A ROYAL AFFAIR
In 1766 Denmark, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) is married to the unbalanced and politically ineffectual King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgard). Ignored by the wild King who lives scandalously, Caroline grows accustomed to a quiet existence in oppressed Copenhagen. When the King returns from a tour of Europe accompanied by Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), his new personal physician, Queen Caroline finds an unexpected ally at Court. The attraction of shared ideals and philosophy soon turns into a clandestine, passionate affair. Committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment that are banned in Denmark, Struensee convinces the King to assert his previously unused power to remove the archly conservative, church dominated political council and implement drastic changes to Danish society. As the Court plot their return to power and the downfall of the Queen and Struensee, the consequences of their affair are made clear and the entire nation will be changed forever. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A fascinating story drawn from Danish history, A Royal Affair is a superbly executed historical drama with the guts of a great romantic tragedy and the scale of national significance. Alicia Vikander's warmly expressive face brings the young Queen Caroline into sharp focus, her every emotion clearly accessible. Our sympathies are instantly engaged as she is set up in an arranged marriage and travels from her native England to Copenhagen, full of bright hopes and happy expectations of a husband, King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgard) who seems to love the arts.
The King is a fop and a dilettante with no concept of ruling a country - one even as small as Denmark, something of a European backwater at the time. His Council consists of self serving power brokers with the church very much at the forefront.
Quickly disabused of her romantic notions about Christian, Caroline is a crushed and forlorn figure, when out of the European blue comes Dr Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). Picked up along his tour by her husband, the doctor is now Royal physician.
The good doctor is a modern man, a disciple of the Enlightenment, a movement that was driven by morality, keen to abolish slavery, torture, censorship and other oppressive practices of the so called nobility. This was a deadly dangerous philosophy and Caroline found it invigorating in Johann. The meeting of the minds soon led to a meeting of the bodies and the seed of their destruction was sown.
This royal love triangle is complex and layered, with each of the characters clearly articulated and meaningfully delivered. Trine Dyrholm as the duplicitous Dowger Queen and the strong support cast playing the scheming council members who are threatened by the potential wave of liberalisation all deliver superb performances.
Rasmus Videbæk's stunning images and a wonderful Gabriel Yared score (complemented by Vivaldi, Antonioni, and more) complete with flawless production design make this superior cinema. The tensions and dramas at every level - from the deeply personal to matters of state - are driven by a sense of authenticity with the underlying power of the gripping story. Director Nikolaj Arcel co-wrote the adaptation from Rasmus Heisterberg's book; it was Arcel who wrote the screenplay adaptation for the Millennium TV series and for the original feature film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The screenplay has good genes.
For those so inclined, there is much that is relevant to our world today, including the many betrayals by the powerful and the self serving, and the immensely propulsive power of genuine love.
Review by Louise Keller:
Visually exquisite, the ingredients of this royal Danish historic drama are as sensational as they are gripping, with an arranged marriage to a simple-minded King, an adulterous affair, revolutionary ideas and treachery to steal the crown. Director Nikolaj Arcel (who penned the original adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has written a wonderful adaptation (from a novel by Bodil Steensen-Leth) with complex themes, brought to life by a superb cast and a great sense of place and time.
The very first shot of Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), standing by a mist-covered lake, an ancient castle in the background and surrounded by weeping trees, is breathtaking. It is the near end of the 18th century and the young Danish Queen in exile is pouring out her heart through quill and ink, recalling the events that have brought her to this day. It is about Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), that she is compelled to write.
In flashback, the story begins on the day that Caroline, as a young English Princess meets Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), the King of Denmark, who is more excited to see his huge dog Gourmand, than his new bride in an arranged marriage. The child-like Christian, who clearly has one screw missing, is hooked on big breasted prostitutes, alcohol and masturbation and sees his beautiful, talented wife as potential threat for the limelight. Tellingly, he calls her Mother through most of the exposition.
As for Caroline, she is smart enough to realise she will be accepted in the Court if she entices her new husband into her bed chamber, but it isn't until she meets and beds the free-thinking doctor Johann, that she understand the meaning of love. Brought to the Court as the King's Physician by the scheming Rantzau (Thomas W. Gabrielsson) and Brandt (Cyron Bjørn Melville) for their own gains, Johann is a revolutionary, whose ideas include giving rights to peasants, limiting the influence of the church and abolishing corporal punishment and censorship. The scene at the Masquerade Ball, when Caroline and Johann dance together before a kiss is stolen and passions ignite, is filled with sexual urgency as their feelings are revealed.
The play for power comes from the scheming Dowager Queen Juliane (Trine Dyrholm), whose ambitions for her own son instigate the domino effect downfall. Mikkelsen is such an interesting actor and is perfect as the dashing doctor while Vikander is a breath of fresh air as the young queen. Følsgaard is as memorable as Tom Hulce in Amadeus as the repulsive, simple King who laughs inappropriately but who ultimately is a tragic and pathetic figure as he is manipulated right to the very end.
Historic fact aside, there is much to grapple with in this intriguing and scandalous drama in whose bewitching bubble we become absorbed.
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A ROYAL AFFAIR (M)
En kongelig affære
CAST: Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Alicia Vikander, David Dencik, Trine Dyrholm, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, William Johnk Nielsen, Cyron Bjorn Melville, Laura Bro
PRODUCER: Meta Louise Foldager, Sisse Graum Jorgensen, Louise Vesth
DIRECTOR: Nikolaj Arcel
SCRIPT: Bodil Steensen-Leth, Nikolaj Arcel (novel by Rasmus Heisterberg)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rasmus Videbæk
EDITOR: Kasper Leick, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Niels Seier
RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 21, 2012