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  Queen of Hearts Wicked Stepmother
Year: 2019
Director: May el-Toukhy
Stars: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper, Liv Esmar Dannemann, Silja Esmar Dannemann, Stine Gyldenkerne, Preben Kristensen, Frederikke Dahl Hansen, Ella Solgaard, Carla Philip Roder, Peter Khouri, Mads Knarreborg, Marie Dalsgaard
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anne (Trine Dyrholm) is a successful lawyer with much experience in taking on cases involving the abuse of young people, and this has given her a professional compassion that should by all rights translate into her domestic life. Yet while she appears loving to her well-off businessman husband Peter (Magnus Krepper), and looks after their twin daughters well enough, there's an aspect of her spouse's life that maybe she would not admit rankles with her: she was not his first wife, and the girls are not his first children. Peter already had a son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), from his previous marriage, and now he and Anne have invited him to live with them...

Gustav has not wound up as a well-balanced individual either because of his parents' separation, and has been exhibiting troubled behaviour, so Peter believes he can offer the teenager a more grounded home situation to improve the boy's lot. Anne agrees, and if she is a little standoffish with Gustav, then that's because they don't know each other very well: the twins are certainly dedicated to making him feel welcome, but a few days after his arrival there is a burglary at the swanky yet austere house and Anne discovers her stepson was the culprit quite by chance. However, she does not tell Peter, maybe to offer the boy another chance, but perhaps not.

Perhaps Anne wants to have some power over the teenager, a suspicion that this slow-building drama confirms when it reached its halfway mark and the gradual warming of their maternal relationship sours into something far more toxic, as our antiheroine turns into the kind of person she has been trying to protect those youngsters from in her day job. This was directed by May el-Toukhy in the iciest manner imaginable - it begins and ends in a stark winter setting - and bit by bit revealed its main character as a monster, though it acknowledged that some monsters may be more complex as far as their psychology went than others, no matter that the same destructive influences rule.

Initially we are on Anne's side as she appears to be on the side of the angels, but the motives for her chosen profession of care may be the same ones that drive her to ruin Gustav's life, more than simple lust as it comes across in the scenes where she seduces the kid. Although it is merely alluded to, we suspect she was abused in her younger days (in a mock interview post-coital, she tells Gustav her loss of virginity shouldn't have happened the way it did, but will not be drawn further), and this has damaged her far more than she would admit to anyone else, never mind her own self. Is this early experience the trigger for visiting the abuse on her stepson? Or was she largely keen to control a male in her life and this troubled soul happened to be the nearest to hand?

She does not control Peter as much as she would like, that much is obvious, and in the one sex scene we see with them together, her idea of spicing up the intercourse is to slap him around the face, which he is none too keen on - again, the motives, the sources, are subtly brought out in behaviour that really should have been identified as that of a disturbed person. While you may be left cold by much of Queen of Hearts, if you stuck with it, it did contain a cumulative power, and by the last half hour had become uneasily riveting. Its main flaw could be summed up in the question you're left with by the end: who is being punished here? Fair enough, some women can be manipulative and wreak havoc on innocent lives, but you might not find it satisfying with the outcome that leaves nobody in a good place, and you can more or less guess what Gustav's reaction will be to this abusive treatment early on. You were left with a cruel little melodrama that was teaching someone a lesson - but who? Music by Jon Ekstrand.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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