Movie review: 'A Royal Affair' delivers a compelling tale


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The early intel on King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) sounded so promising.

"Christian was said to be charming, interested in art and literature and even fond of acting," his queen, young Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander) recalls in "A Royal Affair." In 1766 England, theirs is a long-distance courtship and marriage -- really long distance, since the pair had yet to meet.


'A Royal Affair'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Alicia Vikander.
  • Rating: R for sexual content and some violent images.

When they do, in Denmark, it isn't love at first sight. He climbs into her horse-drawn carriage, utters a nervous laugh and rides in silence until arriving at the palace where he leaps out and makes a beeline ... for his dog. "Did you miss Daddy?" he asks, as if he were a boy back from summer camp.

The honeymoon is over before it's even begun.

The queen, a reader by avocation, then learns many of her books are forbidden under Danish censorship laws and her accomplished piano playing is interrupted by her husband who declares to all: "I can't stand listening to it. Clang, clang, clang. ... Move your fat little thighs and have a seat."

After producing an heir, she sees no reason to maintain the facade of happiness or even tolerance of her husband, troubled or outright insane.

The king embarks on a two-year tour of Europe and returns with a new personal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). In this Age of Enlightenment, he is a closet free-thinker who eventually realizes he can orchestrate change through the king, even as he beds the like-minded queen.

But with a council that doesn't want to cede its authority to the king and plenty of palace intrigue, the queen belatedly realizes, "We thought we could have it all. We were naive."

The costume drama, Denmark's official Oscar entry for foreign language film, is based on actual events in 18th-century Denmark, and it's fascinating to see the machinations on all sides propelled by idealism, forbidden romance and lust for power and position.

Struensee's proposals are, indeed, enlightened, as when he tries to improve the health and welfare of poor unwanted children, peasants, prisoners and others who have no voice in society.

Although the Copenhagen-born Mr. Mikkelsen is no stranger to movie audiences, thanks to roles such as Le Chiffre in "Casino Royale" and the Russian composer in "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky," he is utterly convincing in a scene of absolute anguish. Mr. Folsgaard makes the young monarch an easily led wastrel while Ms. Vikander is a far more striking queen than the real one, based on centuries-old portraits.

"A Royal Affair," written by director Nikolaj Arcel and Ramus Heisterberg who penned the Swedish-language adaptation of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," doesn't spend much time setting the stage.

It dispenses with details of the royal lineage of the arranged marriage partners or a lengthy history lesson. Instead, it opens with a note explaining that, at the close of the 18th century, nobility rules by oppression, supported by strong religious forces although the winds of change are blowing.

But it turns out the play -- for power -- is still the thing, when there's something rotten (or risque) in the state of Denmark.

In Danish, English, German and French, with English subtitles. Opens today at the Regent Square Theater.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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