Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Folsgaard
Maybe it’s a by-product of globalization, but Scandinavia seems to have an increasingly notable presence on Western culture. First it was death metal, then the TV series The Killing and now the feature film, A Royal Affair. This is a smart, sexy costume drama set in the 18th century and features political intrigue, cultural upheaval and a bit of hanky panky in the royal household.
The film tells the true story of Englishwoman Caroline Mathilde (wonderfully played by Alicia Vikander) who is chosen to wed her cousin, Christian who happens to be the king ofDenmark. Caroline is thrilled at the prospect of becoming Queen until she actually meets her betrothed. As is turns out, the King is not exactly playing with a full deck. He seems to have the intellect of a 10 year old and prefers to spend his time playing with his dog, or frolicking with the local prostitutes. Caroline finds him infantile and boorish; Christian thinks his new bride is boring and grumpy.
With the King’s attention diverted with whatever baubles are dangled in front of him, the country’s wealthy landowners pretty much have run of the place…taking advantage of the working class and generally living the high life at the peasants’ expense.
Things change when Christian meets the German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). The King invites him to join his court, Caroline has someone to play with and the wealthy landowners have a new enemy as Johann is a follower of the enlightenment and would like to see the common man treated with a bit more dignity, not to mention some redistribution of the country’s wealth.
The plot is not particularly novel, but the story is told eloquently and all three principal actors are at the top of their game. Mikkelsen, in particular is very good. While the story can get rather bleak, there are enough light moments, provided mostly by King Christian’s bizarre behaviour, to keep things from getting too dour.
The final half hour does get quite dark, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, making this film more than a quaint period drama, but something with some actual gravitas. Plus, you can learn some Danish history along the way.