Bergman, who retired from directing films after Fanny and Alexander in 1982 but still wrote for film and television, wrote the screenplay about the early years in the marriage of his parents, although he changed their first names from Erik and Karin to Henrik and Anna, possibly to justify Artistic License. (He didn't change their family names of Bergman and Åkerblom respectively.) Henrik Bergman is a penniless divinity student who is invited for dinner at the ultra-rich home of the Åkerblom family. Despite the fact that he's engaged to a sexy waitress named Frida, he falls for Anna, the vivacious young Åkerblom daughter. Anna falls in love with Henrik as well, but her domineering mother Karin, disapproving of Anna's romance with a poor divinity student who has another girlfriend, forcefully intervenes to put an end to the relationship.
Eventually, however, Anna and Henrik find their way back to each other and get married. Henrik gets ordained into the Lutheran Church and gets a job as a minister in the remote northern village of Forsboda. Anna, a child of privilege and a city girl, is not too thrilled about living in a remote countryside village but makes the best of it. Time passes and they have a son, Ingmar Bergman's older brother Dag. Their marriage is stressed when Henrik declines a plum posting to a hospital in Stockholm sponsored by Queen Victoria (this Queen Victoria) herself, and stressed further still when they become foster parents to a creepy orphan boy named Petrus.
Max von Sydow has a small role as Anna's father Johan. Pernilla August, who stars as Anna, later played Shmi Skywalker in the first two Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
The Best Intentions was released as a six-hour series for Swedish television and a three-hour theatrical cut for international release. This trope page is based on the theatrical version. Ingmar Bergman continued to chronicle his parents' marriage with the screenplays to films Sunday's Children and Private Confessions.
- Adult Fear: Oh look! The Creepy Child you've been keeping in your home has run off with your toddler and is about to chuck him in the river!
- Artistic License: Bergman happily admits that a lot of the film is fictionalised - he never spoke to his parents in-depth about this part of their lives, and letters and diaries only reveal so much, so he had to embellish.
- Ate His Gun: Nordenson not only does this, but in his suicide note explains that he's put his gun in his mouth regularly for a very long time to be prepared when the time is right.
- Betty and Veronica: The first third of the film has Henrik torn between fancy, aristocratic Anna and hot waitress Frida.
- The Con: Henrik and his mother try to trick their rich aunts into giving them a loan by lying about Henrik being offered a doctorate. The aunt calling the shots makes it clear that she isn't buying it for a second and threatens to expose them... then gives them the money anyway.
- Continuity Nod: Several to Fanny and Alexander - for obvious reasons, since this is a less fictionalised story of the same family.
- Creepy Child: Petrus, the orphan that Anna and Henrik take in as a foster child. He's very pale with wispy blond hair and dark eyes; he stares intently but rarely talks. Anna tells Henrik straight-up that she doesn't like him and wants him gone. This is followed by Petrus nearly murdering little Dag.
- Daddy's Girl: Anna, very much so, setting up her fraught relationship with her mother after her father's death.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Henrik is informed in so many words by the last members of his dwindling parish that they don't appreciate his martyrish self-sacrifice on their behalf, and that he should just take the cushy job down south. His conclusion that it's now even more important for them to stay in Forsboda pushes Anna to leave him.
- Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene has Henrik summoned by his grandfather, who begs Henrik to visit the bedside of Henrik's dying grandmother. Henrik, nursing some sort of grudge against a past injury done to his parents by his grandparents (the film is vague), flatly refuses. He is established as stubborn and honor-bound. This scene is later made more tragic when another relation reveals that Henrik's grandmother was sympathetic to his parents.
- Forgiveness: The central theme, with Henrik constantly clinging to grudges like a drowning man to a lifebuoy. On a meta level, by making him the protagonist, the script gives Bergman a chance to forgive his own father and vice versa.
- Glasses Pull: Karin does this in Italy, when receiving the telegram informing her that Johan has died.
- Historical Domain Character: Queen Victoria of Sweden (the other Queen Victoria was dead by then and wasn't Queen of Sweden anyway) calls in Henrik for an audience and offers him a sweet job as chaplain of the royal hospital in Stockholm.
- Hollywood Atheist: Nordenson the businessman goes way over the top in his hatred of Henrik, yanking his daughters out of Henrik's church, calling the worship "blood rites" and likening the confirmation classes Henrik's giving to "emotional rape".
- Honor Before Reason: Henrik's main character flaw, a fixation on honor above all else. He prefers living in Forsboda because it is hard and unpleasant, and so he passes up the awesome chance to work directly for the Queen. Anna calls him out on this, saying that hardship is supposed to be for a higher goal and is not an end in itself.
- Incurable Cough of Death: First played straight, in that yes, that cough Anna gets is tuberculosis. Then subverted when Anna gets better.
- I Never Got Any Letters: Anna's parents intercept a letter from her to Henrik, and her mother decides to burn it. Anna never really forgives her for this.
- Intro Dump: When Anna's brother Ernst invites Henrik to dinner, he introduces Henrik and the audience to the rest of the family.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Frida, sensing that Henrik truly loves Anna, invites Anna to lunch and says that she's leaving town and that Anna should take Henrik back. A variation on this trope in that Frida makes sure to point out that she's doing this as much for her own sake as for Henrik's, since she doesn't feel she deserves to be treated like this.
- Kubrick Stare: Creepy little Petrus gives one to even smaller Dag after overhearing Anna say that she's never liked him and wants to get rid of him. Then he tries to drown Dag in the river.
- MayDecember Romance: Anna's parents, with her father being a good 20 years older than his second wife, and his adult sons from a previous marriage being ambivalent at best about their stepmother. In his last scene, Johan explicitly begs his wife not to alienate her children even more since he knows he'll die soon and she'll be all alone.
- Meet Cute: Anna opens the door when Henrik arrives late for dinner with his friend's family, immediately realises how nervous he is, and cheerfully makes up a story about him having come directly from the sickbed of a friend.
- Messianic Archetype: Henrik appears to see himself this way in the second half. He is a southerner who, out of a misguided sense of martyrdom, does everything to make himself the central figure of a dying company town in the north. The citizens, who are busy fighting for their jobs and right to fair wages, aren't half as impressed as he thinks they are.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: The vicar of Forsboda, who helps set Henrik up with a better job, and tries to get him to realise that he's throwing away his marriage over a thankless job as a priest of an empty church.
- A Storm Is Coming: A thunderstorm at night directly proceeds the arrival on the Bergman doorstep of orphan Petrus, who eventually causes a separation in their marriage.Henrik: Thunder in February. It's like the Last Judgment.
- Time Passes Montage: At one point in the film a montage covers some years of their life in Forsboda—Henrik preaching, Anna nursing the sick, Henrik and Anna having sex, Anna with a pregnant belly, then baby Dag.
- Uptown Girl: A broke-ass divinity student living in a single shabby boardinghouse room romances a daughter of wealth and privilege who lives in a mansion. The class conflict plays both ways, with Anna's family being none too thrilled of her hooking up with a poor guy, while Henrik is greatly sensitive to their snobbery and sometimes accuses his wife of being spoiled.
- Young Future Famous People: Taken to its logical extreme - the baby Anna is pregnant with at the end of the film is Ingmar Bergman.