Title: A ROYAL AFFAIR (En kongelig affære)
Director: Nikolaj Arce.
Screenwriter: Nicolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg,
Cast: Mads Mikelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Trine Dyrholm
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 10/17/12
Opens: November 9, 2012
If you understand the Danish language and have a vivid imagination, go to “A Royal Affair,” close your eyes, and imagine that you are listening to conversations within one of America’s largest Danish communities in Racine, Wisconsin. You might think they’re talking about current American politics: There is no money in the national treasury for more social programs like orphanages and vaccinations; The military budget must be cut; The rich are intent on keeping their tax privileges; Members of the legislature continue to beat down all proposed reforms of the leader; The conditions of the poor are getting worse; Some religious leaders insist that the Earth was created in six literal days; Foreigners must be deported.
But of course you’re not in America at all but rather in Denmark beginning in the year 1766. Nikolaj Arce, benefitting mightily from the script he wrote with Rasmus Heisterberg, shows us a place that is anything but wonderful, wonderful København. In fact the country that stands out as having shipped its Jews out to Sweden to save them from mass murder during the 1940’s and that today boasts one of the most progressive governments and peoples on the Continent, was the dregs of Europe in the mid-Eighteenth Century. Reformers did not exist, and King Christian VII was literally out of his mind, a victim of either a moderate case of schizophrenia or of intensely delayed maturity. A man who favored the brothels of his country over his wife, Christian, here played by upcoming actor Mikkel Følsgaard, is about to receive a Welsh woman, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), who has been pledged to him for a wife.
The film is framed by a letter that Caroline, afflicted with a mortal case of Scarlet Fever, is writing to her young ‘uns in 1775, a communication that tells the story of a woman who despite her beauty and charm is not particularly liked by her new husband. (He really must be crazy.) But Caroline has nothing to fear for a while, since she becomes attracted to Dr. Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German doctor living in the Danish colony of Altoona. The appointment seems a favorable one for the people of Denmark, since the doctor is a man who champions the Age of Enlightenment, a rationalist who carries with him books by Voltaire and Rousseau, doubtless smuggled in despite of Denmark’s censorship laws against “radical thinkers.”
Soon, Struensee becomes a favorite of the king to such an extent that he is allowed to propose reformist laws such as abolition of censorship, the banning of torture, vaccinations for all; but for a while the nobles who form the small legislative body resist all changes that would strip them of money and power, turning down the chief executive right and left until the latter grows a pair. Amazingly, the king even signs a paper giving the doctor a power of attorney—the authority to enact laws of his own choosing without the king’s input.
In addition to being a political manifesto, “A Royal Affair” is best seen—given the title—as a romance, a passionate joining of the doctor and the young queen while the cuckolded king seems either in the dark or not greatly caring given his attention to others of less royal blood. Mikkelsen, a 47-year-old A-list Danish performer whose résumé includes “Casino Royale,” “Prague,” and “King Arthur” and who in this movie carries out a hot affair with 24-year-old Alicia Vikander, makes the chemistry believable despite being in real life of different generations.
Photographer Rasmus Videbaek uses locations in the gorgeous Czech Republic, keeping the color gloomy in the beginning when the new Queen finds disappointment in her job, bright when love blossoms, then dusky when things don’t turn out as the happy pair would wish. If you like costume dramas, love stories, reenactments of history, splendid acting, “A Royal Affair” is your bite of Danish pastry. The film is Denmark’s Oscar entry for movies released in 2012.
Unrated. 137 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+