Title: A Royal Affair
Director: Nikolaj Arcel (‘King’s Game’)
Starring: Mikkel Boe Folsgaard (TV’s ‘Those Who Kill,’ Alicia Vikander (‘Anna Karenina’) and Mads Mikkelsen (‘Casino Royale,’ TV’s ‘Hannibal’)
Creating an emotionally captivating romance drama that’s based on authentic history from several hundred years ago can be quite challenging for many filmmakers, as they have to find a way to keep the story intriguing for modern audiences. But Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel, who is known for co-writing the original 2009 Swedish thriller ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ created another entertaining drama with ‘A Royal Affair.’ The new Danish historical romance drama, which is now playing in select American theaters, and was directed and co-written by Arcel, intriguingly explores one of the most dramatic events in Denmark’s history through the eyes of the characters.
‘A Royal Affair’ tells the true story of the love triangle between the mentally ill Danish King Christian VII (played by Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), his young, but strong, wife, Queen Caroline Mathilda (portrayed by Alicia Vikander) and their royal physician, who was a man of enlightenment and idealism, Johann Friedrich Struensee (played by Mads Mikkelsen), in the 1760-70s. While Caroline initially tried to please her new husband, he viewed her as boring, and openly engaged in sexual promiscuity. Christian’s childish, irresponsible nature also failed to garner the attention and respect from the court. But Struensee quickly earned Christian’s trust, and persuaded him to risk his power to bring freedom to the people of Denmark. However, Struensee’s illicit affair with Caroline led to the royal couple and the doctor’s downfall with the court and the Danish people.
Arcel intriguingly and daringly based the script on the characters’ true emotions and motivations in one of the most scandalous stories in Denmark’s history. Instead of focusing on the most extreme, melodramatic events in Christian and Caroline’s everyday lives, the helmer smartly chose to instead subtly focus on the couple’s increased resentment towards the other’s actions and personality. As Caroline struggles to accept her husband’s philandering ways and total lack of interest in her, she emotionally seeks comfort and reassurance from Struensee, whose ideals she supports. The historical romance drama regularly entices the hope the queen can bring change to her struggling country, as she truly understands the peasants’ struggles.
Vikander and Mikkelsen were well cast alongside each other in ‘A Royal Affair,’ as they both brought an emotional naivety to their characters’ belief that they could truly have an emotional relationship together, without Christian finding out. While the two were determined to help the King bring the social and economic changes he so desperately sought for his country, Caroline and Struensee failed to recognize the destructive effects their actions could have on the king and all of Denmark. The actors were convincingly emotionally invested in searching for the happiness their characters so desperately searched for, even if their actions inadvertently caused havoc across Denmark.
While Arcel smartly chose to focus on the characters’ emotions and motivations throughout the film, Costume Designer Manon Rasmussen and Production Designer Niels Sejer also created visually stunning, unique and realistic clothing and sets for every scene. From the extravagant dresses and hair styles created for Caroline during the ball sequences to the understated suits Struensee regularly wore that didn’t always emphasize his place in society, the costumes Basmussen created were captivating, but also realistic to the film’s time. The sets used throughout the film, from the royal couple’s extensive, elegant castle to the meek conditions the peasants were forced to live with, were strikingly different, showing the diverse ways of life Denmark faced at the time.
‘A Royal Affair,’ which was rightfully chosen as this year’s Danish entry for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, powerfully and memorably focused on the emotions and motivations of Caroline and Christian as they struggled to find a way to rule Denmark together. Mixed with Struensee’s captivating emotional hold on both the king and queen, the three also searched to not find a way to not only better themselves, but also provide an example for their country. Supported by powerful, but understated, costume and production designs, the historical romance drama authentically showed the effects of what happens when people rule by emotion, instead of political motivations.
Written by: Karen Benardello