Love is not kind. Especially in films. It causes a lot of heartbreak and ache. Falling in love is not easy and when it seems to happen it tends to be either with the wrong person or with someone who is not available for one reason or another. My advice is just avoid it like the plague. In all seriousness, the two who fall in love in this lush period piece should have heeded my tongue-firmly-in-cheek warning. Though the different types of love experienced in A Royal Affair leads to hope for the Danish people.
The Danish court of the late 18th century seems like it was a place where a lot was occurring at the same time. King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), who has ascended to the throne after the death of his father, has married the young and beautiful British Princess Caroline (Alicia Vikander – Anna Karenina – 2012). The match is wrong from the beginning. Neither is well suited for the other. Christian is wild and likes big breasted prostitutes…lots of them. Caroline is not attracted to Christian in the least and after she bears him a son, Frederik, she pretty much closes up shop on their sex life. This leads to Christian going off on a two year romp around Europe.
Upon his return Christian is told that he must take on a new personal physician. At first he resists like a petulant child but once he meets Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen – Casino Royale, King Arthur) it is love at first sight. Christian adores Dr. Struensee. Maybe it is because he actually takes the time to talk and listen to him or maybe it is because the country doctor is atypical like the leader of Denmark himself.
Now, Christian is the King of Denmark but is really only a figurehead. Most of the power lies with his court, who make all the decisions and all he has to contribute is his signature on endless pieces of paper. Even more than being a figurehead most in his court believes him to be insane due to all his strange behaviour.
As time passes Dr. Struensee earns Christian’s complete trust and also the love of Queen Caroline. Struensee and Caroline risk everything to be together. She loves that he is a man of the Enlightenment and with the guidance of former men of power Rantzau (Thomas W. Gabrielsson) and Brandt (Cyron Melville) along with the support of the Queen, Struensee begins to guide the King to using his power and instilling new laws and social programs which benefit the masses.
Their momentarily happy world comes crashing down around them once Caroline discovers that she is pregnant with Struensee’s baby. They know the nobles who were formerly in power and the dowager Queen (Trine Dyrholm – The Celebration) will use this to usurp the power back from them and Christian. Plus Caroline worries about how Christian will react if he finds out about the affair.
Caroline and Struensee try to put distance between themselves but feel their happiness slipping from their fingers like sands in an hourglass.
Period pieces can be a little tricky. You have to walk the line between realistic portrayal of the time and entertaining enough so the audience is not bored to tears. In most cases I adore them but I don’t see that as an advantage as it actually makes me pickier about what I declare to be good. With that in mind, I declare this one to be a dandy. There is no mystery as to why it is one of this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
There are two very interesting relationships within Nikolaj Arcel’s (co-wrote the screenplay to the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) film. One is the love that springs up between the Queen and the country doctor. He is an “experienced” man who never could have predicted falling in love with any one woman and she is a Queen who had resigned herself to living an isolated life with no love. The young actress portraying the Queen does a fantastic job illustrating the sexual awakening her character undergoes. What I particularly enjoyed was the close platonic love between Christian and Struensee (this guy had it going on!). It shows that Christian is not as dumb or crazy as most think him to be and that he just needed a little guidance.
It is not simply a period piece about love rather it is based on a true story of how the Danish people at the end of the 18th century fought for change and following the lead of writers of the Enlightenment eventually gained them. Yes, the costumes, wigs, sets and make up are beautiful to look at there is also a large brain behind the proceedings.