A successful lawyer embarks on an affair with her teenage stepson

Queen Of Hearts

Source: Sundance Institute

Queen Of Hearts

Dir May el-Toukhy. Denmark. 2019. 127mins

Things are never going to end well in Queen Of Hearts, which follows a middle-aged lawyer’s twisting relationship with her teenage stepson. Director and co-writer May el-Toukhy deftly pushes all the buttons to nurture our interest in how far events will go and what the consequences might be. The result is an intriguing, smartly sustained drama in which we learn to be wary of those who claim the moral high ground.

The skill of Queen Of Hearts lies in the way we stay with Anne and are even complicit in her actions

This building emotional involvement, and the sense of outrage it provokes, will stimulate festival and commercial interest. Another commanding central performance from Danish star Trine Dyrholm (In A Better World, X&Y) should be an additional draw in some territories.

Dryholm stars as Anne, a successful lawyer dedicated to supporting the victims of domestic abuse and violence. She is married to physician Peter (Magnus Krepper), and they live in a stunning modernist country house with their two daughters. Production designers give us a home and a lifestyle that seems designed to encourage envy, but we are invited to admire Anne. She is forthright and committed.

We are also introduced to the notion that there is a righteousness in her character that could tempt her to cross the line. After one case, she throws restraint to the wind and confronts a gloating perpetrator who has got off scott free. Unrepentant, she is admonished by a colleague who asks: “Can’t you for once admit you made a mistake?”

The outsider who shakes her world arrives in the shape of teenage step son Gustav (Gustav Lindh). Sullen with a rebellious streak, Gustav has been sent to live with his father in an attempt to set him on the straight and narrow. His presence is unsettling, but Anne has a supreme belief in her ability to control everything and everyone.

The skill of Queen Of Hearts lies in the way we stay with Anne and are even complicit in her actions. The response to subsequent events is somewhere between horror and savouring the sense of liberation that Anne enjoys once the relationship with Gustav becomes physical. Peter is dutiful and predictable, her friends are middle-aged and dull and she is part of a couple who seem to live their lives around the demands of work. Who would deny her a little illicit fun? How different that response might be, however, if the genders were reversed.

A steely Dyrholm is effortlessly unflappable and compelling but Lindh holds his ground against such an experienced screen performer. His Gustav has a slightly amused reaction to events, as if he can’t quite believe things are happening to him. There is a wary, watchful quality to him, built from a resentment over the way he has been passed between parents. There is also a sweetness and underplayed vulnerability in his nature that becomes more appealing as the story unfolds. And when events turn much darker, the well-handled pace and a sure sense of credibility remain uppermost even as shocking aspects of Anne’s character are revealed.

Providing echoes of Douglas Sirk melodramas and Hitchcockian thrillers, the film ultimately feels like a subtle addition to those hot button Michael Douglas morality tales that proved such commercial juggernauts in the late 1980s and early 1990sl Fatal Attraction, Disclosure etc.The box-office response to Queen of Hearts might not be in the same league as those, but it has a similar ability to make emotions churn and blood boil.

Production company Nordisk Film Production

International sales: Trust Nordisk APS info@trustnordisk.com

Producers: Caroline Blanco, René Ezra

Screenplay: Maren Louise Kaehne, May el-Touky

Cinematography: Jasper J. Spanning

Production design: Mia Stensgaard

Editor: Rasmus Stensgaard Madsen

Music: Jan Ekstrand

Main Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper