Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Royal Affair (2012)

Set in mid 18th century Denmark, A Royal Affair tells the story of the illicit affair between Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) and the personal physician to King Christian VII, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). The plot is very involved with all of the politics, power plays and intrigues one might expect of an 18th century royal court. Mathilde is an English princess, born to the Prince of Wales, and she is arranged to marry the King of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). When she moves to Denmark to meet him for the first time and marry him, she finds out that he is mentally ill. Soon the Danish court decide that the King requires a personal physician, and Struensee takes on the job. The King is quite boorish towards women, and openly whores around (is that a phrase?). Mathilde is ignored, and soon becomes miserable and depressed as all she does is care for their son. As a result, it isn’t too long before Struensee and Mathilde have an affair. But when Mathilde becomes pregnant by Struensee, the liberal political freedom that Struensee has enjoyed along with the King and his wife comes to a dramatic end.

That very quick synopsis really doesn’t do the film any justice. Though based on a novel (Prinsesse af blodet), the key events are all historically accurate, and given how convoluted European history generally is, it is no mean feat to have successfully adapted the story for the big screen. It is a testament to both Nikolaj Arcel (director and screenplay), and Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay) that they were able to keep the film gripping, tense and emotionally charged. Though perhaps we should expect a high standard from the two guys who wrote the screenplay for the fantastic Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Capitalising on a great story is a cast of great actors, helmed by Mads Mikkelsen. Perfect as Johann Struensee I only really thought of Le Chiffre (the only other role I’ve seen him in) when he was being tortured! I thought he could tie his antagonist to a seatless chair and use that piece of knotted rope to great effect again! His story does not just begin and end as a doctor; he has very liberal views in a time of feudalism, and he uses his influence with the King and Queen to introduce new laws to Denmark, giving more rights to the people. Ultimately he becomes de facto regent of the country, and King Christian sarcastically refers to him as King of Prussia! Of course when the affair is uncovered, his house of cards comes crashing down, yet Mikkelsen is still commanding as the court politicians try to ruin him.

I am not at all familiar with either Mikkel Boe Følsgaard or Alicia Vikander, but both were very good as Christian the eccentric King and Mathilde. Mathilde’s story is particularly demanding; she starts as a naive princess expecting life to be wonderful as a queen only to have her assumptions crushed, then having found love finds out the hard way that she won't live happily ever after as her world falls apart. Alicia copes very well, and certainly brings realism to every facet of her character.

A very dramatic film, but one that takes its time to build the characters as well as the sumptuous world of 1700s Royal Denmark. A remarkable story and even more so for being true; engrossing and brought to life by a very good cast.