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Tragedy with classic scope

The Inheritance (NR, probably R) (107 min.) _ There is something magnificently Shakespearean about The Inheritance, Per Fly's Danish drama about a son who becomes a reluctant heir to power.

It's about a family in crisis, where all the players are archetypically painted and fight each other to the symbolic death. It's about power, love, vindictiveness and betrayal. It's about forgiveness, too, and deception: All the great emotions we're used to in the works of Ibsen and Shakespeare wash over us in a bountiful flow.

Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen) and his wife, Maria (Lisa Werlinder), live happily in contemporary Stockholm, where Maria is a successful stage actor. He lovingly helps her recite her lines. But when Christoffer's father commits suicide in Denmark, their private bliss takes an irreversible turn. Christoffer's mother (Ghita Norby) insists that her oldest son take over his father's business, a Danish steel company with several hundred workers.

Christoffer promises Maria he will not accept this position, which would mean leaving Stockholm. But when he faces all those workers at the announcement of the death, he suddenly realizes he cannot abandon his sense of duty. Watching furiously from the wings is his brother Ulrik (Lars Brygmann), whose ambition to run the company is no secret.

The setting in The Inheritance is modern, but these relationships and emotional tussles feel like the in-house, backstabbing royal warfare of Richard III or King Lear, and there are more than a few echoes of James Goldman's The Lion in Winter. Christoffer takes his position as seriously as a prince acquiring the throne; he feels the same, almost divinely ordained, sense of destiny.

The cast, all classically trained on the stage, is simply commanding. Norby, a stalwart of Scandinavian films, is a mother to be reckoned with. Thomsen exudes torment exquisitely. His cold-sealed sense of responsibility and his romantic devotion to Maria wreak emotional havoc. It's no surprise that this prolonged battle takes its toll on him. Alone and drunk in an idyllic resort in the south of France, he realizes he has become a shell, that his soul is shriveling. The desperate measure he takes, and the poor woman unfortunate to be there when it happens, is a jarring scene you won't soon forget.

_ DESSON THOMSON, Washington Post