A Royal Affair(2012), Denmark

A Royal Affair(2012)

En kongelig affære (original Danish title)

Dir:Nikolaj Arcel

The King, the Queen and her Lover

The King flanked by the Queen and her Lover

A Royal Affair is a film all dressed up with nowhere exciting to go.With its ravishing beauty, its perfect costumes, it’s almost unreal cinematography that evoke the sublime Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubric, and a storyline that is the juiciest slice of Danish history, it could have been much more than the sum of its beautiful parts. But it is not. The parts just about add up to a best foreign film Oscar nomination.

We meet the nubile Princess Caroline Matilde living in Britain, betrothed to the King of Denmark Christian VII.She is young and breathless with anticipation at the thought being the Queen of an exotic country.She imagines her groom to be loving and artistic and thinks he is the perfect husband to have.But she is also apprehensive, it’s a coming out party that can daunt the best.Her mother whispers a secret into her ear,”If you manage to make the King visit your bedchamber on your first night you will be deemed to be success as a Queen”.This is an ominous note, it should be a cakewalk considering how beautiful Caroline is.

The loneliness of being Queen of Denmark

The loneliness of being Queen of Denmark

Queen Caroline Matilde arrives in Denmark and finds her perfect husband to be a little mad, not to mention addicted to prostitutes.He humiliates her at their first public banquet, making fun of her perfectly good skills at the piano.Caroline swallows this insult and invites him to her bedchamber.He accepts on the counsel of his ministers and impregnates her.However she has been scorned in public and shuts him out of her life, returning his insults backs in small installments. The peeved King decides to embark on a one year tour of Europe to indulge his debauchery.

Meanwhile winds of change in the form of the principles of Enlightenment are blowing in Europe which would eventually inspire the French revolution.Books by Voltaire and Rousseau are already banned in Denmark where a corrupt council of ministers try to maintain their grip on a mentally unstable king.A group of Libertine nobles who have been banished from the court identify a German doctor who can be their proxy in the royal council.They have him appointed as the Kings personal physician.

The Queen and the good doctor cannot  resist themselves

The Queen and the good doctor cannot resist themselves

This German doctor is none other than Dr.Johan Struensee(Mads Mekkelsen), who history tells us, was the de-facto ruler of Denmark for sometime.He manipulates the infantile King expertly who is soft putty in his hands.He becomes Christian’s best friend and shadow much to the chagrin of the powerful council who find themselves outmaneuvered. And of course he begins an affair with the lonely queen.As they use the King to make profound changes they become for a brief time a trio, who are a source of great hope for the people.But The King and Queen remain cold to each other, he has started calling her “Mother”, as a kind of ultimate insult for a young and beautiful woman.

The rest of the film follows a familiar trajectory of court intrigue and stirrings of a quiet revolution.We know that not much good can come of the affair between the doctor and the queen.Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as the Christian VII is  real the star of the film.His performance hits all the right notes of a child trapped in an adult’s body, whose mental growth was systematically stymied, the bearer of a curse of being born the prince without the temperament and strength to bear the mantle.Alicia Vikander is beautiful and in the initial scenes displays a promise which she does fulfill in the more demanding scenes which come later. Mads Mikkelsen as Struensee is slightly miscast.He hides behind his imposing physical stature and a guarded expression  which are at odds with his role of a intellectual foreigner whose intentions are noble but methods far from them.

The king and his handler.

The king and his handler.

This film skillfully captures a slice of Danish history which was a precursor of profound changes to come.Revolutions have a mind of their own and arrive when the time is right, until then the build up must happen and the dream for a better society kept alive.Here the protagonists yearn for a better state of affairs but their actions are guided foremost by their selfish needs.Consequently their victory is short-lived. Today Denmark is one of the countries with the highest standard of living and human development.But it was not always so, as this film clearly shows us.

One of the failings of this film is its preoccupation with its own beauty, it refuses to venture out of the lives of its nobel heroes, into the grimy world of the suffering masses that they strive to liberate.The real motives of the German doctor remain a mystery, we are supposed to assume that he acted in good faith, but his manipulation of a mentally ill but intrinsically good Christian were not the right means, certainly not his seduction of a young susceptible queen.

The Royal Affair is a film made on a big budget with wonderful set pieces, elaborate costumes and very solid cinematography and music.What this film lacks is a heart, that must beat to the sound of the exalted philosophies of the wise men who brought about the renaissance in Europe.The timing of the film could not have been better, it resonates with the revolutionary climate we live in, filled with successful and failed uprisings.This is high quality entertainment, the best film made outside USA, it is not.

#A Royal Affair is currently showing in Singapore. 



Categories: World Cinema

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