The Danes tried to put a ‘coup d’etat’ at the Academy Awards this year with ‘En kongelig affære’ (‘A Royal Affair’) directed by Nikolaj Arcel. Having seen that stories about royals and especially about queens bring Oscar statuettes every other year, they put together an impressive historic production based on a steamy story of love, sex, insanity and social reform, all based on true events which took place at the Danish court in the second half of the 18th century. Only one story, one film, based only on ‘Amour’ stood between ‘A Royal Affair’ and the Oscar for the best foreign language film.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1276419/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1276419/

 

 

The Royal Affair takes place in the second half of the 18th century, by the time winds of changes were blowing all over Europe originating in the ideas of the Enlightenment, and the kings of Europe were losing their minds or their heads. Denmark was ruled by (another) insane king named Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) who took more interest in his dogs and in prostitutes than in his young, beautiful and English wife Caroline Mathilde (the superb Swede actress Alicia Vikander). Her education abroad made her receptive to the ideas of the Enlightenment at a time when Denmark was one of the more conservative kingdoms in Europe, with politics dominated by puritan clergy. When the personal physician of the king Johann Struensee (the excellent Mads Mikkelsen) gains influence and slowly takes over the affairs of the kingdom  the queen will find in him a companion in ideas, and soon also in bed. The period of one year while doctor Struensee led Denmark saw the introduction of a set of the earliest and most radical reformist legislation in Europe. When the king fell completely into folly and the affair between the queen and the prime minister became to visible for the small conservative country, the clergy, nobility and disaffected branch of the royal family plotted to take power, arrested the prime minister, isolated the king and sent the queen into exile. The country reverted for about two decades back into feudalism until the children of the queen (who had died in the meantime) came to power and set the base of modern Denmark.

 

(video source VISO trailers)

 

‘A Royal Affair’ enjoys a very careful production, with great attention to details, and is well acted. Best parts are actually the psychological games played by the triangle composed of the king with his insanity combined with childish outbreaks of goodness, of the beautiful and dedicated queen whose trust in good guides her in all deeds except in her private life, and of the charismatic physician who seems to understand well that his path to glory is doomed to end into disgrace at best, and almost certainly into violent death. It is actually the overall production and the careful reconstitution of the life in the North of Europe in the 18th century that is directed with somehow a stiff hand. The historical details may certainly interest and are relevant to the Danes, but less to the viewers who are not so knowledgeable or interested in local history. Although the characters are interesting and the 18th century story is well told, the film lacks exactly that higher dose of personal drama which could have helped him overcome the two 21st century old musicians at their twilight in the race for the Oscars. A little bit of insanity borrowed from the kind could have helped.