Swedish film, The Crown Jewels, (Kronjuvelerna) is an intriguing escape into the world of magical realism. The film, which was shortened for theatrical release from the original television series, delivers an enormous amount of information for the audience to digest in a very short amount of time. Providing a snapshot of relationships between people in rural Sweden, and infused with the mystical, Crown Jewels entices the viewer easily. The fantastic visual design and attention to detail, especially considering its low budget of five-million euros, is wonderful to look at and creates an atmosphere which combines reality with the possibilities of fantasy.
Director Ella Lemhagen is given the formidable task of trying to condense this film’s many symbols and vivid imagery into two hours. Starting with the rain of keys and shoes introduced in the opening credits, the audience is instantly made aware of the film’s emphasis on mundane everyday objects. Particular scenes are evocative of the work of Tim Burton as the natural lighting and colours seem to come alive; even scenes shot in darkness have a surprising amount of visual detail to keep the audience hooked. As visually appealing as each scene is however, their delivery in such quick succession takes on a rather haphazard look, bordering on a more chaotic style of filmmaking that seems out-of-place with the relatively slow pace of the film overall.
The movie opens in the style of classic noir, with Fragancia Fernadez (Alicia Vikander) seen shooting Richard Persson (Bill Skarsgård). Next, Fragancia is in an interrogation room, where she pleads with the officer to believe everything that she is about to say. So begins the journey into magical realism. She tells the story of how, having been born on the same day, Richard and she have always shared a strange connection. The audience is introduced to Fragancia’s father Fernandez, an aspiring alchemist, hoping to manufacture gold in his makeshift laboratory, her mother, who is fond of sharing fantasy stories that underwrite her worldview, and to her brother Jesus, who suffers from Down’s Syndrome. It is Richard’s action towards Jesus that leads to Fragancia confronting him with a gun. Throughout the recounting of events, Fragancia escapes from the confines of real world into the world of fantasy.
The Crown Jewels has some pleasantly surprising turns and these are the real standouts of a film which otherwise follows a clichéd storyline and uses stock character types. Although the film does deliver some surprising moments, it for the most part adheres to convention. The acting from Vikander is fantastic, and she shines amongst a cast most of whom deliver mediocre performances at best. It is no surprise that Vikander has gone on to wider fame this year in A Royal Affair (2012) and Anna Karenina (2012).
Crown Jewels is a film that manages to do a lot of things right. The heavy emphasis on the importance of childhood, and of the decisions and relationships which you make then, are reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films. Its handling of the impact of the stories that you hear in childhood on your adult lives is also striking. The visual construction of the scenes, with inventive use of colour, is enough for the audience to never become bored with the film. The painterly compositions of the frame gesture towards visions of reality under the shadow of magic. If Crown Jewels is flawed, it is also a film that leaves you thinking about some aspects of it days after you have left the cinema.