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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

A Royal Affair
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Magnolia Home Entertainment 11/12 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R sexual content, some violent images

Here is a richly conceived and dramatically compelling historical drama set in eighteenth century Denmark when the ruling class and its religious supporters feared that the spread of Enlightenment thinking, including the idea of equality for all, would result in the nobility losing control. Director Nikolaj Arcel co-wrote the screenplay with his long-time collaborator Rasmus Heisterberg (The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo) based on a book by Bodil Steensen-Leth. It charts not only the intrigue of royal politics and greed but also the enchantment of soul mates who connect not only through the flesh but also with their minds.

In 1766, Caroline (Alicia Vikander) leaves family and familiarity behind in England for an arranged marriage to her cousin Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), the King of Denmark. This attractive and musically gifted young woman is shocked to discover that her husband-to-be is truly unstable — a foolish boy with a nervous laugh, a love that is focused on his dog, the regular use of prostitutes, and a petulant streak that has made him into nothing more than a figure head in a country ruled by his power-hungry Council.

Caroline banishes the King from her bedroom and falls into a depression over her lamentable fate. Everything changes when she meets Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), the new Royal Physician who has become a close companion of the King by accepting his childlike playfulness. This handsome man is also a secret radical who is well-read and committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment which have been banned in Denmark by religious authorities.

Caroline, intrigued with the doctor's excellent library, borrows a volume by Rousseau which leads Struensee to trust her to read his own radical writings on changing society. After beginning a passionate secret affair, they work together to improve the plight of the poor citizens of Copenhagen by taxing the rich, giving rights to peasants, and ending the death penalty and censorship. They use the King as their puppet and even manage to get rid of the Council. But Struensee and Queen Caroline are not prepared for the behind-the-scenes power wielded by Dowager Queen Juliane Marie (Trine Dyrholm), step-mother to Christian, who is scheming to dethrone the king.

The entrenched forces of tradition and supporters of the status quo are always more treacherous and tenacious than expected. That certainly is the case in A Royal Affair.


Special features on the Blu-ray/DVD include: an interview with director Nikolaj Arcel and actors Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander; portraits and biographies; the Royal Family tree; and a theatrical trailer.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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