The Mads Mikkelsen Triple Feature
I’m obsessed. I wait eagerly for every Friday evening—not so I can go out and do something fun, exploring the great city I live in. Nope. I am on the edge of my seat for Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. Most of this anticipation is built on the devilish, downright troubling charm of Mads Mikkelsen’s characterization of the titular character. Don’t get me wrong, Hugh Dancy and co. are turning in sound performances every week, buoyed along by the out-of-the-park writing (which mostly relegates the gorgeously unsettling murders-of-the-week to the sidelines to focus on the machinations of Hannibal’s manipulative behavior). But Mikkelson’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter—played so mawkishly over-the-top by Anthony Hopkins in the film iterations—lets you see just how it would have been possible for Lecter to remain at large for so long. He is refined, elegant, and utterly calculating; it is so easy to fall prey to his charms that it is no wonder how so many fell prey to him in other regards. If you aren’t caught up on Hannibal, season one is currently available on Amazon Prime, but if you are looking for more Mikkelson in your life (like I clearly am) here are three pretty spectacular dramas available on Netflix Instant right now—and they all prominently feature those razor sharp cheekbones and that gravely voice.
The Historical Spy Thriller:
Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen, Danish, 2008, Dir: Ole Christian Madsen)
This historical thriller is loosely based on the exploits of the Holger-Danske Resistance during World War II. Bent Faurschou-Hviid (known as “Flame” and played by a tragically wonderful Thure Lindhardt) and Jorgen Hagen-Schmith (“Citron,” Mad Mikkelsen) are a team working to assassinate Danish Nazis and their collaborators. The film initially uses a lot of the tropes of the avenging angel type of film that revels in taking down the “bad guys,” but it swiftly moves past this into something infinitely more complex. Not only does the script, in combination with the moving performances, really highlight the fact that the men who are doing this dirty work are actually men (you know, with feelings and emotions and consciences) rather than the trained killers who do not flinch in the face of death that we are so frequently treated to in the world of film, but it also beautifully highlights the complexity of the marks that the men are supposed to make. Are these real collaborators? Are they truly guilty of the crimes they have been accused of? Is death the best option for keeping the Danish people safe? And can you trust the person who is giving you your orders? This is not only a gorgeous film, with Mikkelsen and Lindhardt turning in heart-wrenching performances in the midst of a stacked Danish and German cast, but it is also one that doesn’t rest on the laurels of what we think about WWII films; it forces us to look at the grey areas.
The Bodice-Ripping Historical Romance:
A Royal Affair (En kongelig affaere, Danish, 2012, Dir: Nikolaj Arcel)
Another historical piece, this time taking us back to the 18th century. We are brought to the court of the Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Folsgaard), the mentally unstable child-like ruler with no sense of his responsibilities, with his betrothed, Princess Caroline Mathilde of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander), a beautiful, intelligent and educated young queen who rather takes her position of power to heart. When Caroline meets her new husband, she finds that he is impossible to live with, and she has many of her books and the things that she finds important stripped away at the behest of the state’s regulations. Even though she is incredibly unhappy, she doesn’t stop trying to do her duty, and does eventually produce an heir to the delight of the court. Enter the thoughtful, intelligent (and coherent) Dr. Johann Freidrich Struensee (Mikkelsen), brought in by members of the court to help work as the king’s physician as well as pushing him to sign off on the court’s plans for the country. But Struensee, quite liberal in his Enlightenment views, sees things differently, and begins to use his friendship with the child-like Christian to push his own ideas out into practice—and thereby gaining the attention of the like-minded Caroline. Gorgeous set-pieces and costumes abound, but this film really belongs to Mikkelsen and Vikander, who have intense on-screen chemistry. Come for the history lesson, stay for the smoldering.
The Realist Wronged Man:
The Hunt (Jagten, Danish, 2012, Dir: Thomas Vinterberg)
This one might already be on your radar as it was the 2013 Danish submission for Best Foreign Picture at the Academy Awards just a few weeks ago. There are a lot of reasons that this film gained so much attention, and only one of them is Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Lucas, a down on his luck kindergarten teacher who is embroiled in a fight with his ex-wife over the custody of his teenaged son Marcus. When he is wrongly accused of molesting Klara, the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), Lucas tries to fight the reaction of the townspeople as things slip out of control. This one could be controversial—the subject matter is troubling, and frequently difficult to stomach—but this particular script does a wonderful job at showing how the people around Klara, including the principal of the kindergarten, Grete (Susse Wold), do absolutely all of the wrong things all while believing they are acting in the best interest of the child. Couple this harrowing story with the gorgeous imagery of the Danish countryside where this small hamlet sits, you have a movie that will turn your stomach at the same time it is delighting your eyes. You might, however, have to forgive it for some too-on-the-nose metaphors, but it is a compelling performance nonetheless.