Put “Becoming Astrid” down as among the best films of 2018. It is a deeply moving fact-inspired drama that I heartily recommend, both for the lead performance and the subject matter--the shaping of the life of Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), the renowned Swedish writer of “Pippi Longstocking” and a host of children’s books published throughout the world. Her works have been translated into 85 languages, with some 165 million copies printed world-wide. “Becoming Astrid,” astutely directed by Danish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen, takes us back to show how it all began and reveals emotional elements in Lindgren’s life that fused with her desire for independence and literary success.
At the heart of this movie triumph is the performance by actress Alba August as Astrid. She is luminous and dynamic, appealingly effective every step of the way in a demanding, emotional role. (The star is the daughter of Danish director Bille August and Swedish actress and director Pernilla August.)
We first see Astrid as an elderly woman sifting through letters from children who want to tell her how important her books have been to them. The story then swiftly moves back in time to when Astrid was a teenager living with her church-going mother, father and siblings in rural Sweden. She aspires to write and is delighted when offered the opportunity to become an assistant to Blomberg (Henrik Rafaelsen, excellent), the editor of a local newspaper.
Blomberg, so much older, is smitten with her. She is attracted to him and with the nerve of youth, makes the first serious move, and they start an affair. When Astrid finds herself pregnant, the horror of scandal for her and her family arises. Blomberg, who is married but separated and loves Astrid, does the honorable thing and wants to marry her, but unless he gets a divorce, he is in danger of being convicted of adultery in the moralistic atmosphere of the time and place. The situation sets off a major plot direction, including the need for Astrid to have the child in Denmark with the assistance of a kindly woman, Marie, played with sensitivity by Trine Dyrholm, who looks after children whom others are temporarily unable to care for.
“Becoming- Astrid” fascinates on so many levels. We see attitudes of her parents, and her mother not wanting her to marry Blomberg unless Astrid really loves him. In the context of the time Astrid weighs whether marriage is what she wants at the moment in light of Blomberg’s traditional expectation of a wife as a homemaker and mother, a reflection of the role of women in that society. There is also the issue of employer-worker sex, which resonates with the discussions going on today. There is the older man, younger woman issue that still upsets some people.
There is also the question of to what extent Lindgren can fill the role of a mother, and how a child must learn to relate to a mother he has rarely seen. We are privy to the feelings of Astrid that influenced her later accomplishments writing stories for children.
All of the above is solidly placed in the director’s portrait of society in that era, with excellent cinematography showing assorted locations. The screenplay, written by Kim Fupz Aakeson with director Christensen, works to keep one engrossed in Astrid’s life, the various characters depicted and the ultimate romantic outcome, neatly handled without unnecessary elaboration.
On all counts this is a film that works splendidly, and once having seen Alba August, you are likely to fondly remember her extraordinary performance. If there is any justice, she should be considered favorably at awards time. So should the film. A Music Box Films release. Reviewed November 16, 2018.