Posted June 5, 2012 by Heidi Vella in Films
 
 

A Royal Affair


Exquisite costumes, opulent interiors and exteriors, adultery, jealously, loss and love.

Exquisite costumes,
opulent interiors and exteriors, adultery, jealously, loss and love.
Everything you would expect from a good
costume drama – and 18th century royal Danish romp, A
Royal Affair
, has them all.

In cinemas from the 15th of June this hotly
anticipated Danish drama has the same team behind it as the original Swedish
adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ – it’s
directed by Nikolaj Arcel and
co-written by Rasmus Heisterberg – and is adapted from a 1999
novel ‘The Visit of the Royal Physician’ by Per Olov Enquist. It loosely follows the reign of King Christian VII, who was made a King at the
tender age of 17 and Denmark’s subsequent period of radical political change
.

The action starts in the idyllic countryside of England
where naïve, excited Caroline Mathilde (Alicia
Vikander
) embarks on a journey to become the wife of her cousin King
Christian, even though they have never met. Caroline’s idealised view of being
an ‘exotic’ queen is short-lived; after naively inviting her new husband to her
chamber on her first night in the palace, she’s deflowered with little kindness
and his subsequent childish behaviour causes her to resolve to keep a firm
distance from her King. Vikander
is perfectly cast as the clear-skinned and naturally beautiful, dignified and
educated Queen who is far superior in not only looks but intelligence to her
idiotic King.

Følsgaard is more jester-like than an evil, mad King. He has
a ferocious lust for prostitutes, no sense of social behaviour – declaring at
dinner that ‘tonight he will visit his wife’s chamber’ and is used and abused
as a dumb child in court to sign off medieval-style laws for the far-right
court.

As you’d expect, by now a rugged and handsome radical must
step in to set about change in the palace: cue Mads Mikkelsen. He plays the rough around the edges, chisel-faced
physician of German descent Johann Friedrich Struensee, who is charged to be
the King’s private doctor. The two soon become close, Struensee a willing party
friend and wise advisor to the debauched king. However, he is a secret
supporter of the ‘Enlightenment’, a radical political new way of thinking and
abhors the court’s current political and self-serving stance.

Struensee inevitably falls in love with the King’s neglected
wife Caroline, who is also his political sympathiser. Between the two of them,
Struensee uses his influence over Christian to change policies in parliament in
favour of the poor, much to the King’s mother’s and court’s dismay and disgust.
It’s only when Queen Caroline becomes pregnant that rumours of lustful deceit
begin to rumble around the palace.

A Royal Affair is breathtakingly beautiful at times with
costumes perfectly sewed together with love and care. Although it depicts a
significant but short-lived period of change in Denmark’s history that was
revolutionary for its time, it was after all a century before the French
revolution, it does come across as a-paint-by-numbers period drama destined to
come to a grisly end, which it ultimately does.

To Arcel’s credit, excellent casting and set design and
sincere sentiments – for example Queen Mathilde always seems more devastated at
the possibility of being separated from her children than any man and Struensee
from his political cause – gives it emotional credibility without falling
entirely to melodrama, though it comes close at times. Any period drama fan will
no doubt have a romp taking in this Danish drama and it wouldn’t waste two
hours of any film fan’s time either.


Heidi Vella