Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909) was one of the great figures of the so- called "Golden Age" of Danish painting in the nineteenth century. Although Krøyer suffered from mental illness towards the end of his life, this is not generally reflected in his paintings which are marked by a gentleness and serenity as well as by his skillful handling of light.
Krøyer's wife Marie (1867-1940) was a famous painter in her own right, although this filmed biography concentrates less upon her art than upon her emotional life. It depicts the disintegration of her marriage to the troubled Krøyer (referred to here by the Christian name "Søren") and her growing attraction to, and later her affair with, the Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén. (Alfvén remains a well-known figure in Scandinavia, although elsewhere he is mostly remembered for a single work, his "Midsummer Vigil", which remains in the mind if only for the suspicious resemblance of one of its themes to the comic song "Down in Demerara"). The film is not entirely historically accurate; in reality, for example, Alfven was to become Marie's second husband after her divorce from Krøyer, but in the film he is shown as unwilling to marry her.
The story, a standard tale of emotional angst among the late Victorian/Edwardian bohemian classes, is nothing out of the ordinary. (It might have been more interesting had it concentrated more on Marie's development as an artist). There are good acting performances from Søren Sætter-Lassen as the tormented Krøyer and the luminously beautiful Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Marie, but what sets the film apart is its visual beauty. It was made in what in Britain would be called the "heritage cinema" style, with much emphasis on the recreation of period detail. "Heritage cinema" is sometimes thought of as a quintessentially British genre, but there have been a number of fine examples from continental Europe, including Denmark. Others from that country include Gabriel Axel's "Babette's Feast" (perhaps the best-known), the recent "A Royal Affair" and "Pelle the Conqueror", which like "Marie Krøyer" was also directed by Bille August.
The atmosphere of this film, however, is quite different to that of "Pelle", an austere tale of working-class life. August here seems to be aiming at recapturing the serene atmosphere of Krøyer's paintings. Much of the film was shot on location on Skagen, the sandy promontory at the northernmost tip of the Jutland peninsula which features in many of the paintings of Marie and Peder Severin Krøyer. (The two were part of a group known as the "Skagen Painters"). It reminded me of "The Bridge", a film about the life of Krøyer's British contemporary Philip Wilson Steer, who painted in a similar style. (Both men were fond of paintings showing girls or women walking along a beach). Both films may be little more than standard tales of bohemian life, but both are undoubtedly beautiful to look at. 7/10