Film Review: A Royal Affair

Denmark’s official selection for the Oscar Foreign-Language category, this beautifully acted and lush look at a real-life court threesome in Denmark at the end of the 18th century indeed pleases.

A Royal Affair is a classy affair of fine acting and sumptuous production value that should connect with the expected segment of the art-house crowd. The fact that this historical epic involves a real-life love triangle shouldn’t hurt matters, nor, for the more historically minded, should its fascinating consideration of how Denmark was tossed by the crosswinds of Europe’s revolutionary sweep in the late 1700s.

The film’s hero is German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a handsome and enlightened man in the true late-18th-century tradition who is brought to Denmark to serve as royal physician. The court is not a happy place. Mentally challenged Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), is truly the court idiot. But he was smart enough to bring a young beauty from England to become his queen. Pushed into this arrangement, Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander) gets hints of the trouble ahead as early as her wedding night when the king fails miserably to perform.

It’s inevitable that once the doctor hits the marble floors and he and the Queen meet, sparks will fly and a baby will be born, although the King assumes he’s the provenance. Not so predictable is the power grab Struensee will make in spite of such entrenched loyalists as Guldberg (David Dencik) and the entrenched council in league with the court that runs the country. Also significant is the impact that Struensee’s pro-democracy and anti-royalist reforms will have on the country. Backlash, not dissimilar to what had befallen France after its revolution, is inevitable, but not so predictable are the fates of the three whose lives became so personally entwined, then so dramatically shaken when the citizenry took charge. Poisoning the proceedings is the dowager (Trine Dyrholm), as imperious as she is deleterious to the cause of progress.

The film is beautifully acted, with the entirely believable performance of Følsgaard as the doltish and sometimes outrageous king providing comic relief, Mikkelsen just oozing decency and manliness as the well-meaning, handsome doctor, and Vikander, as the surprisingly strong young queen, providing human ballast amidst so much court intrigue and political unrest.