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!
- Betty and Veronica: The first third of the film has Henrik torn between fancy, aristocratic Anna and hot waitress Frida.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wedding Day: Cause of the first nasty argument between the couple, when Henrik tries to get Anna to forgo the fancy cathedral wedding and settle for one in the small church in Forsboda. Anna wins, as she always does sooner or later in their disagreements.