Christian VII of Denmark was reportedly Voltaire’s favorite monarch. However, his revolutionary reforms were
actually the brainchild of Dr. Johann Friedrich Struensee. His mysterious advisor also assumed Christian’s
kingly duties with the Queen, leaving all three vulnerable to the nobility
whose interests they threatened. Based
on historical fact, Nikolaj Arcel dramatizes Denmark’s most famous and
influential case of adultery in A Royal
country’s official best foreign language Academy Award submission, which opens
this Friday in New York.
mentally unsound King Christian VII was a terrible husband. Sleeping with everyone but his wife, Queen
Caroline Mathilda (the sister of the other mad king, England’s George III),
Christian’s dissipated lifestyle took a toll on his health. To the alarm of many, Dr. Struensee earned
the King’s confidence by somewhat restoring his vitality. A not so secret enlightenment pamphleteer,
Struensee shrewdly parlays his influence with the king into de facto governing
authority. For years, the Enlightenment
had been slow in reaching Denmark, but suddenly it had leapfrogged the rest of
course, not everyone is happy with Denmark’s nouveau intellectual cool. The King’s mother and the rest of the
nobility are distinctly unamused.
Unfortunately, they will have a major weakness to exploit when the Queen
and Struensee embark on a reckless affair.
Initially, she is rather put off by the doctor, but his passion and forceful
personality soon look quite attractive compared to the genetic mistake she
Christian. He is a rather sad figure,
but Arcel is clearly most intrigued by the infamous Oldenburg’s role in
history. Indeed, he has his moments in Affair.
Nonetheless, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard’s ticky man-child performance makes it
easy to understand how the Queen could take up with Struensee, despite the
Mikkelsen duly brings the haughty intensity his fans will expect. As Struensee, he is clearly cruising for a
Shakespearean fall, and even seems to recognize it deep down. The weak link of the love triangle is
definitely Alicia Vikander, whose Queen Caroline is a bit vanilla, even by
historical facts of the Struensee Affair are rather incredible, but the
on-screen drama feels rather safe in a prestige picture sort of way. The Enlightenment vs. Old Europe angle helps
distinguish it somewhat, but even those not well schooled in Danish history
will have a good idea where it is headed.
Still, it is quite a richly crafted period piece, capturing all the pomp
of the royal court and the grime and depredation endured by everyone else. Beyond the best foreign language Oscar stakes,
costume designer Manon Rasmussen and production designer Niels Sejer’s team
deserve some consideration during awards season.
Royal Affair is a perfectly respectable historical, but a bit of a cold
fish emotionally. Recommended for those who
enjoy costume dramas, it opens this Friday (11/9) in New York at the Paris
Theatre uptown and the reopened Landmark Sunshine downtown.
Labels: 85th Academy Awards Foreign Language Submissions, King Christian VII, Mads Mikkelsen, Scandinavian Cinema