Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Følsgaard
Release Date: 15th June 2012
This period film, brought together by the writer and director of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, follows the clash of conservatism and the enlightenment in 18th century Denmark. English born Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) is married off to the Danish King, Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard). Although initially hopeful about the relationship, she is disillusioned by the mad King’s attempts to undermine her.
The royal court hires Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) to be the King’s personal physician. The charming Struensee quickly wins favour with Christian by humouring his childish pursuits and they develop a brotherly relationship. Caroline Mathilde, despite originally disliking him, is drawn to Stuensee’s fervent idealism and intelligence. The so-called royal affair ensues.
Struensee and Caroline Mathilde work together, influencing Christian to introduce new laws inspired the enlightenment movement, such as banning torture, allowing free speech and introducing universal education. However these reforms create powerful enemies of the aristocracy and government Council, including the Dowager Queen and the head of the Council. They work to bring down Struensee, using the affair to turn the religious public against him.
Each individual piece of the film is brilliantly executed. The settings, from the countryside, to the city and the palace, are a treat for the eyes. The music sets the tone perfectly. The costumes are historically accurate and beautiful. The filmmakers endeavoured to make the film as true to the events as possible.
The performances by the actors are understated but powerful, especially that of freshman Følsgaard, who won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his role. Følsgaard managed to turn a childish, selfish madman into a likeable character by subtly emphasising his vulnerability and genuine goodness.
However, where the film falls is in the pacing. At a running time of 128 minutes it can feel sluggish at times and there is a feeling that though much of the film could have been left on the cutting room floor, it was too much of a pet project to be looked at with a critical eye. Although narration is used well to create tension, the eventual downfall of Struensee and Caroline Mathilde is so long in coming that you lose sympathy for the characters. As a result, it leaves ‘A Royal Affair’ somewhat hollow.
In a nutshell: A Royal Affair has all the right ingredients, however the length of the film drains it of suspense and passion.