A successful lawyer jeopardizes her career and threatens to tear her family apart after engaging in an affair with her teenage stepson.A successful lawyer jeopardizes her career and threatens to tear her family apart after engaging in an affair with her teenage stepson.A successful lawyer jeopardizes her career and threatens to tear her family apart after engaging in an affair with her teenage stepson.
Anne (Trine Dyrholm) and her husband Peter (Magnus Krepper) are an affluent middle-class couple living with their two young daughters on the edge of a forest just outside Copenhagen. She's a partner at a law firm specialising in defending victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, whilst he's a top surgeon. Their life is uneventful but happy. Things change, however, when Gustav (Gustav Lindh), Peter's recalcitrant teenage son from his first marriage, arrives to stay with them, having been expelled from his Swedish school. Although initially, Anne is far from enthused about his sullen presence, over time, he awakens something in her, and she seduces him, with the duo subsequently embarking on a dangerous affair.
Written by May el-Toukhy and Maren Louise Käehne and directed by el-Toukhy, much of Dronningen's strength lies in how the audience is initially encouraged to empathise with Anne before having the rug pulled out from under us and our own morality called into question - how could we ever have identified with this woman? It's easy enough when you consider that she's the emotional centre of the film for the first two acts and she's introduced as brave, driven, and confident, someone who's appalled not only at the abuse her clients have suffered, but so too at a system which could potentially find them to be in the wrong. Once the affair begins, although the audience is shocked at what Anne is doing, el-Toukhy depicts things in such a way that we revel in the sense of erotic freedom, savouring Anne's sexual awakening almost as much as she does herself (the first time we see her smile is during a scene where Gustav coaxes her to join him and her daughters in a lake). It's not until she's faced with the possibility of the affair being revealed that we see who Anne truly is - a heartless and cruel exploiter, incapable of seeing that she is perpetrating a similar kind of abuse as that suffered by her clients.
Another important element is the gender paradigm. As mentioned, we're initially encouraged to empathise with Anne and approve of what she's doing. After all, she's a hardworking, decent woman whose marriage has lost its spark, so who could deny her a little bit of illicit fun? But would we think the same were the genders reversed - how would we react to the story of a fortysomething man seducing a 19-year-old girl? With this in mind, el-Toukhy interrogates our morality, by 'tricking' us into condoning Anne's actions and later asking how we could ever have done so - gender, she suggests, is irrelevant in cases of abuse, and the fact that we give a woman a pass to behave in this manner when we would crucify a man for doing the same thing is part of the film's complex thematic texture.
In terms of acting, this is some of Dyrholm's best work (which is saying a lot considering her extraordinary CV). Initially playing Anne as strong-willed and inherently decent, once Gustav arrives on the scene, Dyrholm loosens up, carrying herself differently, and displaying a different kind of confidence than we've seen thus far - a more personalised confidence, one that has to do with her sense of self rather than her professionalism. Later, when she faces the possibility that Peter could learn of the affair and that her comfortable middle-class life could be jeopardised, she shuts herself down, becoming void of emotion and interiority, as she transitions from protagonist to antagonist. Throughout all this, Dyrholm never lets us forget that Anne is very much a flawed human, but so too does she wholly commit to playing Anne's darker qualities; when the wheel turns, Dyrholm makes sure that we come to despise Anne.
Working opposite such a powerhouse performer can't have been easy for the 25-year-old Lindh, who's only been acting professionally since 2015, but he holds his own admirably. And much as Dyrholm creates a fascinating arc for Anne, so too with Lindh, who plays Gustav with an exceptional visceral quality, his emotions always on the surface. His arc is essentially the inverse of Anne's - whereas she's introduced as the protagonist, someone with whom we're encouraged to identify, yet she later becomes a monster, he's introduced as an unlikable, petulant, and moody brat, yet he evolves to the point where he becomes the emotional fulcrum of the final act. As Peter, Krepper has a lot less to do than his co-stars, but he does it well, never putting a foot wrong. He plays Peter as decent and loving, but not especially warm or attentive. Sex between him and Anne is a rarity, and even when they do have sex, it's vanilla and rote. However, these are his most significant crimes; if Anne and Gustav represent the emotional centre of the film at different points, Peter is the moral centre throughout.
Looking at issues of gender inequality in relation to sexual trauma and abuse, Dronningen is a story of how a woman can be a predator just as easily as a man. Indeed, the film reminds us that gender is irrelevant when considering the pain caused by such predation. Ultimately, Gustav is no different from the clients who Anne represents, but whereas she is shown to be remarkably protective of them, when Anne finds herself in the role of the perpetrator, her treatment of Gustav is as reprehensible as anything done to her female clients by their male abusers. This is tricky and emotionally complex territory, and Dronningen is never anything less than thematically fascinating. It's by no means an easy watch, but it is an exceptional piece of filmmaking.
- Mar 5, 2020