Today: July 21, 2024

Director Nikolaj Arcel

With the Jubilee capturing the hearts and imagination of the nation what better time to release a film called A Royal Affair. Based on a true story this Danish films tells of a Queen married to a mad King who starts a relationship with her husband’s physician and together they change the nation. From the man behind Swedish The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Danish writer director Nikolaj Arcel tells Filmjuice all about those romancing Royals.

the Jubilee capturing the hearts and imagination of the nation what better time
to release a film called A Royal Affair.
Based on a true story this Danish films tells of a Queen married to a
mad King who starts a relationship with her husband’s physician and together
they change the nation. From the
man behind Swedish The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Danish writer director
Nikolaj Arcel tells Filmjuice all about those romancing Royals.

attracted you to this story?

Well mostly the attraction came from, sort of, just
being a Dane. Because in Danish culture it is completely part of our DNA, I
guess. We all know it, it’s a very, very famous story, they teach it to us in
school, we’ve heard about it, there has been several documentaries about it,
there was a big ballet, its very popular, there’s even been an opera, several
best seller novels have been written on the subject and so its almost like why
did nobody do it before? So to me as a filmmaker, I did three films before
this, it was more like can I get this done before anybody else does because I
love the story of it.

you think that the UK will engage in the film the way that Danes have?

Well to be honest, I really have no idea because I did
make it for the Danish audience. But I think, at least when I wrote it and
directed the film, I always thought of it as being a sort of British, Danish,
German film because its about a British princess coming to Denmark and its
almost like a fairy tale in the way that she comes to the backwards country of
Denmark and marries a crazy King and then falls in love with this beautiful,
handsome physician and all that, and that was sort of the British angle and
then its Danish because of the King and German because of the physician. So I
also felt it was quite pan-European.

closely did you stick to the facts?

Quite closely, I mean I did do a lot of research.
Obviously I felt great responsibility because, alright I could lie to you and
tell you anything, but in Denmark everybody knows the story so well that if I
told even a small lie people would be after me immediately, they all know it so
well so I had to be thorough in the research and obviously I did dramatise some
stuff and I deleted a couple of characters that seemed extraneous but mostly
its pretty well, its what happened.

Boe Folsgaard is a newcomer, why was he so right for the part of the King?

This is probably one of the biggest strokes of luck
I’ve had in my career, Mikkel because he’s in acting school still, he’s not
even graduated yet. We were casting around for him and I couldn’t find anybody
who could embody that character because I had such a specific idea about of
what he was supposed to be and I think my casting director just said “lets go
to the schools, lets see what’s happening in the acting schools” and then he
came up in the casting and I thought “but he’s perfect, where did he come
from?” He was completely unknown and just embarking on this sort of adventure with
Mikkel was wonderful because to him it was like acting school in itself, it was
a big, big chance for him, a big lesson, and Mads (Mikkelsen) was his big idol
so he’s working with him. It was just a great adventure for him and I thought
that, I mean you can even see it in the film, he’s just perfect, he embodies
Christian physically and sort of mentally and thankfully he’s not like that in
real life. So going from sort of, a complete unknown in acting school to
actually winning the best actor award at Berlin was quite a journey for Mikkel
I would say. Actually in Berlin, Mike Leigh was one among the jury and they
told Mikkel at the awards ceremony dinner that if he was crazy for real they
wanted the award back which was quite funny, but he’s a normal guy.

wrote and directed A Royal Affair; did that make the process easier for you?

I think it actually just gave me twice the work but to
be honest I love writing and I also write for other directors sometimes, and I
love directing but I can’t really direct anything I haven’t written myself, at
least so far because I think that it’s so personal to tell a story, how do you
tell it, what do the characters say, what do they feel at all times, I have my
own idea and I’m a bit of a control freak that way and I think, “no, it can
only be told this way.” But it is quite hard. It takes a lot of time to write.
It takes sometimes up to a year to write a good script I think and it doesn’t
take as long to direct one so I think it would be lovely to get some other
peoples scripts sometimes, just take those and go out and do them.

written very varied screenplays in terms of subject matter; do you think there
is a theme running through them at all?

Strong women, I would say is a big theme for me. Even
with the first film I wrote, my sort of breakthrough was about a thirteen year
old girl who was sort of climbing mountains and doing all sorts of stuff like a
superhero. So strong women and strong girls is a big thing for me, I don’t know
why. I think its probably because I seem to be more fascinated by strong women
than I am with strong men because all the men are always depicted as being very
strong and I think that’s why I also chose Dragon Tattoo to write, to adapt
that because I felt so closely, that I identified with Lisbeth Salander, the
main character, and thought that I could really write her well.

you think that the monarchy is important?

You know, I’m not a big supporter of monarchy but I’m
definitely not anti either. I like them, they’re doing no harm, I can’t quite see
what they are actually doing other than bringing a certain level of identity, I
guess, to the countries. I think that’s important and to many people visiting
Denmark a big part of it is that we have a Queen and the royal princes and all
that but I would love to see the monarchies, you know Great Britain, Denmark,
get involved a little bit more you know, in the everyday goings on of normal
peoples lives, that would be wonderful to see and maybe more politically active
even though I know that they can’t really do that.

did working on A Royal Affair compare to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?

The main difference obviously was that I didn’t direct
Dragon Tattoo, but apart from that they were quite similar in certain levels
because on Dragon Tattoo it was the first time I truly connected with
characters as a writer and I felt that characters are even more important that
plot. I came from a school of “let’s do an exciting plot and lets have fun,
action and humour” and so when I worked on Dragon Tattoo I fell much more in
love with the characters, instead of with the plot, and I worked towards that
and that became a sort of epiphany for me. It was so much more interesting to
work with the characters and so this is what I brought with me on this one, I
didn’t, I wasn’t that interested, obviously it has a great plot this film
because there’s so much going on, but I was much more interested in the
characters you know, the king, the doctor and so I wrote almost to be seen from
the point of view of any one of these three main characters so that was
actually quite similar.

opulence of the film doesn’t distract from the story, is this something you
were going for?

My director of photography was really brilliant and he
shot some really beautiful images but we weren’t ever going for the too sort of
painter-esque feel, we actually wanted to make it look more real. I wanted to
make it a bit ugly actually, a bit sort of inspired by the whole dogma wave of
directors and we did a lot of handheld camera stuff as well trying to make it
not so stiff, a little more character involved, instead of just taking in the
scenery at all times. So we weren’t exactly going for opulence but it is
integral in the lives that they lived out the drama. We always had this sort of
mantra on set, we should not be too interested in the surroundings and the, you
know the horses and the extras and all that and the dressing, we will always be
more interested in what’s going on, the emotional lives of the characters,
which was an interesting way to do a period film, because a lot of period films
tend to be a lot more interested in big, epic you know, and I think that its an
interesting way to make a film. You can probably go further than we went,
probably if I ever do a period film again, I would probably go even further and
make it almost documentary.

did you keep the film so historically accurate?

To be fair I had a really great team, a great
production side, a great costume designer, I mean I did a lot of research into
the period and the history, what were they doing sort of, what were they doing?
Were they always taking walks? Were they always playing cards? What were they
actually doing? I did a lot of research into that and they were always taking
walks and playing cards because there was not a lot to do. But my team around
me were doing a lot of the sort of grunt work into finding out the colours and
the costumes and the sort of look of it all and what kind of paintings would be
on the wall so I had a great team really working with that and telling me what
was right for the scenes.

was you decision in casting Alicia Vikander?

She’s going to take off now, I think her next role is
in Anna Karenina and then she’s just finished shooting The Seventh Son, which
is a big action film with Jeff Bridges so I think she’s taking off now but I
was casting every single Danish actress there is for this part but I couldn’t
find a regal quality, the royal sort of quality that you guys seem to have a
lot of British girls that have this sort of quality, plus the girls are
classically trained, and I couldn’t find it in Denmark, they were too sort of
“street” and so I had to go outside and I went to Sweden and then I found
Alicia in Sweden and of course she had to learn Danish. She had two months to
learn the entire language which is great but the good thing is that in the film
she is supposed to have an accent, as obviously she had come from England, so
for the Danish audience it really works, she comes off as a foreigner which is
great and to you guys you can’t tell the difference, but it is there.

Mads Mikkelsen your first choice for the role of Struensee?

Well he hadn’t done a Danish film in a long time, for
four or five years he had been in America doing villain roles I guess. I think
that he and I had always wanted to do a film together, we had a mutual respect
and I was a big fan of his and so I wrote this part, and said “if anyone can
bring him, back to Denmark it will be this part,” not because of the quality of
my work but because, I’m not that self-deluded, but because its like, like,
asking Meryl Streep if she wants to play Margaret Thatcher, that kind of big,
it’s a big part and everybody knows who Streunsee was, we all know that he is
the big romantic, the figure of the 18th century so yeah, I was lucky,
I was right about that. I think he admires Struensee, I think we all do. Right
after the tragic events that happened, he was depicted as a villain because, obviously
you know the victors had taken hold, and now there’s been a historical
reassessment for the past 20 or 30 years and now there’s the empathy for him
that I think he deserves.

Royal Affair is in cinemas from 15th June. Take a look at the exculsive clip below.

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