In Nikolaj Arcel’s compelling historical drama, “The Promised Land,” Mads Mikkelsen steps into the role of an army captain named Ludvig Kahlen, proving yet again why he’s one of Denmark’s most reliable and charismatic actors. The film, despite its unassuming title, offers a rip-roaring epic that blends historical fact with storybook romance and larger-than-life villains.
The story unfolds against the backdrop of Denmark’s Jutland Heath, a sprawling, barren landscape where only heather seems to thrive. Kahlen, a commoner of humble origins, defies societal expectations by rising through the military ranks with unwavering determination. Mikkelsen’s commanding presence brings Kahlen’s stoic and valiant character to life.
At the heart of the narrative lies an 18th-century government initiative to invite foreign settlers to cultivate the untamable heath. Kahlen seizes this opportunity, seeking permission to build an agricultural settlement and a noble title in return for his success. However, his plans are met with scorn from the aristocracy, particularly the malevolent Frederik De Schinkel, played with venomous relish by Simon Bjenneberg.
Arcel’s screenplay, co-written with Anders Thomas Jensen and based on Ida Jessen’s novel, explores themes of envy, spite, and class conflict, creating a classic battle between good and evil. As De Schinkel relentlessly torments Kahlen and his workers, the film oscillates between everyday concerns of home and family and a blood feud of epic proportions.
While “The Promised Land” touches on issues of racial prejudice and introduces a love triangle involving Kahlen, Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin), and De Schinkel’s cousin Edel (Kristine Kujath Thorp), it never loses sight of its grand-scale period drama ambitions. The film’s panoramic visuals, captured beautifully by Rasmus Videbæk, paint the heath as a rugged, Nordic desert, emphasizing the stark contrast between the heroes’ earthy attire and the opulent excesses of the rich.
“The Promised Land” is a Danish Western in its core, with clear-cut moral binaries and a spirit of daring adventure. Mikkelsen’s performance, coupled with Arcel’s skillful direction, ensures that this historical drama remains a captivating and entertaining epic, making it a worthy addition to Denmark’s cinematic heritage.