A ROYAL AFFAIR
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay), Bodil Steensen-Leth (novel)
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, David Dencik
Usually when you think of 18th Century period pieces, you think elitist, stuffy and boring. While this might be true of 75% of the period films out there, it certainly is not the case with Denmark’s A ROYAL AFFAIR. Not only is it the complete opposite of any preconceived notions you may have towards this genre, it’s beautifully photographed and exquisitely performed. Even more astounding is that it’s based on a true story, as it’s so apropos of the scandals of today.
A ROYAL AFFAIR takes inspiration in tone and look from Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE. It’s1766 and our nubile English heroine, Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander), has just been married off to the very immature Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) as a political move to curry favor with the poor citizens of Denmark. Raised to be cultured in the arts and a free thinker, Caroline has a challenge on her hands trying to fit into her new, stifling role as Queen. Plus she’s incurred scorn from her husband’s step-monster, the Countess Dowager, who feels both Caroline and Christian are unfit to rule Denmark. The menacing Countess feels that her own flesh and blood – a total nerd-boy weenie – should be king instead. Do I feel a take over coming on, perhaps? Caroline finds herself lonely and bored since most of the books she brought over are banned – plus her husband is not only jealous of any attention bestowed on her, but is also sleeping with prostitutes. That is until she gives birth to son Frederick, and her husband returns from a European tour having picked up personal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) who, wouldn’t ya’ know it, is also part of the age of Enlightenment – a movement strictly verboten by government. As the two men become besties, Caroline starts noticing that Johann too shares the same revolutionary ideals for her people. Will they be able to sway the King? Or will their hot, steamy love affair destroy everything?
While most of the narrative unfolds in a tantalizing – if not predictable – melodramatic manner, there are a few hiccups in the script by director Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg (based on Bodil Steensen-Leth’s novel, “Prinsesse af blodet”). Not only does it take a full hour for Caroline and Johann to act on their passion (which, don’t get me wrong, is HOT), the Countess Dowager’s coup is laid out early on only to disappear for a long time and then reappear when it’s convenient. And when Caroline tries to leave with both of her children, she’s forced to leave one behind. For being set up as intelligent, she should have thought to leave far in advance before the rumors of a takeover proved true. It’s a little disappointing in that regard.
Outside of that, A ROYAL AFFAIR is a master class in acting, production design, costume design, and cinematography. Simply put, this is a visual masterpiece begging to be seen on the big screen. It lives to captivate and entrance audiences with its stunning visual palette. Rasmus Videbæk’s cinematography is akin to classical paintings of the time. His use of natural light makes the ensemble appear radiant, even when they are doing despicable deeds. Manon Rasmussen’s costume design as well as Niels Sejer’s expansive production design also brilliantly complement the narrative. Vikander (ANNA KARENINA) and Mikkelsen (who’s known to American audiences primarily from his work as a Bond villain in CASINO ROYALE) both give solid, strong performances and ignite the screen.
A ROYAL AFFAIR opens on November 9 in limited release. For a list of where to find it playing near you, go here.