MUBI UK film review: Queen of Hearts
James R | On 07, Feb 2021
Director: May el-Toukhy
Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh
Watch Queen of Hearts online in the UK: MUBI UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Sky Store / CHILI
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this review or the film, or if you need assistance or support, you can visit The Survivor’s Trust, or National Domestic Violence Helpline.
“I know the system. I know it’s tough to get out once you get in,” observes Anne (Trine Dyrholm), a lawyer who specialises in cases of under-age abuse and is all too aware of the impact that trauma, and the legal justice system, can have upon all parties involved. As we first meet her, she appears caring as well as successful, supporting and advising her latest client with a sensitive but pragmatic head. Over the course of two hours, that decent appearance is dismantled with gripping, harrowing precision.
The film begins with Anne living a perfect family life with her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), and their two daughters. When Peter’s troubled 17-year-old son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), has to come and live with them, things start to take a turn. Catching him stealing from them, Anne gradually moves from a position of suspicious authority to, after overhearing Gustav having sex with his girlfriend, a secretive affair – all while ensuring that he keeps their trysts secret.
It’s a complex but unquestionably exploitative relationship, and director May el-Toukhy (who co-wrote the script with Maren Louise Käehne) uses the camera to capture Anne’s desire as well as her shifting, deceitful behaviour. There are several explicit scenes – almost uncomfortably so – but they’re balanced out by el-Toukhy’s remarkable control of tone, one that turns this domestic drama into a suspenseful, slow-burning horror.
At its heart is Trine Dyrholm, who is monstrous in the role of increasingly unsettling predator, who isolates and discredits her victim, played with a heart-wrenching level of growing distress by Gustav Lindh. While Lindh conveys Gustav’s innocence, even in his naive decisions, Dyrholm captures the ennui and boredom that seem to drive Anne to her insidious behaviour; her insecurities are unflinchingly depicted along with her ability to use her many years of experience to her advantage. It’s a controlled, carefully choreographed performance, one with notes of tragedy as much as cruelty, and it sticks with you long after the end credits roll.
The result is a riveting but horrifying thriller of manipulation, and one that highlights how power can lead to abuse in the most unexpected places – a twisting, disturbing story of desire, dishonesty and cruelty.
Queen of Hearts is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.