In this reteaming of the star and director of A Royal Affair, Mads Mikkelsen displays his mettle as a former soldier trying to tame Jutland in 18th-century Denmark.
The Promised Land
For all the strengths that make Nikolaj Arcel’s sixth feature such a richly satisfying historical drama, the most compelling may be the least surprising. That’s the old-school screen charisma that Mads Mikkelsen exudes in great abundance as a man whose taciturn nature and rugged fortitude are tested by nearly every conceivable hardship that can be dished out in 18th-century Denmark.
The film reunites Mikkelsen with Arcel, who previously directed him in A Royal Affair (TIFF ’12). The actor stars as Ludvig Kahlen, the illegitimate son of a maid and a nobleman, who defied his low status to succeed in Denmark’s military. Though many had already tried and failed to realize the hopes of King Frederik V for the wild heath of Jutland to be tamed and cultivated, Kahlen believes he has the necessary mettle to triumph over the inhospitable soil, roving thieves, and many other obstacles. His most formidable enemy proves to be Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), the landowner who knows that any progress on the heath will cost him his power. For all his stoic self-reliance, Kahlen soon realizes he can’t succeed without allies such as Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin), a worker who comes under his protection, and Edel Helene (Kristine Kujath Thorp), de Schinkel’s cousin and very reluctant betrothed.
Arcel equips it all with a sense of sweep and swagger that evokes a John Ford western. And with Mikkelsen’s robust yet nuanced performance being matched by the whole of the cast, The Promised Land boasts a vitality that’s all too uncommon in such handsomely mounted period fare.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: violence, mature themes, coarse language, sexually suggestive scenes