The Promised Land is a David and Goliath story… but only if David’s assistant and father’s servants played a major role.
Promised Land introduces Captain Ludvig Kahlen (Mads Milkkensen), a man coming out of his service to the Danish King in Germany that has succeeded his rank as a peasant and aims to make himself the Lord of his own land. In order to do this though, as the illegitimate son of a maid and a nobleman, he must conquer desolate land that no man has been able to live on for decades. The ongoing struggle sees Ludvig unjustly held back from achieving true greatness as the local county judge Frederick de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg) aims to control his earnings in order to maintain his power. A wrathful and spiteful man, de Schinkel also has the complex of a spoiled child, making him a most problematic opponent.
Stubborn and determined in his fight to cultivate his land, Kahlen finds he must unite with others who are determined to make the most of the band hand that he’s been dealt. He does this with a runaway housekeeper, Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin) and Edel Helene (Kristine Kujath Thorp) who is de Schinkel’s cousin and has been betrothed to him against her wishes. The three of Ann, Ludvig and Edel also form a love triangle and the bonds that bring them and de Schinkel together as foes and lovers results in deadly and passionate actions.
At face value, Ludvig is a tragic figure. He is not a virtuous man: he does what he must to survive and does it alone but he has admirable ambitions. We pity him for the constant obstacles of monarchy, politics and class that he has to get through to achieve his goals. It’s very easy to align with his perspective in the face of de Schinkel’s snobby and over the top villainous demeanor.
The filmmaking is well done but doesn’t have to carry the story of the film. Promised Land is constantly moving, presenting new challenges and characters who both antagonize and reveal more about Ludvig as he continues on his journey to cultivate his land. The screenplay, while not cutting edge or original, is very well done using familiar characters and plot points well by weaving them together effortlessly especially in the first half of the film. There is a clear and strong goal for Ludvig to be able to farm the land and fend off the opposition that he has in order to make himself a nobleman. There are big obstacles as well which force him to find allies and unite with another side of the society, the peasants. In that way, he serves as a middleman who slowly grows to care for these women, the young girl and poor who are on the outskirts of society and slowly becomes a champion of sorts for them even as he goes towards a goal that benefits himself. He makes sacrifices and loses as he goes towards his goals and it gets us to root for him more.
The cinematography is sharp, often using its natural setting for some gorgeous shots that utilize the orange hues of both golden hour and fire which is frequent lighting source that always remains interesting.
The cast are all really good, who never for a second don’t see them as their characters. Despite having seen Mads in many other projects he embodies this one very well and embodies the resolute and dignified captain. But you also see his anger and rage come out in certain moment in entirely convincing ways.
Promised Land sees a man who in seeking his own fortune starts to care about and defend those who never got a chance to rise above their rank. He starts to see that, despite the bad hand he was dealt from birth, he had chances and that’s something that other people around him never got. He starts to have grace for them and there is beautiful change that happens as he starts to live for something greater than his own name. We see him start to care for these people in his life and he gives them a hope to attach themselves too, that they too can make a better life for themselves and others, no matter where in society they may start from.
The Promised Land is available in theatres on Friday, February 9th, 2024.