18 Jun 2024

Promised land - There Will Be Mads

Eleven years after his success with "A Royal Affair," which won two awards at the Berlinale and was nominated for an Oscar, Danish director Nikolaj Arcel reunites with Mads Mikkelsen for a new period drama set in 18th-century Denmark.

Captain Ludvig Kahlen spends his days in a shelter for war veterans—he has nothing to return to: he earned his position after a quarter-century of hard work, unlike his noble peers who obtained theirs after just six months of service. Determined to change his fortune, he sees an opportunity for wealth in taming the swampy land of the Jutland peninsula. The royal court has no reason to deny his request for the title of baron and a considerable fortune if he succeeds: no one has cultivated the soil believed to be nothing but rock and sand. And as if the stubbornness of nature isn't enough, his plan is further hindered by Frederik de Schinkel, a ruthless nobleman who hypocritically added "de" to his name to appear wealthier, and who has his own plans for the land Kahlen has settled on.

It's the classic story of man vs. nature, peasantry vs. nobility, seen in numerous films about the struggle of the working class, but here it takes on a special weight and a fresh angle. Arcel incorporates, in a natural manner that won't provoke any woke backlash, issues of class, race, and gender. The captain befriends Ann Barbara, a maid who slowly becomes his partner, and together they adopt Anmai Mus, a Romani orphan girl who keeps stealing food from their barn. He also connects with de Schinkel's cousin, Edel, who finds him more attractive than the man her parents are forcing her to marry for money. These are three complex characters who break the molds of their period, where women were utterly powerless, and who expose our hero to a vital dilemma: his generosity contradicts his desire to succeed. Taking care of others' fates means compromising his own.

Combined with Mikkelsen's performance, which commands attention every time he appears on screen, the script keeps you in continuous suspense: you're never sure if he will follow his heart or his plan, and hard work and honesty are not always rewarded, as we quickly learn at the beginning of the film, making the viewing experience all the more captivating.