Hilma is the biopic of Hilma af Klint the relatively unknown Swedish artist of the late 19th and early 20th century whose abstract art, locked away for 20 years, famously channelled the spiritual world. Directed by Academy Award-nominated Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules) it’s a fascinating journey into the life of an artist with radical ideas fighting for recognition in a male dominated era.
The role of Hilda is played in two parts. We see the older Hilma af Klint (Lena Olin) on a tram in the city of Stockholm reflecting back on her life picturing herself growing up in the countryside surroundings of the family home. The young Hilma (Tora Hallström) has developed a close affinity to nature and science and as a talented artist uses painting to examine life in greater detail. One of four siblings we see her loving relationship with her youngest sister (Emmi Tjernström), who also shares her passion for science, but sadly she passes away at a very young age, which becomes the catalyst for Hilda’s journey into the spiritual world.
Hilma’s artistic talents get her a place at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts despite a very female prejudiced society that restricted women’s opportunities – highlighted here by the fact that women had to use the back entrance to the Academy. She meets her friend and later lover Anna (Catherine Chalk), who together with their circle of other female artists and writers (of a spiritual publication) make a formidable socialite clique in Stockholm. Keen on seances to communicate to the other side, when Hilda meets Rudolf Steiner, a spiritual philosopher of great esteem, her mission to paint the spiritual world is further ratified.
Director Lasse Hallström has lovingly assembled a troupe of female talent who dominate this historical piece in all their splendid period costumes radiating with a gentle warmth despite some of the darker aspects of the story. Lena Olin (the wife of the director Lasse Hallström) plays the older Hilda who although having been affected by her intense pursuit of the spiritual world still manages to maintain a dignified elegance, even as she quietly mumbles to herself on a packed tram. Tora Hallström, as the young Hilda, completes the film’s heartwarming family trinity of father, mother and daughter carrying the exuberance of a wide eyed artist passionate in pursuing her beliefs. Also making up the female spiritualist collective is Lily Cole as Mathilda, who alongside Catherine Chalk, pulls off the Swedish upper crust artist with ease albeit with a Geordie like accent.
Lasse Hallström has a knack for pulling off the other worldly behaviour of others and here manages it without going overboard by doing just enough to suggest there is more going on for some people than meets the eye. He could have gone much darker on the spiritualism and bustier on the corsets but has made this good clean family fun in what is a Swedish homage to a unique artist who warrants further investigation.
Credit: Hilma will be released in UK cinemas on 28th October. Early 2023, Hilma will also be available on Viaplay UK, Viaplay’s streaming service set to launch in the UK this autumn.
Director: Lasse Hallström
Genre: Drama, Biography
Stars: Lena Olin, Tora Hallström, Lily Cole
Run time: 2hrs