Directed By: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
I don’t usually like big historical dramas, especially foreign ones, which I find rather tedious and predictable. However, I’d heard some great things about “A Royal Affair”, Denmark’s official submission to the Foreign Language Film category of the 85th Academy Awards, and I wanted to see what all the buzz was about. I also knew that the director was the screenwriter of the Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, which I just loved, so why not give it a look?
I went into the screening a skeptic, I came out a believer. This is a beautiful, sad and touching story; a profoundly moving historical piece comparable to such majestic screen epics as “Amadeus” and “Elizabeth”, just dripping with palace intrigue, social reform, and a good old-fashioned forbidden romance. But wait, the best part of it all is that 250 years ago this all actually happened.
Here’s the storyline:
During the Age of Enlightenment, a young princess, Caroline Matilda (youngest daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales) is married off to the young, but quite insane King Christen VII of Denmark. She falls secretly in love with the royal physician, a man of enlightenment and idealism, and together they start a revolution that changed the fate of the nation forever. At its core it’s a tale of brave idealists who risk everything in their pursuit of securing freedom for an oppressed people. On its surface, it’s a powerful, complex, compelling, harrowing love triangle about an ordinary man who wins the hearts of both king and queen and starts a revolution of ideas and laws. Four years in the making, the film is a sumptuous period drama awash in big ideas, great loves, dangerous plots, and some of the most believable performances of any year.
Danish actor Mads Mikkelson plays the German physician Doctor Struensee to absolute perfection. Not a moment of his performance rings false. He’s all brooding lover and political power player with quivering lips, lustful looks and sly magnetism.
As the young queen, talented Swedish actress Alicia Vikander brings a profound innocence to her seductively nuanced portrayal and as she explains how the events have affected everyone’s life we hang on her every word. Then there’s the King, played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, whose characterization of Christian all but steals the film. Altogether a dream cast doing their best work.
Directed with great creativity and style by Nikolaj Arcel, this film about a little-known chapter of European history proves to be engrossing, elegant, compelling and highly affecting. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this film took me on; it’s a treat for the eyes as well as the mind. You may have to look around to find a theater where it’s playing, but it’s certainly worth the search.