Culture / Editor's Own / History

The King’s Choice

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The King’s Choice, a Norwegian film nominated for an ‘Oscar’ this year, is soon to receive an international release. It charts the dramatic escape of King Haakon VII and his government during the Second World War, and his consistent refusal to give in to an occupying Nazi government, even in exile…


Alexander Brett

This autumn critically acclaimed Norwegian film The King’s Choice (Kongens Nei) will receive an international release. It has already been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the ‘Oscars’. The King’s Choice tells the story of a – as its title suggests – perilous choice placed upon the King of Norway in the aftermath the German invasion of 1940: whether to give in to Nazi demands, surrendering his country, or urge the Norwegian people to keep fighting, to try to save it.

In the early hours of 9th April 1940 Norway was invaded by the German Navy. Initially, the invasion was successfully fended off; the first ship to arrive, the Blücher, was sunk, along with its comrade ship, the heavy cruiser Lützow. As many of the administrative personnel were killed, the Nazis temporarily withdrew to replenish their troops, thereby opening a small window for members of the royal family and Storting (Parliament) to escape Norway on a hastily arranged train. Before they could get out, the German Envoy to Norway, Curt Bräuer, called upon King Haakon VII with an ultimatum. It demanded resistance be abandoned and Vidkun Quisling, head of the Nasjonal Samling (Norway’s Fascist party) be appointed prime minister. As Haakon was unwilling to push ahead without the advice of his government, Bräuer pointed to the example of his brother, King Christian X of Denmark, who surrendered just hours after the German invasion. Haakon, however, was steadfast, and in an emotional address to the Cabinet at Nybergsund, he made his position clear: he could never appoint Quisling as prime minister so long as he knew he had neither the support of the Storting nor the Norwegian people. Should the Cabinet feel otherwise and choose to accept Bräuer’s demands, he would abdicate for them to proceed.


“King Haakon, in an emotional address to the Cabinet at Nybergsund, made his position clear: he could never appoint Quisling so long as he knew he had neither the support of the Storting nor the Norwegian people. Should the Cabinet feel otherwise and choose to accept Bräuer’s demands, he would abdicate.”


Inspired by their monarch’s words, the Cabinet did not agree to the terms. Nils Hjelmtveit, then minister of education, wrote afterwards that King Haakon “came to us like a great man, just and forceful; a leader in these fateful times to our country.” Bräuer was contacted and NRK (the Norwegian national broadcasting company) aired the government’s rejection, calling on Norwegians to resist the invasion for as long as possible. Furious, Hitler sent squadrons of Luftwaffe bombers to Nybergsund in an attempt to root out and destroy the unyielding king and his government. Just sixteen miles away, a neutral Sweden informed the king that, should he attempt to cross the border, he would be “detained and incarcerated”. It was a heartbreaking betrayal but, if anything, it made Haakon and his government even more determined to struggle on. Fleeing Nybergsund, they took cover first in a forest then continued north to Molde. Finally, German advances forced them onto HMS Glasgow, which took them on to Tromsø, where they remained until British forces were persuaded to withdraw and concentrate their efforts on France.


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After fleeing Nybergsund, King Haakon cover in a forest outside Molde


Haakon and his government were evacuated to London on board HMS Devonshire in what became an agonising voyage. HMS Acosta and HMS Ardent were both attacked and destroyed near Devonshire’s position but, having to keep silence, Devonshire could not contact them, leaving 1,519 British officers to perish. King Haakon, however, arrived safely in London, and a government in exile was successfully established. The king was moved constantly: first from Buckingham Palace to Bowdon House then, after an RAF base was set up near Bowdon, he was sent to Foliejon Park in Berkshire. Throughout the occupation, though, his official residence and seat of the government in exile remained at 10 Palace Green, Kensington Gardens. It was here the Cabinet held weekly meetings and the king broadcast to occupied Norwegians over the BBC World Service. The royal family also became regular worshippers at St Olav’s Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe, alongside fellow refugees.


“At 10 Palace Green, Kensington Gardens the Cabinet held weekly meetings and the king broadcast to occupied Norwegians over the BBC World Service. The royal family also became regular worshippers at St Olav’s Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe, alongside fellow refugees.”


Back in Norway, Hitler installed Josef Torboven as the Norwegian Reichkommissar and demanded the Storting depose the king and form a government. Citing constitutional problems, the Storting refused and a subsequent ultimatum was issued stating that unless the king was removed all Norwegians of military age would be rounded up and placed in concentration camps. Desperate, the Storting wrote to their monarch asking him to abdicate, but still the king would not give in, stating in his response that the Storting was simply “acting under duress”. Torboven gave in, saying only that the royal family had forfeited their right to return home and that all democratic parties would be dissolved.

But return the king did. On 7th June 1945, three days before the German Army officially withdrew, the royal family were met with cheering crowds as they disembarked in Oslo. It was exactly five years after their escape from Tromsø.


The King’s Choice will be available soon on DVD.


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