"The reputation of a dead man never changes," runs the line in a Norse epic that gives this Swedish biopic its original title. The implication is that the film is an attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of its subject. But he would scarcely seem in need of rescue.
Theologian-turned-journalist Torgny Segerstedt (Christensen) edited a small Gothenburg business newspaper that was an early and outspoken critic of Hitler. The script uses Segerstedt's own written words, which include some strong turns of phrase: he describes Hitler's supporters as "platelickers and sycophants" and condemns the "humiliating shadow-boxing of diplomacy" being engaged in by European governments, including his own.
Segerstedt's staunchness attracted official ire, but the film, bound by the need for historical accuracy, cannot turn this into the heroic story of a defiant firebrand since the reality was somewhat more complicated. Instead, for much of its length it explores Segerstedt's private life, remarkable for the time, which included an affair with his publisher's wife that everybody, the publisher included, seemed to regard as unexceptionable.
The film that results, however, is curiously bloodless: in exploring the personal, it fails to set the man in a social context and the impact of the journalist, who was far from universally respected, is never really explored. Meanwhile the man himself, whose self-absorption verges on the pathological, is easier to admire than to like.
Director Troell, best-known for the magnificent two-part epic The Emigrants and The New Land in the early 70s, shoots in a radiant black and white, which works well to accommodate the few archival inserts. But the film is mainly interiors - meetings, dinner, parties - and, though its depiction of newspaper production in the linotype era will bring a tear to the eye of a few old journos, the drama struggles to breathe. It's a classy piece of work, but may be of niche interest only.
Cast: Jesper Christensen, Pernilla August, Amanda Ooms, Peter Andersson
Director: Jan Troell
Running time: 125 mins
Rating: M (adult themes). In Swedish and German with English subtitles
Verdict: Classy but bloodless