I’m absolutely mad about Danish actor and film star Mads Mikkelsen. Not only is he easy on the eye, but he moves like the dancer he was originally trained to be, and is one of the most talented and versatile actors in the business, world-wide.
Unfortunately, in the US, we don’t get his very best films because they’re Danish. Out here around Big Rock Candy Mountain, we don’t get foreign language films at all, even if they’re nominated for Academy Awards, which is a real shame. To see Mads’ work, I have to wait till it comes to Amazon, but I do thank god that it eventually finds its way there.
This post isn’t about Mads as Tristan in the block-buster King Arthur, though he was wonderful in that, and co-star Stellan Skarsgård said, of their ultimate sword-fight scene, “He fights like a dancer, with those moves he has,” to which Mads replied, “As long as I look like a fighter.”
It isn’t about the scar-eyed Le Chiffre, the villainous nemesis of Daniel Craig’s James Bond in the remake of Casino Royale, though Mads was entertaining enough in that, and many people liked him as the bad guy who outwitted Bond at poker and then hammered Daniel Craig’s private parts in an attempt to get the password to his secret bank account.
And this post is most certainly not about the role that Mads seems to be most recognized for here in the States: the infamous serial killer of Thomas Harris’ novels, in the Bryan Fuller created television adaptation, Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. (I’ve written plenty of posts on that show: search for them if you want to read them.) If you want to watch Hannibal, it’s available on Amazon: Season 1, Season 2, and (the final) Season 3.
Instead, this post is about the top five films I’ve seen starring the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen, and none of the films or series listed above even comes close to adequately displaying his range of acting abilities. In fact, some viewers complain that “Mads isn’t acting in Hannibal,” but that’s only because they aren’t able to discern the subtlety of his facial expressions, his body language, and his tone of voice — no doubt because they haven’t seen some of the films where his tremendous talent is show-cased.
Most of those films are foreign, shown only with sub-titles, and here in the US of A, we don’t seem to get easy access to those kind of films. At least, not out here in the desert Wilderness that surrounds Big Rock Candy Mountain. That’s too bad because the films Mads stars in are better than all the Hollywood summer films put together.
Here, then, are Mads’ top five films — okay, top 6, since there’s a tie for #2 — showcasing Mads’ talent in a wide range of roles.
And, hey, no Spoilers.
One of the most delightful comedies ever, with a dark lining that seriously questions the nature of good and evil, Adam’s Apples (2005) displays Mads’ flair for comedy and self-deprecation. In the film, Mads plays the über-devout Ivan, a supremely optimistic preacher who is devoted to helping paroled prisoners find new, non-criminal meaning to their lives.
Ivan is goofy without meaning to be, simply because he refuses to acknowledge that evil cannot be conquered, or to accept the fact that anyone — given the choice — would consciously choose evil actions or behavior over good.
Living in his church with two delinquent prisoners already, Ivan’s faith is most seriously tested by the arrival of Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a vicious neo-Nazi who thinks Ivan’s mentally defective, and whose “job” at the church is taking care of the sole apple tree in the garden, and eventually to learn to bake an apple pie.
Since this “job” was Ivan’s idea and not Adam’s, he mostly mocks everything, wondering if Ivan is actually brain-damaged or just stupid, until Adam’s bible — a gift from Ivan — which keeps falling off the dresser and opening to The Book of Job — gives Adam his epiphany. Like the Adversary in Job, Adam’s role in Ivan’s “Garden” must be to test his faith in God by forcing him to look at evil in the world, without Ivan’s metaphorical rose-colored glasses.
4. A Royal Affair
No actor’s résumé would be complete without at least one gripping historical drama, preferably based on real events, and Mads delivers his requisite role in A Royal Affair (2012). Based on the true story of Queen Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander), the English teenage princess who blithely and innocently marries mad King Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard) in the early 1770s, viewers familiar with Danish history may know the plot of the film. Mads’ acting, as the King’s personal physician and counselor Johann Friedrich Struensee, is top-notch.
Brought to court by political reformers who wish to influence the King, Struensee has an agenda far beyond that of the reformers, and as his influence over the King grows, so does Struensee’s own political influence and power — to the dismay of those who thought they could control the King by controlling Struensee. Add his “radical” reformation ideas (like “freedom of speech”), his idealism, and his fierce independence to his growing sexual attraction to the young Queen, and you have a recipe for political and personal disaster.
Even if you don’t know the specific history of Christian, Mathilda, and Struensee, you probably can figure out that there’s a reason why getting involved with a Queen is treason, and getting charged with treason doesn’t often end well. Still, the film is stunning, the acting is perfection, and you get to see Mads dance — in one of the more extended dancing scenes of his film career.
I mean, that man can move.
A Royal Affair, also free on Amazon for Prime Members, can be rented for a 48-hour period, for $2.99-3.99 for SD/HD, respectively.
3. Michel Kolhaas
Age of Uprising:
The Legend of Michel (Michael) Kolhaas
Based on the novella Michel Kolhaas, by Heinrich von Kleist, which is based on the story of the historical Hans Kolhaas, the film Michel Kolhaas (2014) tells the story of a prosperous, honorable, and content 16th-century French horse merchant Kohlhaas (Mads), who leads a quiet life with his wife, daughter, servants, and his fine horses.
After being treated unfairly by a vainglorious and youthful baron, who confiscates a pair of Michel’s prize horses as an unlawful toll, Michel turns to the court for justice. When the royal court not only refuses to act against the baron and restore Michel’s property, but further punishes Michel for his “arrogance,” Michel forms a small army of farmers and laborers to exact his own justice.
One of Mads’ most moving performances, Michel’s fight for his rights and for equal treatment under royal “law” poignantly illustrates the rigors and injustices of the feudal system, not only in France but in all of Europe, and not just for peasants, but for the as yet unnamed “middle class” as well. Michel soon finds himself considered a “rebel” against the crown rather than a “hero” of the people for whom he fights. Trying to honor the line between personal and societal justice, Michel is on a strait path that may not lead him, his family, or his followers to his intended destination.
Since I’ve already written a separate post about Prague (Prag) (2006) in Lies & Secrets: Prague, the Film, with Mads Mikkelsen,
Nominated for the Academy Award for “Best Foreign Film,” After the Wedding (2007) is a powerful film about Jacob (Mads), a Danish foreign-aid worker who is also a teacher in India. Jacob’s boarding school for orphans will close unless it gets additional funding. Bizarrely enough, one of the potential philanthropists insists that Jacob himself come back to Denmark to “apply” for the grant.
Confused by the strange request, but determined to get his boys’ school the huge donation it needs to stay open, Jacob reluctantly complies. Once back in Denmark, after a twenty-year absence, Jacob meets with the proposed philanthropist, billionaire Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), only to have the grant paperwork and prepared speech ignored, and Jacob’s discussions about the school brushed aside by a man who seems too drunk to consider any funding proposals.
As if that weren’t strange enough, Jorgen insists that Jacob come to his daughter’s wedding that weekend. He’s so insistent that Jacob cannot refuse, fearing that the funding of the grant also depends on his tolerating the billionaire’s whims, especially since Jorgen has made it clear that he has several good causes to consider for funding. At the wedding, Jacob gets a horrifying shock, as does Jorgen’s wife — the bride’s mother — and, eventually, the bride herself.
Though some reviewers found the film “somewhat melodramatic” and “contrived,” it didn’t stop them from raving about Mads’ stunning performance as a man who’s asked to make a decision, after the wedding, that will completely change his life.
Complemented by the strong performances of his co-stars, especially that of Rolf Lassgard as the billionaire philanthropist Jorgen and Stine Fischer Christiansen as Jorgen’s daughter Anna, After the Wedding is a gut-wrenching tale of mistakes made when younger, mistakes that cannot be taken back, but that may be atoned for in the present.
Unfortunately, only at great cost to others.
1. The Hunt
Inspired by, but not based on, actual events, The Hunt (2013) is a modern psychological horror story — one made more terrifying by the fact that it could actually happen — to anyone. Anywhere. Without warning.
Lucas (Mads) is a Kindergarten teacher, trying to cope with a difficult divorce and custody battle for his son, when one of his young students accuses him of sexual molestation and rape. As if that weren’t horrifying enough, the young girl is the daughter of Lucas’ life-long best friend, and one of Lucas’ favorite students.
Before Lucas has a chance to even comprehend how such an accusation could be made, the school board, the girl’s family, and the town’s residents have found him “guilty,” simply because the young girl said that something happened. Because Lucas does not offer “evidence” of his innocence, and, instead, seems angry about the accusation, everyone takes his “unusual” behavior as proof of his guilt. When other children come forward with similar stories, the town reacts with attempted modern day “lynchings” — attempting to kill Lucas, his son, and his family members.
Absolutely accurate in its depiction of mob-mentality and “righteous” mob-violence, while remaining ambiguous about Lucas’ guilt or innocence, The Hunt is a terrifying portrayal of a man “tried” and “found guilty” of pedophilia, child molestation, and child-rape simply because of what one little girl says, forcing the accused Lucas to fight for his life, literally, and for the lives of his family.
The ending will shock you.
The role of Lucas in The Hunt won Mads the Award for Best Male Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s his best performance to date: highly nuanced, subtle, powerful.
Available from Amazon for $2.99/3.99 for SD/HD, respectively, for a 48-hour viewing period.
Warning: the trailer may have Spoilers.