REVIEW: Dronningen (2019)

Danish Theatrical Release Poster – Nordisk Film

The following is a review of the Danish film ‘Dronningen‘ (international title: Queen of Hearts) — Directed by May el-Toukhy.

Dronningen is a disturbing and twisted tragedy about double-standards, hypocrisy, and gender-roles from the female Danish-Egyptian filmmaker May el-Toukhy. The Danish film — and controversial conversation starter — stars the outstanding actress and critical darling Trine Dyrholm in the leading role as Anne, a Danish lawyer and mother of two girls. Anne is married to the Swedish doctor Peter (played by Magnus Krepper, who recently appeared in the Danish film Før Frosten), who has a 17-year old troublemaking son, Gustav (played by Gustav Lindh), from a previous marriage in Sweden.

Peter and Anne’s marriage has lost its spark and Anne is desperate for some kind of attention. She eventually gets more than she bargained for when Gustav begins living with his father and his new Danish family in Denmark. When Anne realizes that Gustav faked a break-in in their home, she gives him an ultimatum — either she tells his father what happened or he starts trying to be a part of the family and her two daughters’ lives. It all starts as an innocent reprimand, but, eventually, Anne’s marital dissatisfaction sets her on course for a sinful affair with her step-son.

2019 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award-winner, Dronningen is a special kind of slow-burn drama; the kind that’ll engage you, unsettle you, and then kick you in the stomach as it takes a turn. At times it reminded me of the unforgettable Thomas Vinterberg Cannes Jury Prize-winner and Dogme 95-film, Festen, arguably one of the greatest Danish films ever made.

For most of the first half of her film, el-Toukhy takes her time to build the complex character that Dyrholm plays. The female filmmaker carefully creates a bold, confident, and powerful female character — a modern woman — confident enough to stand up to life’s bullies and those who hurt defenseless young women. Then she pulls the rug out from under you as Anne crosses a line that should never be crossed and sexually explicit scenes are shown.

Then, as the plot progresses, it is Trine Dyrholm who in an impressive and biting turn as Anne turns the table on the film’s audience and immediately makes the film more interesting. Dripping with lust and hypocrisy, this cold Danish tragedy is the exact right vehicle for Dyrholm to give a twisted performance as the weaver of a web of lies and secrets that enmeshes her entire family. It is one of those phenomenal performances that can turn a bad film into a good film, and, in the case of Dronningen, Dyrholm turns a great film into an outstanding one through, perhaps, her greatest and most raw, provocative, and fiendish performance yet.

Though certainly not equally good, Swedish co-stars Magnus Krepper and Gustav Lindh turn in commendable performances as father and son. Krepper, who is having a great year in Danish films, is very good, and Lindh has one moment in particular that really got to me. But, make no mistake, it is the masterful performance from Dyrholm that elevates this film. She towers over her co-stars and they give her plenty of room as the most accommodating supporting performances do.

At times the writing and the dialogue is a little bit too obvious, just like how one needle-drop, in particular — “Tainted Love,” — is maybe a little bit too on-the-nose for such a serious and weighty slow-burn drama. It may be a little bit too long, but I had no problem with it as I was enthralled by el-Toukhy’s interesting tale of immorality which turns into a full-blown thriller at one point.

Deliberately paced and sinful-to-the-bone, May el-Toukhy’s Dronningen is a remarkable, stylish tragedy about gender-roles and an abuse of power. The way Dyrholm upends our expectations and takes control of the narrative is astounding and it left me with my mouth agape. Dyrholm owns the unforgettable, venomous titular role in Dronningen, which, I think, might be the best Danish film since Thomas Vinterberg’s Jagten.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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