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A Royal Affair


This article was published December 14, 2012 at 1:44 a.m.


Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) and her king’s personal physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) have an illicit affair with huge implications for Denmark in the historical drama A Royal Affair.

— In Danish and French with English subtitles A Royal Affair strives mightily to replicate the sumptuousness of definitive costume dramas such as 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, 1994’s The Madness of King George and 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. Although it doesn’t quite reach the luxurious levels attained by those films, this Danish production has something many period pieces don’t: an intriguing story that not many have heard before.

Based on historical events, the film chronicles the arrival of the Enlightenment in 18th century Denmark via books and concepts promoted by Voltaire and Rousseau.They’re smuggled into the conservative country by German physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). He’s a well-educated commoner who beats out formidable competition for the job of caring for mentally unstable Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) by inadvertently discovering the king’s passion for Shakespeare and acting.

He also discovers Christian’s young wife, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), the sister of British King George III. Despite her opulent lifestyle, she’s a grumpy queen. Not only are her cherished books taken from her by Danish censors when she arrives in the country, but her girlish hopes for finding a soul mate in Christian are dashed as she finds herself stuck in a loveless marriage with a childish, demanding and often ridiculous sovereign.

Caroline cheers up considerably when Struensee shows up and eventually falls hard for the doctor as well as his controversial ideas about social reform.

The two embark on a doubly dangerous journey of illicit love and radical societal changes brought about by the doctor’s ability to influence the naive king’s actions. It’s an exhilarating adventure for them, but you can pretty much figure out how it’s going to turn out.

Mikkelsen, all cheekbones and hauteur, keeps his performance under taut control, allowing the audience to build a relationship with his character - who quickly becomes the king’s trusted confidante - without letting them know too much about what makes him tick.

Vikander, dark-eyed and delicate with a subtle beauty that doesn’t carry the big bang of many American leading ladies, invests a bit too heavily in her character’s ill temper, although it’s easy to understand why the once idealistic queen doesn’t find her reality all that wonderful until the doctor shows up.

Filmed mostly in Prague, A Royal Affair - Denmark’s presumptive entry for Best Foreign Film in 2013’s Academy Awards - is generous with pretty costumes, beautifully decorated sets and handsome animals (including Gourmand, the king’s regal Great Dane). But a scene with the queen and Struensee riding a pair of handsome horses across a meadow makes it laughably obvious that Mikkelsen and Vikander aren’t doing the riding. The cheap American Western effect is one of several brief but unfortunate inclusions that detract from the quality of the production.

A Royal Affair 86 Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard Director: Nikolaj Arcel Rating: R for sexual content, violent images Running time: 137 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 36 on 12/14/2012

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