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Five Excellent Films Starring Mads Mikkelsen

The handsomest Dane to grace our shores since the heyday of Viggo Mortensen, Mads Mikkelsen has rocketed to fame as the star of TV's Hannibal.  Prior to this, he was probably best known to American audiences as the guy who flogs Daniel Craig's testicles in Casino Royale.  But Mikkelsen's film career -- which has taken him through a number of different countries and languages -- is far, far richer. Digging deeper into his body of work, here are five of Mikkelsen's best international film roles.

Title: Flame and Citron (2008)

Plot: Set in the dark days of the German occupation of Denmark, the titular Flame and Citron (Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen, respectively) are the deadliest assassins in the Holger Danske resistance group. As they carry out a campaign of retribution against Danish collaborators, the moral perplexities they encounter pile up as fast as the bodies. Meanwhile, the Nazis in pursuit of them are tightening the noose.

Mikkelsen's role: In contrast to Lindhardt's brash and youthful Flame, Mikkelsen's Citron is played with the reserve and maturity that comes only with age. This penchant for quietly affecting understatement is a hallmark of Mikkelsen's acting, and we will encounter it frequently on our list.

Where it's streaming: Netflix, Hulu.

Title: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (2009)

Plot: In the spring of 1920, French fashion designer Coco Chanel and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky may or may not have had an affair. Actually, probably not, but the "what if," as depicted in this film starring Anna Mouglalis as Chanel and Mads Mikkelsen as Stravinsky, is thoroughly entertaining. Especially to be prized is the opening sequence depicting the riotous 1913 Paris premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

Mikkelsen's role: As presented by Mikkelsen, Stravinsky is a man of contradictions, a visionary entrapped in layers of reserve and conservatism, desperately in need of a kindred soul like Coco Chanel to liberate him. Mikkelsen deftly presents a balance between Stravinsky's worldly elegance and his passionate artistic temperament (and experts in music history are welcome to contradict this statement; as the affair itself probably didn't happen, the general accuracy of the film's depictions of Chanel and Stravinsky is open to question, too).

Where it's streaming: YouTube (VOD).

Title: Prague (2006)

Plot: Danish couple Christoffer and Maja (Mads Mikkelsen and Stine Stengade) travel to Prague to recover the remains of Christoffer's recently deceased father, from whom he was estranged. As he attends to his father's affairs, Christoffer learns about the man's secret life, while at the same time attempting to work out the issues that have driven him apart from Maja.

Mikkelsen's role: There are some actors -- Alain Delon and Takeshi Kitano come to mind -- whose impassivity is paradoxically their most expressive feature. This is certainly the case with Mads Mikkelsen, and he puts this quality to good use in Prague. Beneath his calm exterior rage tempests of anguish and the tiny bit of it that escapes to the outside world is far more moving than the surface storms favored by the Charlton Heston School of Acting.

Where it's streaming: Amazon.

Title: A Royal Affair (2012)

Plot: In 18th century Denmark, King Christian VII has grown alienated from his English consort, Princess Caroline Matilda, who becomes increasingly drawn to the his personal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), who shares her interest in the values of the Enlightenment. As the princess and the doctor play an increasingly dangerous game, their personal safety and the stability of the Danish state fall into grave peril.

Mikkelsen's role: As played by our dear Mads, Dr. Struensee is a captivating combination of intellect, eroticism, and charisma. But, as is often the case with Mikkelsen's characters, he balances all of this with an imperturbable sense of cool. He is well-partnered with the elegant Alicia Vikander as his paramour and Mikkel Følsgaard as the erratic Danish king.

Where it's streaming: Netflix, Amazon.

Title: Valhalla Rising (2009)

Plot: In a desolate stretch of coastal Scandinavia, as the last remnant of Norse paganism gives way to Christianity, a mute, one-eyed warrior-slave (Mads Mikkelsen) slaughters his pagan captors, sparing only a young boy, who serves as his voice throughout the film. In a series of hypnotic episodes, One-Eye and his young companion take up with a band of crusaders en route to the Holy Land. Will they reach Jerusalem, or will the winds of fortune carry them to new lands not found on any map?

Mikkelsen's role: In this appallingly violent but endlessly fascinating movie (directed by Nicolas Winding Refn of Drive fame), Mikkelsen's tragic eyes narrate entire histories and convey to us the pathos of faith, warfare, and foreignness. As his character never speaks, Mads's stoic Danish visage must carry the full weight of feeling and communication. In a filmography which finds him speaking many languages, it is fitting that our list should conclude with a film in which Mikkelsen speaks only the language of silence.

Where it's streaming: Netflix.