The Promised Land (2024)

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Amanda Collin, Simon Bennebjerg, Kristine Kujath Thorp, Gustav Lindh, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Melina Hagberg, Morten Hee Andersen, Magnus Krepper, Søren Malling

Based on Ida Jessen's book The Captain and Ann Barbara, co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (Men & Chicken, Riders of Justice) and director Nikolaj Arcel open their feature adaptation by laying the necessary groundwork. On-screen text describes the Heath of Jutland as a hopeless place that is besieged by brutal elements, barren soil, and outlaws. All that try to tame it fail miserably. The Promised Land makes it clear how treacherous the land is, and what a struggle such an attempt to conquer it will be.

Copenhagen, 1755. After serving the German army for 25 years, the impoverished Captain Ludvig Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen) wishes to conquer the uninhabitable heath in the name of the King. While the government see this endeavour as a losing battle, Kahlen announces his intentions to fund the expedition himself in exchange for a noble title if he succeeds. While he believes the biggest troubles will come from the elements, trouble soon mounts courtesy of a merciless magistrate trying to claim ownership over the entire heath.

While the English title places the focus upon the land, that is a change from original Danish title of Bastarden - which translates to The Bastard. This highlights Kahlen's reality that he is determined to escape, intent on rising above his low-born status while already acting like a nobleman. Mikkelsen is utterly magnetic in this lead role, conveying so much through simple looks as he portrays somebody fighting an uphill battle. He captures this man who intends to persevere in spite of his petty antagonist, reacting to each setback and embarrassment with a newfound drive, regardless of what it may cost. While Hollywood struggles to give Mikkelsen substantial roles worthy of his talents, Danish filmmakers are thankfully on-hand to properly utilize his skills.

As the merciless Frederik de Schinkel, Simon Bennebjerg brings a delicious sliminess to this entitled little man who is determined to get his own way, regardless of whether or not the law is on his side. The bubbling anger is tremendously captured whenever things do not go de Schinkel's way, leaving him to take dehumanizing lengths to enforce his will. This terrifies the cousin that he is betrothed to, Edel Helene (Kristine Kujath Thorp). Her family requires status through this union, although she takes a liking to Kahlen while realizing that he may be a suitable alternative.

Aiding the Captain throughout this undertaking are allies, including a priest named Anton (Gustav Lindh) who helps through thick and thin, and Anmai Mus (Melina Hagberg), a young Romani girl that is looked down upon due to her skin colour. Rounding off this group is Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin), a runaway worker who escaped from a cruel master along with her husband and becomes a strength within this group. A makeshift family is formed, united by a will to succeed and genuine caring for one another, although this blissful grouping is threatened by Kahlen's determination.

Integral to this story is the stunning cinematography, breathing life into the harsh surroundings that are being fought over while also capturing the threatening elements. The results of such all-consuming determination are witnessed by the stories end, with the toll of such an undertaking weighing heavily upon those who remain. Arcel's utilization of history into a compelling drama makes The Promised Land into an engrossing tale of all-consuming determination.

The Promised Land is available in UK cinemas now