18-24 January 2013 #639

A Royal Affair

This film nominated for the Oscars will take the audience back to an era that is terrifying for all who chose to transgress from their proscribed boundaries.
Sophia Pande

The awards season is here and with it a slew of films clamouring to win, some worthy and some not. Most of these films will become available to us, however, in the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category there are always a few that many of us will never see.

Happily, that is not the case with A Royal Affair, one of the five films nominated in the above-mentioned category. An entry from Denmark, A Royal Affair is a period film costume drama based on the real life story of Johann Friedrich Struensee an 18th Century German physician and philosopher who finds himself at the Danish court, hired to be the caretaker of King Christian VII of Denmark, a monarch who is mentally disabled, child-like, occasionally mean-spirited and extremely persuadable.

The story centres around two main relationships, that between Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) and King Christian (played by Mikkel Folsgaard and whom the doctor calls by his first name), and the inevitable love affair that develops between Struensee and the young, beautiful, andspirited Queen, Caroline Mathilde played by the lovelyAlicia Vikander.

As Christian becomes increasingly more attached to Struensee, the conservative Danish court of the time becomes anxious, seeking to exile the forward thinking doctor and retain control of a legal system where the old men pull all the strings of the puppet like King. It is the reverse that happens with Christian bestowing Struensee with unlimited power, finally empowering himself and actively changing the history of Denmark with such a decision.

Unfortunately, as Caroline and Struensee’s love affair unfolds, so too does the scheming of Christian’s envious and omniscient mother. While perhaps not strictly historically accurate, what follows is the most tragic of stories. Christian is finally happy surrounded and cared for by the people he loves, namely Struensee and Caroline, so it is with horror and pity that we see his grief at his mother’s whisperings.

With one fell swoop, the power hungry mother of the monarch reverses much, but not all, of the philanthropic laws that Struensee had implemented (such as the freedom to publish) and exiles Caroline. Struensee, meanwhile, is imprisoned bythe decree of the very monarch whom he had come to thinkof as a son.

Costume dramas are period pieces that strive to recreate a time of the past and not all of them succeed. The high-flown language and the archaic customs often serve to irritate viewers in lesser films of the genre.

A Royal Affair however, is deserving of your time and energy. While ultimately tragic, the characters are greatly engaging and Mads Mikkelsen as Struensee are not to be missed. While Michael Haneke’s film Amour is likely to take the foreign language film prize at the Oscar ceremony in February (and possibly even win the ‘Best Picture’ category), A Royal Affair is a gem of a film that will take you back to an era that is both beautiful to look at, but terrifying for all who chose to transgress from their proscribed boundaries.

Watch trailer