When you first see the poster for A Royal Affair, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘oh wow, another costume drama. Here we go again’
you first see the poster for A Royal
Affair, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘oh wow, another costume
drama. Here we go again’. Will it be as good as Wuthering
Heights or just another cheap Pride and Prejudice knock off? In fact
it has more in common with All the Presidents Men and Fahrenheit 451,
then it does with Jane Austen.
Based upon the true story of how Johann
Friedrich Struensee rose to power within the Danish government and
eventually became a prominent minister that instigated some of the most
important laws the country would ever see. But his introduction in the film is
a while coming. The first thing the film does is set up the problematic
relationship between Queen Caroline and King Christian VII.
Caroline and Christian’s marriage is a prearranged agreement between the royal
families of Britain and Denmark as a means of boosting Anglo-Scandinavian
relations. Yet quite quickly into their marriage, Caroline discovers that her
king is a fool, verging on insanity. Christian is a whining, arrogant, sniveling
excuse of a man. He regularly attends whorehouses and treats women with almost
no respect. He is hardly fit to be a member of regular society let alone a
king. Caroline herself comes from a well-educated background and was inspired
by the Age of Enlightenment. Needless to say the two do not get along and their
relationship becomes extremely fractured.
Whilst this is transpiring, Christian
acquires himself a personal physician in the shape of one Mr Struensee.
Initially the king resents this appointment but they soon become friends after discovering
they have a mutual love for acting. It becomes abundantly clear that Struensee
is of a much higher intellect than Christian and he inevitably catches the eye
of Caroline. And as you can guess from the films title, a love affair duly
begins. Yet this is about as romantic as A Royal Affair gets.
Struensee uses his minimal political
power to convince both Queen and King to pass a series of significant laws that
see Denmark become one of the most forward thinking nations in Europe. Certain
medical and political reforms lead to him be hailed as a visionary, yet
powerful critics waited in the wings.
A Royal Affair is an intriguing and
challenging picture, not about love or relationships but about politics and
censorship. It actively asks the viewer to question whether censorship is right
and if it didn’t exist what is there to prevent the publication of lies and
deceit. Its views on politics are equally radical and depict a morally corrupt
system that is not unlikely to exist today. Director Nikolaj Arcel has
taken a genre and completely flipped it on its head. What could have been a
fairly standard affair movie full of steamy sex scenes is actually a film full
of intelligence and injustice. It has an air of Lars Von Trier, in that
it takes seemingly good people and really tests their moral fibre. It should
come as no surprise then that Denmark’s most notorious son was executive
producer on the film.
Nearly everything about A Royal Affair
is great. Its story is genuinely interesting. Its message feels fresh and
original and actually has something important to say. The performances from
every actor are first class, especially Mads
Mikkelsen who is just electric as Struensee. Just by staring at the camera
you can tell this man has knowledge and experience far beyond anything that
could be said in a script. The cinematography and lighting is beautiful at
times. And as expected for a costume drama, the outfits do look impressive and
not too extravagant.
The only minor problem with A Royal
Affair is that when it is about to say something truly interesting it tends to
back down and revert back to a standard narrative. This is only a small
criticism but the fact that you ask this of a period piece, just shows how
penetrating A Royal Affair is.