Love is complicated. Changing personalities, time itself, and a little thing called lust can sometimes affect and infect even the strongest relationship. Choices made matter, but the decisions a person makes next can matter even more. Director/co-writer May el-Toukhy‘s Queen of Hearts is a tragedy about those choices made and a reminder that even the best-intentioned among us can royally fuck things up if we’re not careful.
Anne (Trine Dyrholm) and Peter (Magnus Krepper) are married, tenuously happily, and raising their young twin daughters in a beautiful home. Both have successful careers — she’s a lawyer for youth in distress, and he’s a doctor — that are their main priority after the kids. The balance works, but it’s shifted irrevocably when Peter’s teenage son from a previous marriage comes to stay with them. Peter’s had little to do with Gustav’s (Gustav Lindh) life before now and is hoping to make the best of it, but the teen isn’t thrilled at his new predicament. Anne knows he blames her for his parent’s split, and when she discovers his involvement in a break-in she cuts him a deal. She won’t turn him in if he starts acting like a part of the family. He agrees, and they live happily ever after.
Or at least they might have if Anne didn’t seduce Gustav and begin a torrid affair with the teenager.
Two things are at the heart of the film — the perceptions we form of people, and the choices we make. Anne’s job sees her fighting for those who’ve been preyed upon, and it’s a career she’s both passionate about and very good at. That doesn’t stop her from acting out on her loneliness, though, and taking a teenager down with her. Peter’s affections aren’t always available, and seeing Gustav with an age-appropriate love leads Anne to question her own worth. She wants to be desired, and as she poses naked before the mirror taking in her body and wondering if she’s still sexy the wheels begin to turn. She has everything in the practical sense, but she wants this thing, this carnal satisfaction of the forbidden, and she takes it.
Dyrholm’s performance is one built on sadness and desire, and she pulls you inch by inch into her situation before crossing a line with the audience in tow. Yes it’s wrong, but the shift in Anne’s demeanor is tangible, and young Gustav is clearly and happily along for the ride. Both actors reveal themselves physically, emotionally, and intimately, but it’s a dream from which they’re both forced to wake up.
The film could easily wrap up with the revelation and disillusionment of Anne and Peter’s happy family unit, but el-Toukhy has more devastating choices in store for her characters. Poor decisions have tragic consequences, and as the world crumbles around them desperation takes control. Powerful acting throughout carries viewers to a tipping point where dramatic loyalties end and vicious realities begin. No one escapes unscathed.
Carnality fills the screen with graphic couplings between Anne and Gustav, but an animalistic desire for survival remains even after the sex stops. What would you say to hide your sins? How far would you go to protect your family from the truth? There’s no real sensuality to the film’s sex scenes as they’re either between a disconnected husband and wife or a woman and her underage lover — his age isn’t mentioned, but while he’s old enough to legally drink (16 in Denmark) he’s still referred to as a minor. The characters exhibit real freedom in these scenes as they lose themselves in the naked moments, but that carefree affection disappears just as quickly.
Queen of Hearts is a tragedy about poor choices and the reality that we can never truly know the people close to us. We think we do, and we so desperately want to believe it to be the case, but their truths ultimately belong to them alone.