Old school drama, with historic background (SPOILERS)
Vilhelm Moberg was an autodidact author and man of the people in Sweden. Abroad he is known most for his novels about the Emigrants (filmed in two parts by Jan Troell starring Max von Sydow). Moberg's novel Rid i natt (1941) is at first sight a historical tale set in the Middle Ages, but the time of publication (and of dramatisation) makes all the difference.
The plot tells of a community of free Swedish peasants who suddenly find that their king has placed a feudal lord over them who pressures them with force into slave labour. It is no coincidence that this feudal lord is of German extraction. The story relates how the peasants respond to this denial of their liberty and age old rights. At first they wish to resist but faced with the threat of violence, some waver and become traitors, in the end the hero of the story is the only one who takes up armed resistance resulting in the loss of his farm, his love and finally his life, but the flame of resistance he has lit will continue to burn.
In effect the book and the film were pamphlets inciting the Swedish population to resistance against Nazi Germany and as such they became instant hits and Swedish classics. Purely as a film Rid i Natt is an old school flick with the actors very much performing as if they were still in the era of silent film, a little theatrical and melodramatic at times, in other aspects comparable to Shakespearian tragedy.
One recurring element in the film is a wooden stick, the "budkavel", that is the sign for the peasants to revolt and is passed around from village to village. The budkavel in the story is hidden by the cowardly village chief, but despite his desperate efforts it keeps coming back to him as if driven by magic: This symbolises the flame of freedom that will never be extinguished.
Finally, a nice bit of trivia: When after the Second World War the Swedes learnt the details of the Nazi-German plan for the possible occupation of Sweden, it was discovered that Vilhelm Moberg, the writer, figured prominently on the list of undesirable elements that were to be executed by the Gestapo. Upon hearing of this Moberg said it was the best compliment he had ever received in his life.
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