When Lars Mikkelsen won an International Emmy last year for the first season of Ride Upon the Storm, it was just confirming what viewers already knew. As father and priest Johannes Krogh, Mikkelsen commands the screen and makes this series his own, playing a man of God with all-too-human flaws. He’s an almost Biblical figure, devoutly religious in ways that don’t always sit well in a modern country – and yet, with the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church currently claiming around 75% of the population as members, clearly the two aren’t as far apart as they might seem.
Much of Mikkelsen’s lengthy career has been spent playing all manner of bad guys and shady figures – he was sinister mayoral candidate Troels Hartman in The Killing. Even when he’s a good guy, he’s not someone to be taken lightly. Here he combines both, as a man convinced that he’s always doing right, even when those around him suffer at his hand. As the current patriarch of a family that’s been providing priests to the Church for over 250 years, it’s an understatement to suggest he’s accustomed to getting his own way.
And yet, the first season was built around his iron will finally being thwarted. He ran for Bishop of Copenhagen, the position held by the head of the Church, and narrowly missed out. He didn’t take it well, and as always, his family bore the brunt. One son, the divorced Christian (Simon Sears), was already struggling to live up to his father’s standards and prove himself worthy of his love; the other, August (Morten Hee Andersen), was Johannes’ favourite. He was the one who followed his father’s wishes and in his footsteps to become a priest, only to return home from serving in the Danish army in the Middle East a shattered man.
Watching over this is Johannes’ wife Elisabeth (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen) who provides some much-needed warmth and balance to her husband’s judgemental ways. But there’s only so much she can do; Johannes is a force of nature who demands obedience and love no matter what (and when he doesn’t get it, he can always turn to the bottle). As far as her sons are concerned, the damage has already been done.
Mikkelsen’s performance dominates the series in the same way Johannes dominates his family’s life. But it’s more than bluster and arrogance. Johannes is a man of rigid certainty, a man who’s used his unwavering beliefs to justify everything he’s done in life, only to find that certainty wavering in the face of a world where belief is increasingly personal and private. It’s not enough that he be on the right path; everyone around him has to acknowledge the rightness of his decision – but in today’s world, that’s simply no longer possible.
The last season ended with Johannes once again being thwarted, as August finally found a way to escape his father’s grasp and the remains of his shattered life. It’s now a year later, and the Krogh family is still wracked by guilt and grief over his death. But there is a ray of hope: August had a baby son. But will the child be drawn into Johannes’ path like his father before him, or be allowed to find his own way?
The twist is that the boy’s mother, Emilie (Fanny Louise Bernth), has absolutely zero time for or interest in religion. As a doctor treating cancer patients, her world is purely material and in opposition to the one inhabited by the Kroghs. So while it’s no great surprise when she decides her son will be named during a non-religious naming ceremony and not baptised, it’s definitely not something that Johannes is going to allow for his grandchild.
That’s not the only attack Johannes’ rigid self-belief faces this season. August’s former church has fallen into disuse and looks set to be sold off, which Johannes takes as a sign that God has forsaken his family (but mostly him). It doesn’t help that in her grief, Elisabeth has turned to a clairvoyant to try and contact August. The religion that used to be a comfort to them all now seems more removed from them and their problems than ever.
With his faith and beliefs under siege from all sides, Johannes is starting to fray at the edges. Can a man of certainty survive in a world filled with questions?
Season 2 of Ride Upon the Storm is now streaming at SBS On Demand:
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