John Bauer was a worldfamous swedish fairytale painter who died way to early in an accident. But during his short life he made astonishing paintings imagining all the phantasy creatures living in nature. Later this inspired Tolkiens, Disney and many other artists. This is also a story about an extraordinary love affair, that in itself is enough for reason to be told.
There is a script (in English), a pilot (subtitled) and a booklet (in English) summarizing the project.

John Bauer & The Mountain King is based on the true story of the world famous early twentieth century Swedish artist John Bauer and his tumultuous love affair with artist Ester Ellqvist.

John Bauer was accepted at the Royal Academy of Arts at the turn of the century; he was just 18. There he met Ester who was a couple of years older. John soon began to challenge the Academy’s outmoded views of art; hence he was treated as an exceptional though problematic talent. He found fame early and achieved public acclaim for his enchanting illustrations in the collection of fables Among Gnomes and Trolls, first published in 1907 and then annually at Christmas. Such was Bauer’s popularity that entire editions could sell out in minutes, with long queues winding around the block from the book stores.
Swedish children came to know the fables and Bauer’s illustrations of mythical nature spirits, princesses, knights and particularly fairies, gnomes and trolls. Bauer was to inspire Disney, Tolkien and many other artists, composers and film makers.
In 1915, he was awarded an Honorary Gold Medal at the World Fair in San Francisco and was at the peak of his career. His relationship with Ester was finally working and she was expecting their child. Three years later, everything came to an end after a tragic accident when a small ferry capsized in a storm on lake Vättern, a lake which had inspired so many of his paintings. Bauer was thirty-six when he perished, alongside wife Ester and two-year-old son Bengt. In the late autumn of 1918, the news of Bauer’s death spread around the world.

The name John Bauer has since been used in a variety of other contexts, hotels, colleges and tour operators, whilst the artist’s true identity and his work have all but disappeared. Many younger Swedes believe that the name is from a former school and that the pictures originate from USA or some other country.

Describing Bauer’s character and regaining knowledge of him and his work can be perceived as a culturally and historically important task. However, the story of Bauer and his work, his struggle with himself, his love for Ester, his entire life, these are what fascinate me. In their short life together, the extremes of the male and female ideals of the time reflect cultures which today are still locked in prejudice and rigidity.

The Swedish Film industry showed interest for some time but the prime mover within SF encountered opposition in the end. SVT is interested in the production but they require a Swedish distributor. The solution could be an international distributor with access to the Swedish market. In addition to SVT, a Norwegian producer is interested in financing the production.

I can find no previously filmed story that compares with the imaginary feeling and emotion of John Bauer & The Mountain King. There are similar examples of conflict, jealousy and separation in other relationship dramas, e.g. Miss Potter (2006), the story of Beatrix Potter, a female artist whose fantasy paintings are portrayed as day-dreams, but though this is closest to the style, the tone and mood of this production are much lighter than my vision of John Bauer & The Mountain King.

It is a struggle between the fragile romance and the furious difficulty involved in dealing with living conditions and obsessional love. We all know the problem: they could not live without each other but could not with each other. Here the problems are more intense, as friends and colleagues are also rivals for Esther’s attention.

The couple struggle with their artistic demons and self-realisation, and the expressions of Bauer’s fairy-tale beings are blended into the everyday world of imagination and affect them in a disastrous way, on the other hand, it is the basis for his success. At this time, many people believed in mythological creatures and superstition was rife and this certainly applied to the Bauer clan. However, this terrified Ester throughout the short time she lived with John in a cabin deep in the forest.

Freedom for artists and female emancipation were much to the fore within the world of artists at this time. Ester was involved in the movement for votes for women, though this is not part of the main story but is reflected in the background to give the audience a sense of the society of the time, its political attitudes and the accepted roles of men and women. John Bauer’s life’s ambition was to create a ballet based on his paintings. This work was halted by the start of the First World War in 1914; John never came to experience its fruition, nor the battle over the origin of his work.

The pilot presents the initial scenes of the script when the characters are young, played by young actors. In the main part of the film these characters are played by more mature, well-known actors. The production of the pilot gave me an understanding of how their intricate relationship evolved and made me realise that I needed to portray the complexities of their closeness, anxieties, fantasies, self-doubt and the integrity of the characters in one and the same scene.

The dramatic and tragic twists of history are described with a poetic sense of merciless consequences. Titanic’s brutal realism can here be transformed into John Bauer’s narrative voice during a violent storm and showing a ship in peril in the distance. The following day. Someone waiting on the quay. A calm sea with wreckage floating ashore.

My hope is that the audience will gain a complete artistic, musical and scenic experience giving insight not only into Bauer’s art but also into the effects and potential of giving ones all for art and love.

Börje Peratt