Many of you are bound to remember a scene in this film where 45-year-old Anne seduces a teenaged boy in his bed. There’s nothing subtle about it; when she goes down on him, we see everything, even if that convincing (and flattering) penis is fake. It’s a revealing situation in every sense of the word. The film as a whole is a naked portrait of a ”queen” losing her shine.
Helping abused children
Anne (Trine Dyrholm) is a successful lawyer who specializes in helping abused children. She’s married to Peter (Magnus Krepper) and they have two young daughters. One day, Gustav (Gustav Lindh) arrives to live with them for a while. He’s Peter’s teenage son who needs a change of scenery after causing trouble at home. Peter has never really been there for him as a parent and feels guilty about it, but Anne is used to dealing with troubled children and welcomes him.
Things don’t start out well, but after an incident involving Gustav that Anne keeps secret from Peter, the boy’s attitude changes. Then one evening, Anne seduces him…
A film about being seen
Director May el-Toukhy, who’s made a few films in Denmark, took this disturbing family drama to the Sundance festival earlier this year where it deservedly garnered attention. I read an interview with her before writing this review and in it she stated that it is a film about being seen. I can understand that, especially from Gustav’s perspective. He seems like an off-puttingly cold teenager at first, the type who might even be capable of physically hurting you, because he looks more or less like a grown man.
But of course he’s not. 23-year-old Lindh captures that balance between childhood and adulthood in a perfect way and as the story progresses and he falls victim to Anne we can see what she failed to see when she chose to sexualize him – that he’s a very frail kid who’s frequently let down by the adults in his life. But Anne also wants to be seen; it’s a fascinating, dark portrait that Dyrholm and the filmmakers paint. On the surface she’s a pillar of society, but early on we learn that she has boundary issues, often triggered by one drink too many. Peter admires her work, but doesn’t understand why Anne has to invite some of her clients into their home when they need a bed. At work, Anne finds one of the law firm’s partners boring when he points out that they must respect ethical boundaries or the firm will suffer. It’s like she longs for an adventure, something that puts her comfortable life at risk. And when all is exposed, she will use every tool in her arsenal, all the power she has, to save her neck, regardless of whom she destroys in the process.
Dyrholm brilliantly makes us understand, and loathe, her character. Krepper is also great as her husband who doesn’t know what to believe. The filmmakers capture middle-class life in Denmark in a very attractive way, contrasting it with the rot behind the façade. I was reminded of Susanne Bier, who’s made several equally captivating dramas that focus on family dynamics.
El-Toukhy and her co-writer Maren Louise Käehne handle the tension and tragedy of this film exceptionally well and it shows how much research and effort they (and Dyrholm) invested in getting this right. The main achievement of the film is illustrating how fatal sex abuse can be, even in cases where it doesn’t seem like such a big deal at first. 17 and seduced by a much older woman? Looks like you’re in for a back-slapping session among buddies at the local bar tonight. Well, no.
Queen of Hearts 2019-Denmark-Sweden. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Caroline Blanco, Rene Ezra. Directed by May el-Toukhy. Screenplay: Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy. Cast: Trine Dyrholm (Anne), Gustav Lindh (Gustav), Magnus Krepper (Peter), Stine Gyldenkerne, Liv Esmår Dannemann, Silja Esmår Dannemann.
Trivia: Original title: Dronningen.
Last word: “We read a lot of articles, essays and books, and even got as far as the Greek myth about Phaedra, who wanted to seduce her stepson, and when he rejected her, she accused him of rape. We didn’t watch films, because there are not a lot that actually tackle that theme. But the real breakthrough for me was meeting with a therapist who specialises in such cases and who has worked with both sides – the victims and the perpetrators. She told us, for example, what kinds of families it happens in.” (el-Toukhy, Cineuropa)