I really, really wanted to love this movie, but I found myself angrier than I have ever been from watching a movie.
Imagine a movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet where they skip the part when they met and fell in love, and focus the whole movie on them nagging in the kitchen. When they finally drink poison, you think that, hey, maybe it's for the best, I never really cared about those guys anyway, and they certainly didn't seem to like each other.
Look, I'm perfectly open to modern interpretations and new angles (Robert + Arvid = gay couple? Reversed roles between Karl-Oskar and Kristina to get a strong female lead?). But it must be a *well told* story!
This movie builds no suspense for anything which is exiting, dangerous or fantastic. The boat sequence is a good example. They go aboard. Next minute they are angry. Next minute a dead body is thrown over board. Next minute there is a party. Next minute more people are dead. Next minute there is a storm. Next minute they arrive. There is no suspense built and you don't feel any investment in the events, what so ever. The same theme applies to the whole movie. When it starts, it is already clear that they decided to emigrate. You don't get to follow their life, their love, their hardship except through short flashbacks which, again, fail to convey any kind of emotion. When their daughter dies, we don't really care because we don't really feel the hunger and despair which lead them there. When they arrive to America, it bares no meaning, since we don't feel what a change it is or what a horrible journey it has been. The list goes on.
The original story is an absolutely epic adventure with some incredibly lovable characters. Karl-Oskar is resourceful, but stubborn. He is always full of love for his wife and his children. Kristina is more worried, but also strong-willed, loving and ready to do anything for her children. Once in America she is home-sick and full of deep sorrow, but still cheered up by the gradual success of her family.
In the movie, Kristina is mostly a bitter, nag. She complains all the time, she won't hug her father goodbye, she betrays her best friend and at times she treats her children horribly. In one sequence she is worse than Mrs Dursely (Harry Potters foster mother) towards her daughter. The daughter runs away and then we get a looong sequence of Kristina sobbing and falling around in the forest looking for her (time better needed to build the story). She is portrayed as an unsympathetic, winey, weak girl. To me, this is a disgrace against the strong, deep, empathic female character portrayed both in the books and perhaps even more in the musical.
Karl-Oskar at least seems to care for the children, but on the other hand he keeps complaining to Kristina and to the other Swedes in America, like he has no social skills He is mainly working, in a grumpy mood.
Ulrika, which is an amazingly strong character in the books and the musical is rather lame (though admittedly better than the others).
The camera work is very strange. Most of the shots are very close and sometimes a single camera is used to cover a conversation, so it starts moving towards a character after he/she started talking. You almost get a bit seasick, and it generally feels rather claustrophobic. The camera is not used to tell the story or build suspense. There are 3 beautiful shots of the steam engine in the landscape in the middle, which are among the best things about the movie.
The acting is so-so. Sometimes it feels more like something from a theatre play than a movie. Sometimes it feels like a movie created by a drama high school class (but with a huge budget for clothes and props, which are generally good). It is hard to say if this is the actors' fault, though. It could be the direction, and most of all the script.
The script is the worst part. It is like they had the most amazing story to explore and then picked some segments from it at random and changed all the characters to unlikeable naggers. The title of the movie could have been "Random scenes from a couple who should have got divorced long ago, and their poor children".
They managed to make an epic story completely unepic. A loving story completely devoid of love. An interesting story completely boring.
Look how the Musical "Kristina from Duvemåla" managed to tell the whole story (*with* amazing music) and retain the full sense of world changing events, epic adventure, love, passion, hardship, despair, homesickness, and sorrow. To the musical I always cry in the end. To the movie I went home in anger and felt the need to write this massive warning to all of you.
It is a disgrace to name this movie "The Emigrants". It should have been stopped and revised many times, from the first draft of the script. Now I am afraid people who didn't read the book will watch this movie and think this is the essence of the story.