Star rating – 7/10
If you’re a fan of an intelligent and interesting costume drama, (and I confess that I am), then look no further than Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair. It is the fascinating and true story of romantic intrigue and radical political thinking during the reign of King Christian VII of Denmark in the late 1700’s.
Alicia Vikander plays Caroline Mathilde, the English princess and sister of King George III, who is married off to the young Danish monarch, unaware of his mental frailties and eccentric behaviour. She tries her best to perform her queenly duties, and indeed is soon pregnant with their son. Christian’s behaviour is so odd, apparently it is suspected that he had schizophrenia, that the help of a personal physician is called upon to give him round the clock medical attention.
In comes Mads Mikkelsen as Johann Struensee with his radical philosophies and fantastic cheekbones. If it was fiction it would be labelled as far-fetched, that someone who courted the Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire would be allowed so much access to and influence on the king. But Struensee succeeded in getting the childlike Christian to trust him, and also to exert more of his constitutional powers to introduce radical reform. And of course he also succeeded in getting very close to Caroline Mathilde.
You suspect that if his only crime was his passionate affair with the beautiful young queen, then this would have been overlooked, but his political influence on the king proved too much of a threat to the old guard politicians, and tragedy ensued.
Arcel’s film is beautifully shot, and documents a little known (in this country at any rate) and fascinating period of history. It is perhaps a little overlong at a shade over two hours, but he elicits wonderful performances from his two romantically entwined leads, Vikander and Mikkelsen. Both are set to be in the public eye in a much bigger way with their forthcoming roles in Anna Karenina and The Hunt. And Mikkel Boe Følsgaard is also outstanding as the half mad king. This sumptuous piece is just the thing for a wet summer’s day afternoon...