Sonja: The White Swan (2018)
In the history of cinema, there was only one Sonja Henie. After an amateur career in which she won three Olympic gold medals and ten consecutive World Figure Skating Championships, Henie embarked on a film career that saw her almost immediately become one of the highest-paid actresses of her time. Despite having little talent for acting or singing, Henie’s artistry on the ice helped her musical comedies become some of the top box-office draws of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.
Yet just as important to her success was a determination that is glimpsed in this biopic’s opening scenes. While lacing up her skates before taking to the ice, the young Henie recites a few of her favourite things – “Skates. Mum. Dad. Leif. Winning”. Initially such audaciousness is endearing, particularly when Henie out-negotiates 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck to secure a four picture deal. Yet as her favourite things leave her in one fashion or another, Henie’s brashness increasingly takes on a darker tone.
Wild scenes of Hollywood parties and drug-fuelled orgies are accompanied by a soundtrack that would not seem out of place in a Baz Lurhmann extravaganza. Yet the startling contrast between Henie’s cherubic on-screen persona and her hedonistic off-screen behaviour are undone by the casting of the lithe lead. Nevertheless, Ine Marie Wilman impresses as the Nordic nymph, even managing to elicit sympathy for a character who ostensibly remains an Ice Queen on and off the rink.
Though the biopic glides over Henie’s life pre and post-America, and rather perfunctorily deals with her disastrous 1952 tour, it does afford itself time to linger on moments that delve beneath her cold exterior. Early scenes of the close knit bond shared with family members hint at an undercurrent of competitiveness that leaves no-one unscarred when they boil to the surface. Regrettably, the film’s rushed coda bears little relation to all that comes before it.
as Sonja Henie
as Tyrone Power
as Darryl F. Zanuck
as Louella Parsons
Connie is a composite character of several assistants Henie had working for her.
Sonja Henie was not present when her father died.
As a consequence of the film leaping from the start of her film career to 1951, Henie's first marriage (to Dan Topping) is not depicted.
Ice skating sequence from It's a Pleasure (1945) is depicted as one of Henie's first film sequences, when in fact the film was one of her last.
Biopic recreates love scene with Tyrone Power in Thin Ice (1937) and ice skating finale from It's a Pleasure (1945).