Jun 052012

A Royal Affair

The love triangle is one of the quintessential stories that films often tell, and while this one treads very familiar ground, it does so in a beautiful and engaging manner. Check out my review of Danish period drama, A Royal Affair after the jump.

Based on true events which took place in the 18th century, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) travels to Denmark to become the wife (and Queen) of Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), the King of Denmark. Although she quickly fulfils her queenly duty of bearing an heir to the throne, her dream of being a storybook Queen evaporates almost immediately, and she becomes unhappy and reserved. The King has little interest in his “boring” wife, and the Queen doesn’t have the patience to deal with the King’s eccentricities and improper behaviour.

The Royal Council (who run the Kingdom, with Christian acting as little more than a figure-head) hire Doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) to be the King’s personal physician. While they intend for him to placate the King and keep him out of their way, what actually happens is that the two men become friends, and for the first time in his life Christian has someone he trusts. At the same time as building a relationship with the King, the doctor starts a very different and entirely inappropriate relationship with the Queen, who has been desperately lonely for some time. Although the two know the potential consequences of their actions, they can’t keep away from each other, and they proceed to have a secret affair while the doctor is also carrying out his duties as a trusted advisor and friend to the King.

A Royal Affair 5

It’s clear early on that the king is a little more than quirky. To put it simply, he isn’t the smartest cookie in the bunch, and he has spent his life being manipulated by those around him for their personal gain. He is a mere pawn in their game, and any original thoughts he has are quickly dismissed like those of a small child. It appears the only parent he has left is step mother, who doesn’t care for him at all – she has her own agenda and wants to get her son on the throne. Being treated like a child and yet not receiving any obvious love or care, has left the king with real Mother issues.

While the doctor becomes the closest thing the King has had to a friend and advisor, he too has his own political agenda. Although for the most part it is for the good of the Danish people, he starts to become power-hungry. He’s also sleeping with the Queen under the King’s nose, which makes it hard for us to trust him entirely.

The thing with affairs (particularly of the Royal variety) is they can never go on for ever. This tale is no exception.

While this film presents nothing new, it tells a well-known tale in a beautiful and compelling way. The costumes and settings in this film are extremely detailed and exquisite. Much of the film was actually filmed in European castles, and this adds not only authenticity but a lush, rich depth to the film. The actors all look incredible, with the Queen in particular lighting up the screen with her beauty and presence.

The beautiful lighting in this film is something I noticed throughout. In particular, scenes which took place at the Summer residence and in Germany were extremely soft and gentle. The flowers, sky, and women’s dresses all seemed to be the same soft pastel tones – there was a real ethereal feel about it.

A Royal Affair 3

Performances from the cast were solid across the board. While Mads Mikkelsen was great and will get most of the praise, it is the performance of Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the King which impressed me the most. His character was so complex, and experienced mood changes at the drop of the hat. While we initially don’t like the King, we slowly grow to appreciate that he isn’t well and feel sympathetic towards him – it takes good writing and great acting for an audience to get behind someone who was originally seen as the “villain” in the tale. Caroline Mathilde is well-cast as the moody, yet beautiful Queen.

My one criticism would be that at 137 minutes, it was a tad on the lengthy side. There was also the introduction of a small African child for the King’s amusement, which made me a little uncomfortable.

Overall, A Royal Affair is a solid period drama that tells a well-crafted, traditional story in an engaging way. Fans of period dramas won’t be disappointed, as the film has all the beauty, opulence and scandal that we’ve come to expect from these types of sweeping royal European dramas.


The Facts

Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Writer(s): Rasmus Heisterberg, Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay), Bodil Steensen-Leth (novel)
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Føesgaard
Runtime: 137 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: June 21 2012; New Zealand: June 28, 2012; US: No date set.

A Royal Affair is also showing at Sydney Film Festival 2012. Information about times and tickets can be found here.