In 1936, three-time Norwegian Olympic figure-skating champion, Sonja Henie, came to Hollywood. After negotiating a deal with Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox, she became a box-office sensation, going on to make many more films, and a large amount of money.
Director Anne Sewitsky has crafted this bio-pic of Henie, dealing mainly with the twenty years from 36 to 56. In many ways, it is a classic tale of too much fame and money, leading to a fall from grace. On another level, it is an extraordinary portrait of a woman taking power in a way rarely seen in the entertainment industry. At one stage one of the richest women in the world, she was also criticized by the media (and by Zanuck) for her sexual freedom and independence.
Ine Marie Wilmann has clearly relished this role, giving a powerhouse performance as Henie. Her depth, authenticity and range form the backbone of this work. Irish actor Valene Kane is delightful as Connie, Henie’s long-time friend and assistant. Playing Henie’s troubled brother Lief is Eldar Skar, who gives a strong, yet understated performance.
Screenplay by Mette M. Bolstad and Andreas Markusson is brilliantly structured, giving us an intense twenty years, yet deftly pulling in references to her earlier life.
This is an engaging and balanced portrait of a complex woman, and of a particular time and place. It doesn’t try to be anything other than a bio-pic, but in doing so it presents the audience with a highly enjoyable and satisfying two hours in the cinema.
Sonja-The White Swan screens as part of the Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival, at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect.
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