Arts movie review

The unconventional love story

‘Becoming Astrid’ is the story of the formative years of Astrid Lindgren, world-renowned Swedish author of series such as ‘Pippi Longstocking’

Becoming Astrid
Directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen
Written by Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille Fischer Christensen
Starring Alba August, Trine Dyrholm, Björn Gustafsson
Unrated, Now Playing

Becoming Astrid is the story of Astrid Lindgren, the beloved children’s author renowned for her characters such as Pippi Longstocking, Emil, and Mio. Christensen chooses not to tell the expected story of how Lindgren became the world-renowned author she is today, but rather the story of Astrid Ericsson, the girl from Näs. It is through this portrayal of young Astrid that we, the viewers and the readers, receive a glimpse into how she eventually became Astrid.  

Astrid’s story begins at the end. Lindgren, depicted as an old woman, is opening the letters she has received from her young fans. One of the envelopes holds a cassette tape from a fourth grade class; as Astrid begins to listen to the recording, the scene flashes back to teenaged Astrid, played by Alba August.

We are told the story of young Astrid through a series of vignettes — Astrid at church, Astrid in a ballroom, Astrid on her family’s farm. All of these scenes create one image of young Astrid, a girl bursting with life. Young Astrid was too large to be contained by beliefs and rules of her time, despite her mother’s frequent rebukes. This initial portrayal of Astrid paves the way for the rest of the movie.

Fresh out of school, Astrid is given the opportunity to work as a secretary and sometimes-reporter to Reinhold Blomberg, the editor of the Vimmerby Times. Blomberg, played by Henrik Rafaelsen, is on the verge of divorcing his second wife when young, charismatic Astrid enters his life. He is enchanted by her mind, her energy, her zest for life. Similarly, Blomberg’s shared views on freedom and modernity and his nurturing of Astrid’s freethinking spirit captivates her. They begin an affair and at 18, she becomes pregnant. Astrid’s pregnancy and the birth of her child form the heart of Astrid’s captivating story.

Blomberg and Astrid’s story is a bit like that of star-crossed lovers. Astrid’s father is a churchwarden, her family lives next to the vicar, they farm on church land, and her closest friend is Berta, Blomberg’s daughter. Recognizing the implications of her pregnancy, Astrid flees to Stockholm, where she begins secretarial classes and continues seeing Blomberg in secret. But their relationship is further complicated by Blomberg’s divorce trial. He is on trial for adultery and if he is found guilty, he could be sent to prison. As a result, Astrid decides to give birth to her son, Lars, in Denmark where the father’s name is not required on the birth certificate. She temporarily leaves the baby with a foster mother, played by Trine Dyrholm, until the trial is over.

But, the trial lingers on and, eventually, Astrid realizes she does not love Blomberg. When faced with two unideal options — either entering a loveless marriage with Blomberg or not having the finances to bring one-year-old Lars back to her — Astrid forges her own path.

Becoming Astrid is beautifully done. The background score matches the tone of the script wonderfully. The conviction with which Alba August plays Astrid Lindgren is so earnest. Her anger at her mother’s hypocrisy, her fatigue as a pregnant teenager in Stockholm, her agony as she binds her breasts immediately after giving birth, and her sheer anguish as she decides to leave Lars with the foster mother permanently are so profound.

Christensen’s screenplay and directing are also spectacular. Everything included in the two-hour film has a purpose. Whether it is the recordings of the children that connect Astrid Ericsson’s life at 20 to Astrid Lindgren’s famous stories at 40 or the resolution of the conflict between Astrid and her religious mother, everything serves to paint a complete picture of Astrid Lindgren. Becoming Astrid is an unconventional love story, not of Astrid and Blomberg, but rather of Astrid and Lars.