madshipMadness on the Prairie
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Rachel Blanchard, Gil Bellows, Martha Burns, Gage Munroe, Lane Styles and Aidan Devine
Director: David Mortin
Scriptwriters: David Mortin and Patricia Fogliato
Cinematography: Michael Marshall
Composer: John Gzowski
Enigmatico Films
Rating: Not rated but could be R
Running Length: 94 minutes
Screened at Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF) October 6, 2013
Nominee for Best Narrative
“Madship” tells the story of love, endurance, hardship and those long days on the Canadian prairie in the 1920‘s. This film has one of the most dramatic depictions of a dust storm I have seen. So, what does the title, “Madship,” have to do with the prairie?  It is a tale of leaving one country for another with dreams of a new life only to have nature and economics knock you to your knees. Nikolaj Lie Kaas, as the charming but sometimes stern, Tomas, brings his new wife to Canada and that changes everything.
“Madship” is told in flashbacks from days in a Scandinavian country (Norway) by the sea and water everywhere, to central Canada with no rain, plenty of wind and dust and crops that won't grow. Tomas weds and persuades Adeline (Rachel Blanchard) to come to Canada for a new life. Fast forward about 15 years and they have a small farm, deeply in debt, and no money coming in. Their children, Petter (Gage Munroe) and Liv (Lane Styles) dutifully obey their parents, but at the same time, seem almost afraid of them. The banker, Edmund (Gil Bellows) and his wife, Judith (Martha Burns) come on a social call, but at the same time, Edmund lets the family know the mortgage is due and there will be no more extensions. It is clear Adeline is depressed and spends her evenings listening to a wind-up phonograph. A dust storm decimates crops and even the prized phonograph. There is a touching scene when Adeline slowly crosses the dust-filled room and pours dust and sand out of the mouth of the photograph speaker. It’s like the sands of time for the family slowly running out. It is not told why Tomas chose this particular property to build on. It is in the middle of nowhere and not potato soil. Tomas leaves to get work elsewhere and Adeline has to content with dwindling food and the unwanted advances of the banker. A tragedy occurs and Tomas returns empty-handed from his own adventure. It is then, that he has to face the aftermath of decisions made and what to do next, which includes building a boat on the prairie.
“Madship” is well acted and beautifully photographed  with a good soundtrack. The haunting melody of Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song” comes though at just the right moments, longing for the old country, yet stuck here. Tomas is the dominant figure and expects people to follow him and trust that he will do the right thing.  Well, it may be the right thing for him, but as he slowly finds out, it isn't right for everyone in the family. Think Harrison Ford in “The Mosquito Coast” here. Small steps backward---the horse runs away, potatoes don't grow, dark clouds but no rain and the ever-present dust---bring on the depression that is in the back of Adeline’s eyes, well acted by Rachel Blanchard. In contrast is the town and home of the banker---attractive house, green plants and grass, food on the table, graceful clothes and a car. Yet, he can't seem to forget the property of Tomas.
These are complex characters. Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Tomas gives us a brooding man, but can be attentive to others. He loves his wife and family yet thinks little of leaving or contacting them. Rachel Blanchard shows that the years take smiles from her face and leave desperation, instead. Liv (Lane Styles) follows her brother dutifully and is a miniature of her Mother. The scene-stealer in the film is young actor Gage Munroe as the son, Petter. He must leave boyhood behind and keep watch over the family and house with a rifle when Tomas leaves. Munroe’s facial expressions go from friendly to wary to terrified. Edmund, the banker appears to be friendly, but has another agenda and his hands give him away. Love, can sift away, too, grain by grain by grain and this shows with the banker and his wife.
All in all, “Madship” (for the boat Tomas builds in his barn) is a study of one family’s trials during the Depression. The sight of the horse galloping away over the hill is the last straw. Hope goes after leaving one’s homeland for a place of dreams and finding those dreams drifting away one, by one, until all that is left is a wind-up photograph and blowing dust.
Copyright 2013 Marie Asner