Jan 31, 2015

Review: En kongelig affære [A Royal Affair] (2012)

A Royal Affair is a historical period movie that's based on true events. Taking place inside the royal court of Denmark sometime in the 1700's, not everything that takes place in the film can be verified as factual since it's not like there was an omnipresent scribe taking notes during all this. The overall plot is true though and it's definitely a story worth telling.

Writers Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg were inspired by the novel The Visit of the Royal Physician by Per Olov Enquist. However, they ran into a problem. The rights for The Visit of the Royal Physician had already been sold to another company. So what did they do? They used another book, an erotic novel surprisingly enough by the name of Prinsesse af blodet by Bodil Steensen-Leth as their source. Enquist's novel was still the main inspiration for Arcel and Heisterberg though and they simply had to ensure that their film was different enough from the book to not get into any legal trouble.


Genre: drama, history, romance
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Produced by: Meta Louise Foldager, Sisse Graum Jørgensen, Louise Vesth, etc.
Written by: Rasmus Heisterberg, Nikolaj Arcel
Music by: Cyrille Aufort, Gabriel Yared
Running time: 137 minutes
Production company: Zentropa Entertainments, Danmarks Radio, Trollhättan Film AB, etc.
Distributed by: Nordisk Film Distribution, Jour2Fête, Albatros Film, etc.
Country: Denmark, Sweden, Czech Republic
Language: Danish, English, German, French
Budget: $8,400,000
Box office: $7,594,693 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Trine Dyrholm, David Dencik, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Cyron Melville, Bent Mejding, Harriet Walter, Laura Bro, Søren Malling



Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander) leaves home to marry the King of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). She has high hopes for a fruitful marriage, but those hopes are quickly dashed when Caroline discovers that Christian is mentally ill and not an ideal husband or king. She performs her queenly duties all the same and gives birth to a son. It's not until the arrival of German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) that things begin to look up for the kingdom.


The important thing to keep in mind here is that the story takes place during the Age of Enlightenment. The Church pretty much dominated every aspect of society until this time period where French thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot and D'Alembert proposed all sorts of ideas to move away from Medieval ways of thinking. This of course caused a lot of upheaval across Europe and Denmark was one of the few countries left that completely rejected "enlightened" ways of doing things.

Additionally, Christian VII may have been the king of Denmark, but his Council, who were all opposed to the Enlightenment, were the ones who held true power in the kingdom. Christian's mental state resembled that of a child, so you can't really blame him for just signing any document put in front of him without much thought. His personal physician Struensee then found himself in an interesting spot however as an Enlightenment supporter. By befriending Christian, the power to influence politics was suddenly in his hands.

So you can easily see that the story of A Royal Affair really is an interesting one. Whether you're looking at it from a historical, character or political point of view, there's a lot of meat on the bones. A Royal Affair even impresses in a period/court drama kind of way as well. It's all too easy to get hooked into all the intrigues taking place and writers Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel are very adept at making the film heart-wrenching when it needs to be. My only complaint is that the story was a bit rushed on occasion, or at least that's what it felt like. Even though I'm sure some people wouldn't agree, I think that ARA could've run two hours and a half easily.

I love Mads Mikkelsen, but that's all too easy to say. I don't know anyone personally who doesn't and no surprise, he's great as he always is in ARA. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the mentally ill King Christian II is also very adept at his role.

The true star of A Royal Affair however, is Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. She successfully makes her character one that's easy to sympathize for which isn't always that easy when you're playing someone who's born into privilege. Vikander also handles her character's dramatic scenes without any issue at all. She excels in them in fact. (Spoilers) Her shrieks after being separated from her son and hearing the news of Struensee's execution are absolutely heartbreaking. (End Spoilers)

The production of A Royal Affair as a whole is very well executed and you'd easily think that it cost far more than its budget. Costumes and sets are rich in detail and you never feel like you're anywhere else but in the 1700's. ARA was clearly a tightly run ship during its production and it goes to show the kind of results you can get with proper planning even without $100 million budgets. 

A Royal Affair has it all when it comes to period movies. It's a superb production with strong acting and a story that catches your attention from its opening hook. The story itself develops nicely and it's hugely interesting from multiple perspectives. ARA is a movie that doesn't feel its 137 minutes in the least. 



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