“The bravest and highest spirits know times of prostration at the outset of life.” I recently encountered that statement by Balzac and it reminded me of the new movie Becoming Astrid. The film is a depiction of the early life of Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author of the popular Pippi Longstocking children’s book series.

The film opens with a sequence of the elderly Lindgren (1907-2002) reading letters she has received from her many young fans of the Longstocking books. The film then reverts to the adolescent Lindgren who is growing up in a somewhat emotionally constricted farming community. Signs of a free spirit and emotional independence are already apparent. While at a school dance, and tired of waiting to be asked by a male partner, she engages in an exuberant free-flowing solo dance of her own.

Shortly thereafter, Astrid receives a position at a local newspaper where her writing abilities shine through. However, turmoil begins to set in. She has an affair with her boss who has several children and is in the process of obtaining a divorce. As a result of the affair, Astrid becomes pregnant at the age of 18 and for a variety of reasons the child is placed by Astrid in the care of a foster family in Copenhagen. The stress of the legal complications of the divorce of her former boss, and holding down a secretarial job in Stockholm while regularly commuting to Copenhagen to visit a son who has bonded with another “mother,” becomes intense. The stress is magnified by the initial resistance of Astrid’s family to accepting the child who also suffers an episode of whooping cough. Yes, times are rough.

Ending the relationship with her former boss, at a very young age, Lindgren is forced to become resilient and resourceful, traits which are among the characteristics of the Longstocking series. Much of the dour atmosphere of the film is leavened by the delightful screen persona of Alba August who plays the young Lindgren. August exudes a native sparkle, warmth and intelligence which leavens the darkness, almost like a sun that leaves a viewer convinced that it will eventually emerge from the clouds. And indeed, rays of hopeful light begin to emerge at the end of the film.

Becoming Astrid does teach the value of perseverance, resourcefulness and independence, but with a running time of two hours and with the generally heavy atmosphere, one wishes perhaps that lesson could have been learned in a slightly shorter length of time – perhaps twenty or so minutes shorter. Amidst all the turmoil, it is comforting to know that Lindgren, of course, went on to sell millions of books and delight children worldwide. When she passed away at the age of 94, her funeral was attended by the King and Queen of Sweden as well as by the Prime Minister of that country – an appropriate fairytale ending for an author who was so successful writing children’s stories.

Directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen, Becoming Astrid opened this weekend in Los Angeles and New York.