December 11, 2012
"A Royal Affair" is about exactly what its title tells us. Caroline is an English princess who was married off to the King of Denmark, in fulfillment of her childhood dreams. They meet for the first time when she went to Denmark, but she was distressed to discover that her husband Christian is not of completely sound mind.
After her first child was born, and wallowing in constant loneliness, Caroline begins the titular royal affair with Struensee, the court physician, who was also Christian's best friend and adviser. Caroline and Struensee not only share romantic love, but also a passion for political reform. Struensee uses his very influential position to institute radically progressive policies which eventually revolutionizes Denmark society.
Needless to say, this is the first time I have ever seen anything about Danish history, so I was enraptured -- not really about the affair, but more about the interesting stories of political machinations and social reformation told in this very fine film. The lavish costumes, elaborate set design and moody music were all perfectly attuned to the period depicted. The cinematography was very dramatic and well-polished.
The acting was top-notch from all three angles of the troika. Young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander was very classy and believable as Caroline. She reminded me of Emily Blunt's performance in "Young Victoria" the previous year. Famous Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen plays Dr. Johann Struensee with subtle passion. He does look a lot older than Caroline so the romantic chemistry seemed somehow strained, especially at the beginning. It does grow on you later though, as the more political aspect of their affair gains more screen time. As the cuckolded king Christian VII, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard delivers a finely nuanced performance as he struggled to balance his madness with some semblance of sanity.
I highly recommend this film for all film fans who love historical films. This is a rare look into a renaissance of sorts in Danish political history borne out of personal liaisons among the key characters in the reform movement. The story-telling style of director Nikolaj Arcel is tight and engaging. It will keep you interested up to the end, especially with the inspired performances of all his actors.