Thoughtful and stunning to look at, A Fortunate Man takes its time to tell its story and contains a fabulous central performance from Esben Smed. If you have a spare 162 minutes, there are worse ways to spend them.
How we are brought up influences us in thousands of ways that we have very little control over. Perhaps you inherited your values from your parents? Or, perhaps you reject them entirely and strive for something else? Regardless of how you feel about your upbringing, you will carry it around with you for the rest of your life. A Fortunate Man, based on the novel Lykke-Per by Henrik Pontoppidan, is a film about a man whose quest to divorce himself from his upbringing leads him to the cusp of brilliance but also causes him to self-destruct, alienating himself from everyone in his life.
Per Sidenius, played by Esben Smed (Follow the Money, The Kindness of Strangers) is an up and coming engineer who comes from a devoutly Christian family. In the very first scene of the film, we see Per in an argument with his father, the renowned clergyman, where he ultimately rejects his faith and strikes out on his own to bring his vision of harnessing sustainable energy to make Denmark an economic powerhouse. Along the way, he meets a powerful and rich family who back his ideas and he falls in love with the daughter of the family to whom he gets engaged.
The narrative unfolds slowly over the film’s generous 162-minute run time. This is a film with a long story to tell and it is in no rush to tell it. The pacing is glacial at times but once you settle into its rhythm and understand that this story needs ample room to breathe, you can relax into its stunning cinematography and the subtlety of the performances.
Smed turns in an impressive performance as the tortured Per, a man haunted by his own impulses and determined to make it on his own steam. This stubbornness will simultaneously bring him to the cusp of success and keep him from it. In other hands, this role could very easily have become overwrought and demonstrative, but Smed keeps everything just below the surface. His is a controlled performance that makes Per a remote and inaccessible figure that we only fully come to understand once the film has run its course.
No doubt, fans of the book upon which this film is based will have their own strong opinions about how successfully it has been adapted here. Lykke-Per is considered as one of Denmark’s major literally works and was published over the course of several volumes between 1898 and 1904. Whilst not being familiar with the book myself, I can imagine that this volume of work will contain much more depth than a single film can hope to compete with. But as a standalone piece of work and self-contained character study, I found A Fortunate Man to be effective and affecting.
Andy joined the Ready Steady Cut team in October 2018. A Graduate of Exeter University, he writes mainly about films and TV.