from their original orientation toward capitulation in favour of resistance primarily due to Haakon VII’s public declaration of defiance. This scene in the film is all the more poignantly powerful because it vividly contrasts with His Majesty’s usual phlegmatic approach.

As with most historical films it is important to carefully watch the opening and closing credits to gain a wider historical context. That Haakon VII would later opt to heroically resist the Germans was with the benefit of foresight not really surprising. The opening credits of the film show historical footage where Prince Carl of Denmark (who became Haakon VII) and his wife, Princess Maud of Great Britain, with their young son disembark in their new country which had recently voted to separate from Sweden.

That Haakon VII would be a man of principle in 1940 was not really surprising because he had previously accepted the throne on the condition that there was an overwhelming favourable vote of his becoming king in a plebiscite.

Juan Carlos: Spain’s Equivalent of Haakon VII

Haakon VII’s personal virtue was also later emulated by King Juan Carlos of Spain. When he ascended the previously vacant throne of Spain in 1975 after a forty four year absence of monarchy following the death of Generalissimo Franco there was a widespread expectation that his reign would be so short that His Majesty was irreverently dubbed ‘Juan the Brief’. This was because there was a widespread misassumption that His Majesty lacked the intellectual and emotional capacity to master a very challenging situation. However, by 1977 Spain had held democratic elections (the first in forty one years) and a democratic constitution was promulgated the following year after a referendum.

Spain’s 1978 Constitution granted regional autonomy and such democratic concessions were made to satisfy aspirations in the non-Castilian components of the Spanish kingdom.

However the actions of the Catalan regional government in pressing for independence not only threaten Spanish national unity but ultimately democracy which Juan Carlos safeguarded by thwarting a coup attempt in February 1981. Perhaps it is Catalan President Carles Puidgemont’s strategy to provoke Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s minority government into draconian action so that Catalan endorsement of independence will shift from a position of minority to majority support in Catalonia.

There is also the scenario that the Rajoy government will exercise the constitutional prerogative of imposing direct rule from Madrid. This will probably result in a protracted military struggle in which the Spanish military (which defeated the Basque separatists ETA after over forty years of military conflict) but the price might well be a fatal erosion of Spanish democracy.

At the cross-roads of a potential crisis such as this the words of King Juan Carlos following his ascension to the throne are apt. His Majesty said that all problems can be solved if we give them time.

Why Juan Carlos Can Again Save The Day

If Catalan President Puidgemont actually has his people’s interests at heart he should seek to gain the valuable commodity of time. The Catalan government has made a forlorn appeal to the European Union (EU) for mediation to help overcome this crisis. If President Puidgemont really wants an astute and successful mediation then he should ask former king, Juan Carlos (who voluntarily abdicated in 2014) to be the mediator between the Spanish national government and the Catalan regional government. Juan Carlos is sufficiently smart, if not brilliant enough, to formulate a ‘win-win’ outcome for Catalonia and Spain which can ultimately be sanctioned by a popular referendum.

One outcome which could be arrived at might be to grant Catalonia further autonomy or even independence by inviting a member of the Spanish royal family to head Catalonia. Juan Carlos would be an ideal candidate to be a future Grand Duke of Catalonia. One of Juan Carlos’s two daughters could be designated as his constitutional hereditary successor.

Other possible royal candidates to succeed Juan Carlos as a future constitutional hereditary Grand Duke of Prince of Catalonia are Prince Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou (who is a claimant to the French throne) or the Carlist claimant, Prince Carlos, Duke of Parma. A member of the Hellenic, (i.e. Greek royal family) also should not be discounted as Juan Carlos’s wife was originally a Greek princess.

Granting Catalonia further autonomy or even independence in the context of maintaining close constitutional ties with the Spanish royal family should be considered. Furthermore, Catalonia’s continued integration within the EU can be a means of ensuring that Iberian unity is maintained on a ‘win-win’ basis.

At the very least the option which the Spanish and Catalan governments can both opt for is to make Juan Carlos the mediator in this dispute. The film The King’s Choice shows that virtue in a royal can be a powerful attribute. Not only does Juan Carlos (similar to the late Haakon VII) possess virtue but a *brilliant mind which can work wonders to solve seemingly intractable problems.

(* Haakon VII demonstrated that he also had a brilliant mind as manifested by his innovative approach toward orchestrating resistance from Britain against the Nazi occupation).


Additional Info

  • Style Video

Dr. David Paul Bennett analyses why GATTACA is such an important 'soft science fiction' film. This article is based upon a film review which originally appeared in the Melbourne publication Serendipity.

The genre of science fiction film can be divided into two categories; hard and soft science fiction. Hard science fiction films (such as the Alien movies) are usually set in the future and have a loose storyline which is incidental to the high-tech gadgetry and special effects which serve as the main novelty and the consequent attraction of the film. In contrast, soft science fiction films are more concerned with storyline and character development.