The award season is coming up, that means we are going to have lot of costume dramas stuffed with misbehaving royals and masked balls. Denmark's official submission for this year’s foreign language Oscar, "A Royal Affair" (2012), belongs to that category, but it's also one of the richly conceived, dramatically compelling and straightforwardly enjoyable historical drama.
Nikolaj Arcel's 'A Royal Affair' is not the first film to showcase how the road to democracy is almost always washed with blood, but its release is timely as we witness the savagery accompanying regime change the world over. The movie takes a fascinating chapter in Danish history, little-known to general audiences, and presents it in captivating manner.
PlotThe movie takes us to 1766, Denmark -- widely admired today as a model of freedom, tolerance and benign government -- which remains entangled in medieval fundamentalism, its impoverished people ground under the heel of a reactionary politburo whose honchos use their unstable young king, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), as a rubber stamp for maintaining despotic rule. At that time young princess Caroline (Alicia Vikander) has been groomed to marry her cousin and King Christian VII of Denmark, who has left all her family behind in England.
Her thrills in marrying into royalty quickly disappears when Caroline discovers Christian’s principal flaw: Insanity. He is silly, cruel, over-grown child, who always spends his time with whores. He publicly humiliates her and when Caroline becomes pregnant after one of Christian's rare visits to her chambers, she feels her duties are finished. Things change when Caroline meets Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), the new Physician for King Christian, who has become a close friend by accepting his childlike playfulness.
They both share thoughts, banned books, and their interactions progress from long walks to secret nightly trysts. Both of them decide to manipulate the king, Christian and have him transform his backwards country into a model of progressive thinking. Their ideas and actions are threatened by the scheming Dowager Queen Juliane Marie (Trine Dyrholm), step-mother to Christian and the powerful council.
AnalysisAdapted from Bodil-Leth's novel Prinsesse af blodet, director Nikolaj Arcel (who wrote the script for Danish movie "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and co-writer Ramsus Heisterberg spryly steer the narrative, keeping each roles ambitious and the romantic motivations relatable and clear. Arcel's slow pace allows us to savor the performances, the meticulous sense of place and time, and the dread that builds in the back of the viewer's mind. Mikkelsen's Struensee holds the movie's center with a quiet potency. His coiled ferocity and expressive face bring the character to vivid life.
The trickiest role in the film belongs to Folsgaard and as the mad king he perfectly plays his part. He is totally unpredictable, often violent, but saved by his childlike faith. Alicia Vikander as Caroline convincingly portrays the queen’s emotional journey from wide-eyed girl to seasoned liberal political leader. A Royal Affair's effective narrative takes place in the form of a poignant letter from Queen Caroline to her children. This framing device leads to the film's inspiring conclusion, which shows that her lesson did not fall on deaf ears.
"A Royal Affair" is a lovely historical lesson told in a compelling fashion. It blends political intrigue and philosophical idealism which edifies and entertains in equal parts.
A Royal Affair - IMDb