Astrid Lindgren gets the silver screen treatment in a new film that explores a child forced to grow up all too soon.
Who among us hasn’t heard of Pippi Longstocking, a nine-year-old Swedish orphan of prodigious strength and fortitude whose adventures result in all sorts of well-intentioned mischief and fun? Unfortunately for English readers, translations of Astrid Lindgren’s (1907-2002) Pippi Longstocking series read a bit clumsily, but the protagonist still charms with steadfast outspokenness against bullies of all sorts. No matter what, Pippi and other characters from Lindgren’s vast cast of characters are always resolutely on the side of children.
Now comes a film biopic that traces Lindgren’s formative years as a clever girl with a gift for storytelling but whose childhood is cut abruptly short by an unplanned pregnancy. Becoming Astrid, directed and co-written by Pernille Fischer Christensen (A Soap; Someone You Love) offers a captivating examination of the events of Lindgren’s childhood that fueled Lindgren’s eventual rise to fame. Starring a masterful Alba August as the young Astrid, the 123-minute film is a nuanced look at a girl who must grow up all too soon and face life as an unwed mother largely on her own. Though Lindgren’s situation is as old as human history, how she deals with it is mesmerizing.
And yet, as good as Becoming Astrid is, it leaves much on the table. After refusing to marry the older newspaper editor who impregnated her, Lindgren heads to Stockholm where she learns stenography while waiting to give birth. The baby boy is sent to a foster mother in Denmark while she finds her footing and regains her family’s acceptance.
And then the film ends. Concluding director’s notes say that Lindgren eventually married her work supervisor, Sture Lindgren, and went on to write the books that made her an international sensation. It’s a pity the film ends where it does because it leaves so many questions left unanswered, such as: When did Lindgren transition from oral storytelling to putting pen to paper? How did she land her first book deal? Additionally, the film suggests nothing of Lindgren’s lifelong devotion to fighting for various causes like banning seal hunting, ending child pornography, and championing equality for the downtrodden and forgotten.
Becoming Astrid offers a tantalizing glimpse of an inspirational woman and provides, in part, an explanation for why Lindgren’s stories are full of abandoned, parentless children. And though the film is not a full biographic treatment, it is still very much worth watching as it ignites a desire to know more about the subject. In fact, a recently published biography by Jens Anderson entitled Astrid Lindgren: The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking (Yale University Press) fills in those gaps.
In the final analysis, like her characters, Lindgren was a child forced to take care of herself but didn’t have the right tools to do so. She made mistakes, learned from them, and despite it all, grew up strong, which is certainly what we all hope for our children.
Becoming Astrid opened in New York on November 23rd at the Film Forum followed by a national roll out. Watch the trailer here. Image courtesy of Music Box Films