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VOD Review: The Good Traitor

April 13, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Danish filmmaker Christina Rosendahl’s period piece drama The Good Traitor joins the wide range of films that have been made about World War II from the American and British perspectives, and sets itself apart by exploring Denmark’s complicated role in the conflict with the Nazis.

The film serves as a biopic of Henrik Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen), the Danish ambassador to the United States at the start of World War II in 1939. When German forces occupy their country on April 9th, 1940, the Danish government surrenders to the Nazis and decides to cooperate with them, wanting to remain politically neutral in the fight. But Kauffmann rightly views Hitler as too much of a threat to be reasoned with.

Much of the film focuses on Kauffmann’s decision to declare himself an independent representative of a free Denmark, which amounts to an act of treason against his country’s monarchy. Feeling like his country’s response to the fascist threat is severely lacking, he enacts his own plan, with the help of his idealistic colleague Povl Bang-Jensen (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), to ensure freedom for Denmark. This includes gaining favour with President Roosevelt (Henry Goodman), and using Greenland as a bargaining chip by offering the United States free access to build a military base there in exchange for their support.

Rosendahl, who also co-wrote the script with Kristian Bang Foss and Dunja Gry Jensen, does a good job of exploring these complex geopolitical negotiations that took place behind the scenes of WWII from a different angle than what we usually see. Much of the film unfolds through high-level discussions in opulent spaces over drinks, showing how many of these decisions were being made by well-paid diplomats. Hitler and the Nazis are kept entirely off-screen, with updates on the war effort provided through radio broadcasts that we hear as transitions between scenes. The on-the-ground conflict is never shown.

The film also splits its time with the domestic drama between Henrik and his wife Charlotte (Denise Gough), exploring her increasing jealousy over her sister Zilla (Zoë Tapper), whom it’s suggested Henrik still has feelings for following a past affair. Charlotte, a family friend of Roosevelt’s, is Henrik’s greatest asset in terms of facilitating talks with the American President. But she also proved to be his downfall, as shown in the film’s tragic bookending scenes in 1963, when she slit his throat out of jealousy. The script does a fine job of balancing both parts of the story.

The film plays almost like a companion piece to the Oscar-winning Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour. Where as that film explored how Churchill defied the political opinion of the time to lead England into war with Germany, this film focuses on a lesser known figure from the time who was also successful in securing a bright future for his country by going against the political establishment. Churchill, who is portrayed in The Good Traitor by Nicholas Blane, appears in the film for a single scene, sharing a late dinner with Roosevelt. “I like you,” he growls at Henrik, an interaction that seems fitting considering how both men have been portrayed.

The film does, at times, feel constrained in its approach, and it lacks the theatrics of, say, a Darkest Hour. But I enjoyed watching the political maneuverings of The Good Traitor. Kauffmann himself is an interesting historical figure, with Thomsen doing an engaging job of bringing him to life on screen, and the film offers a decent overview of the role that he played concerning Denmark’s fate in WWII.

The Good Traitor is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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