A Royal Affair

A splendid Danish drama directed by Nikolaj Arcel, A Royal Affair (2012) is set in the 18th century and is based on the true story of a love affair between the English Queen of Denmark and a small-town doctor from Germany, who became the confidant to the mentally challenged Danish King.

It’s the age of reason and enlightenment, with philosophers such as Voltaire, Spinoza and Locke challenging old traditional ways of thinking about the universe and man’s place in it, while advocating scientific research and equality for all mankind. But in many European countries it was still considered a crime to question society’s entrenched faith based notions.

Forced into an arranged marriage to her mentally unstable cousin, King Christian VII of Denmark, the youngest daughter of the Prince of Wales, Caroline Matilda, played by Alicia Vikander, recently seen in Anna Karenina (2012), The Fifth Estate (2013) and Hotell (2013), is devastated when she discovers his odd childish behavior and habit of visiting brothels and bringing prostitutes to his bed chambers.

After the birth of their son and heir, the two royals can’t stand to be near one another, so the King goes on a tour of Europe, during which his condition seems to worsen until he meets a German doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee, who is able to connect with the King like no one else can by appealing to his playful childish nature. 

When the newly appointed physician, played by the charismatic Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt), saves the young Prince and heir to the throne from an outbreak of smallpox using new medical advances, he becomes a trusted figure in the royal court and quickly catches the eye of the frustrated Queen.

The good doctor and the Queen, finding they have a mutual passion for improving people’s lives, want to use the latest medical techniques to help everyone who suffers from the smallpox epidemic. But the royal court, controlled by religious fundamentalists, refuses to invest any time or money on the country’s poor. 

If you thought that the dystopian future vision depicted in Elysium (2013), of a divided world where the wealthy 1% control and arbitrarily manipulate government policy and regulation to suit their own purposes, while oppressing the majority 99% of humanity, was an unrealistic exaggeration, look no further than our own recent history of 18th century royal courts and aristocratic abuses and neglect of the common working people.

Due to censorship laws which prohibit enlightened free thinking, Denmark’s citizens lived in extremely dire and cruel conditions. Working together and using their influence over the King to challenge the religious leaders, the queen and the German physician were able to make many humanitarian and socially beneficial reforms that were ahead of their time and an inspiration to the rest of Europe.

When the Queen and the doctor are discovered having a romantic love affair, the aristocracy quickly uses the indiscretion to take back control of the country, sentencing the two lovers to a tragic fate. 

Danish cinema has undergone a resurgence in recent years that we haven’t seen since the 1980s with classics like Babette’s Feast (1988) and Pelle the Conqueror (1987). Recent award winning films In a Better World (2011), Melancholia (2011), A Royal Affair (2012), The Hunt (2012) and A Hijacking (2013) have put Denmark back on the cinematic map as a country that’s producing some noteworthy talent with extraordinary directors like Lars von Trier, Nicolas Winding Refn, Thomas Vinterberg and Nikolaj Arcel.

Nominated for best foreign film Oscar, A Royal Affair is authentically portrayed and shot in actual locations in Czech Republic, and is visually sumptuous and genuinely enlightening for the history it reveals. It’s a stunningly photographed gem not to be missed.



jacquie said...

Thanks for the review. You've managed to make this movie appealing enough to make my must see list.

Kathy Crowley-Gardner said...

I agree with Jacquie. You've made it sound interesting enough to add to my list too. Thanks, again, John.

JP said...

Thanks everyone. I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did.