Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel, Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Amanda Collin, Simon Bennebjerg, Melina Hagberg, Kristine Kujath Thorp, Gustav Lindh
Released: June 20, 2024
Grade: B+

The Promised Land

In a recent interview, Danish director Nikolaj Arcel listed Lawrence of Arabia as one of his all-time favourite films.  He loves its epic nature in terms of cast, scale, complexity, and runtime (227 minutes).  The Promised Land isn’t quite as ambitious but it’s easy to see why he was attracted to Ida Jessen’s 2022 novel upon which the script is based.  It’s a sweeping historical drama set in rural Denmark during the 18th Century.

The central protagonist is Captain Ludvig Kahlen (Mikkelsen), a retired military man who forged a successful career despite a relatively poor upbringing.  He has obtained permission from the King to create a potato farm on the expansive Jutland Heath, a remote part of Denmark considered unfarmable.  Many have tried and given-up before him but if Kahlen succeeds, he’s been promised a noble title, a manor, and a handful of servants.

While most believe he’ll fail anyway because of the immense challenge and lack of funds, there’s one heinous individual who wants to make certain of it.  The wealthy Frederik Schinkel (Bennebjerg) informally rules this part of Denmark and enjoys flexing his power at any opportunity.  He sees Kahlen’s activities as a threat in that, if fruitful, it will bring more inhabitants to the area and undermine his authoritarian control.  With endless wealth and people at his disposal, Schinkel will be an extremely tough adversary for Kahlen to defeat.

Shot on a relatively low budget (at least compared to a regular Hollywood movie), The Promised Land is an effective drama which generates interest in the period while also telling a worthy good versus evil tale.  Denmark’s top exports are pharmaceuticals, machinery and oil… but actor Mads Mikkelsen can’t be too far behind given his impressive international resume.  He’s best known for blockbusters like Casino Royale, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Beasts but he’s also been involved with a bunch of memorable Danish productions including A Royal Affair, The Hunt, and Another Round.

Able to play the hero, the villain, or a combination of both, Mikkelsen again illustrates his versatility in The Promised Land.  He portrays Kahlen as a character who is likeable because of his determination and underdog status, while also being flawed because of poor decision making and a blunt rudeness which rubs people up the wrong way.  It’s a great performance.  Simon Bennebjerg is less nuanced as Schinkel but does exactly what the material asks of him – create a detestable scumbag who audiences want to see defeated.

Doing a great job in capturing the barren, windy landscape and backed by a distinct music score from American composer Dan Romer (Beasts of the Southern Wild), The Promised Land is another admirable project to come from Denmark.