Wilhelmina Acrel was a cinema owner who was also the first female film company director and female film producer in Sweden.
Wilhelmina Acrel was born Wilhelmina Sofia Larsson in Ramdala, Blekinge in 1889. She was the daughter of Lars Andersson, an agriculturalist, and Emelie, née Karlsdotter. Wilhelmina Acrel was married to Stig Arne (Ane) Acrel from 1921 until 1943. Their marriage was childless.
Wilhelmina Acrel’s professional efforts as a film company director and a film producer form part of the unwritten history of Swedish film. Her route into film-making was not, however, an obvious one. She had settled and was working in Visby, as a shop assistant. She had also studied at a technical institute. In 1911 Wilhelmina Acrel moved to Stockholm where she attended a female teacher-training programme for a couple of semesters. She soon abandoned the teaching sphere in favour of joining the business world. In 1912 she gained a job as a cashier at Bostock cinema, which she eventually purchased. In 1916 Wilhelmina Acrel acquired Skånebiografen which was then renamed Söderkvarn. She later relinquished the latter due to illness, whereas she remained actively engaged with Bostock cinema until the 1950s.
She joined Sveriges Biografägareförbund (Swedish cinema owners’ federation), serving as the organisation’s treasurer. She also managed the federation’s distribution activities. When Aktiebolaget Sveriges Biografägares Distributionsbyrå (SBD) (Swedish cinema owners’ distribution agency limited company) was founded in 1929 Wilhelmina Acrel held the absolute majority of the shares. She formed the board on which her husband Ane Acrel served as deputy member.
Wilhelmina Acrel’s company had absolutely nothing to do with Sveriges Biografägareförbund, despite the very similar name of the limited company. This similarity was highlighted by Sveriges Biografägareförbund, who believed there was scope for confusion. Indeed, when SBD applied for lottery funding in support of the production of a so-called 1938 ‘royal film’, a celebratory piece entitled Med folket för fosterlandet, the feared mix-up occurred. The fact that no cinema owners were involved in Wilhelmina Acrel’s company – formerly a rental firm for cinema-owners, transferred into private hands in 1929 – was noted with irritation in the Biografägaren trade journal. Sveriges Biografägareförbund felt that Acrel’s company should have changed its name.
The same year that SBD raised their shares capital, in 1933, the company also produced their first film, a smuggling drama called Kärlek och dynamit. It was a minor success. In 1935 the company released Ocean Breakers, which was one Ingrid Bergman’s earliest films. That same year the AB Suecia company was established, in which Wilhelmina Acrel held a third of the shares and once again formed the board. That company only produced one film, namely Grabbarna i 57:an in 1935, a moralising story typical of its time that was directed by Ivar Johansson. Stylistically the film is one of the more interesting films from the 1930s. By dint of the grey-tone surroundings portrayed in the film, it is strongly associated with the German “Zillerealism” and it can even be seen as a forerunner to the so-called school of neorealism. AB Suecia was declared bankrupt in 1951, at which time Wilhelmina Acrel alone was in charge.
SBD produced another couple of films, namely the two comedies Fröken blir piga from 1936 and Mamma gifter sig from 1937, before setting out on their biggest and most ambitious project which led to the company’s demise. This was the aforenoted Med folket för fosterlandet, produced for the royal jubilee in 1938 and based on the Erik Lindorm chronicles. It was a major gamble to be a film producer without funding for production during the 1930s. The prevailing image of the era as a “Klondike period” in which producers made great profits is not accurate. The number of film companies which folded at this time was extensive, particularly as regards smaller companies. The larger ones, Svensk Filmindustri (SF) and Europa-Film, only survived because they had simultaneously made inroads into studios and cinema chains. It was in the latter that major profits were made.
In order to produce the ‘royal film’ SBD hired in SF’s technological resources but this came at great expense. When SBD was unable to honour its financial obligations SF simply took over the film. SBD had, however, given the film rights to another company, AB Filmdistribution, and so sought to obtain the negatives and copies of the completed film within the terms of the SF contract. SF rejected this. The situation led to a court case and the city magistrates decided in favour of SF. SBD went bankrupt in 1939, thus bringing an end to Wilhelmina Acrel’s journey as a film producer. After this she focused solely on owning cinemas.
Wilhelmina Acrel died in Stockholm in 1975. She is buried at Solna cemetery.