Inherited wealth often comes with a high price—the abnegation of individuals before the duties and demands of family. The Inheritance, a stately Danish film that unfolds with a Shakespearean sense of fatality, explores the bitter consequences of one man’s acceptance of his father’s legacy.

Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen, who played the beautiful but blighted son in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration) has fled his family’s steel mining company for the charms of life as a Stockholm restaurateur and husband to Maria (Lisa Werlinder), a rising young theater actress. But his father’s suicide calls him back to Denmark, where he finds a business on the brink of collapse. His iron-willed mother (the formidable Ghita Norby) decides that he’s the one to restore order. But along the way he must shed vast quantities of affect and personality.

Director Per Fly planned The Inheritance as the second film in a trilogy depicting the three tiers of society—lower, upper, and middle. His debut feature, The Bench, was set amid the working class. The Inheritance focuses on the world of old money and power, with its privileges, responsibilities, and sacrifices. This social panorama has a 19th-century feel to it; when Christoffer assembles 900 blue-collar workers on the steel mill floor to inform them of their fate, it seems like a scene from a Zola novel.

The Inheritance is most effective in its first half, as we witness Christoffer’s ambivalence over the ruthlessness required by his new position. The internecine struggles for power are also sensitively detailed and dramatic. But the film falters as it moves closer to home and the heart, veering off into melodramatic and quasi-surreal scenarios. In the end, there’s little left in that sad, cold figure at the head of the firm to compel our empathy or compassion.