A Royal Affair

This is a wonderful film from Denmark.  As the title suggests the film does revolve around a royal affair, but it is much more than an illicit sexual encounter.  The film is based on real events in Denmark in the 1760s and 1770s.  These were the years preceding the French Revolution and revolutionary ideas about the Rights of Man were spreading among the educated classes.  Much to the dismay and horror of the representatives of the Ancien Régime.  The small Kingdom of Denmark was not immune to these revolutionary ideas.  This the real backdrop to the film, which is mainly about the struggle between the repressive establishment, represented by the nobles and the church, and the supporters of a more enlightened social and political society.

Into this mix comes a young and beautiful English princess – Caroline Mathilde – who is to be the wife of the young king of Denmark – Christian VII.  Though Christian’s heart is in the right place when it comes to political reform, he is alas, slightly mad.  He prefers his favourite dog to his new wife and likes above all hunting, fighting and big breasted women.  He is no match for the Council of nobles who effectively run the country in a repressive manner.  In an effort to deal with the king’s madness the Council seek out a physician who can help tame, if not cure the king.  Enter Johan Friedrich Struensee, a German doctor who wins the confidence of the young king.  But unbeknown to the Council, Struensee is a secret supporter of the new revolutionary ideas.  Thus begins an intricate and intriguing menage à trois.  Struensee becomes the queen’s doctor and then her lover.  The two of them also work to encourage and support Christian to oppose the reactionary Council and replace them with Struensee and his reformers.  The ousted nobles do not take this lying down of course, but seek to gain revenge and recover their power.  A catalyst for this is the birth of a second child to the queen, a daughter, but the father is Struensee.  Despite all their efforts to keep their affair a secret, they are betrayed and exposed.

In many ways this story could have been filmed primarily as a political thriller with a bit of sex to spice it all up.  But as this is a Danish film, the story is told in a much more leisurely way.  Which allows us to encounter and sympathise with the personalities behind the main characters, warts and all.  Though the representatives of the old order are a pretty nasty lot, this is no simplistic morality tale.  We see the human weaknesses that afflict all people, even the good at heart.

The film is a wonderful and beautiful spectacle.  The colour and vivacity of the court is well captured and admireres of costume drama will love this film.  Most of all the cast is excellent, filled with to me, unknown Danish actors.  Alicia Vikander as Caroline, Mads Mikkelsen as Struensee and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as Christian deserve special mention as they dominate the film.  The film was directed by Nikolaj Arcel, with a screenplay by Rasmus Heisterberg based on the novel by Bodil Steensen-Leth.  Highly recommended.

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