Movie Review: A Royal Affair

And now for something completely different: a movie review. Judy and I took the very unusual step (unusual for us these days) of going out to see A Royal Affair at an actual movie theater. Our son Daniel joined us, though his girlfriend was out-of-town attending a family wedding.

Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelson), Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikanda), and Christian VII (Mikkal Folsgaard)

I thought the movie was definitely worth seeing. It’s in Danish with subtitles, though, so it may not be your cup of tea if that bothers you. The film is part tragic romance, part political and historical drama.

The story takes place in Denmark in the late 18th Century, and is at least partially based on actual events. At the time, the country was a backwater of serfdom, obscurantism, and physical cruelty. It was ruled by the young and mentally unstable Christian VII (Mikkal Folsgaard), one of the three central characters. Christian is married to the unhappy Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikanda) , who feels trapped and isolated.

Things start to head in a different direction with the unlikely appointment of Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelson) as royal physician. Struensee, an idealist of great personal warmth, is able to establish a strong bond with Christian. He also falls in love with Caroline, and they begin an affair that eventually destroys them both.

At the beginning of the film, Christian is a figurehead dominated by the nobles and clergy of the royal council. Under the influence of Struensee and Caroline, however, Christian asserts his authority and enacts a variety of reforms, humanitarian and political. Ultimately, however, the forces of reaction reestablish their dominance over the country.

Dr. Struensee faces the wrath of the power structure.

It’s difficult to depict political conflict convincingly in fiction and even more so in the movies, but A Royal Affair does so compellingly. The portrayal of Christian as a titular ruler who in fact has very little control over his own life reminded me strongly of  the tragic title character in The Last Emperor.

Both Judy and Daniel agreed with me that the acting in A Royal Affair was powerfully moving. At two hours and thirteen minutes, though, they thought it could have used a bit more editing. Personally, I was not aware of the time while the movie was playing.

If you’re reluctant to see A Royal Affair because it sounds too dark, I should mention that there is an optimistic ending of sorts. I’m not sure how widely this movie is playing in the US, but if you get the chance it is a rewarding experience.

12 Comments on “Movie Review: A Royal Affair”

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