Movie Review: A Royal Affair
Length: 137 minutes
Release Date: November 9, 2012
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Genre: Foreign, Drama
Stars: 4 out of 5
Those who think they won't like foreign films should make the time to see "A Royal Affair." This Danish film combines a simple love story with sweeping sets, beautiful clothing, and an unusual story for a film that will appeal to almost anyone. The film focuses on the Age of Enlightenment and how that era changed the face of Denmark.
Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) is a teenage girl who dreams of finding her one true love and escaping the drudgery of her life. Caroline is the cousin of Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), the king of Denmark. When he announces his desire to make her his bride, she gives up her simple life and moves into the palace.
Caroline finds that life behind the palace walls is not what she expected. Her husband enjoys the company of other women and has no interest in his relationship with his wife. As he tells her early in the film, "It's unfashionable to love one's wife." The king is a quirky character who seems to suffer from mental problems, but Caroline cannot express her true feelings.
The king's advisors know that he must produce an heir, so they suggest that he spend more time with his wife. Everything in their lives changes when Doctor Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) shows up at the palace. Struensee convinces the king to take back his country, and he explains to them the Enlightenment ideas that are gaining popularity in Germany. It doesn't take long before young Caroline finds herself seduced by the doctor; this relationship serves as the heart of the film.
Mikkelsen does a fantastic job of portraying a man who might have an ulterior motive. Even as he wines and dines Caroline, he seems to enjoy the time he spends with the king. The king, who is happy letting his council run the country, suddenly cares about the people around him and the Danish citizens, but his newfound concern also leaves his wife open and vulnerable. Does Struensee really want to bring Denmark into the new era, or is he simply taking advantage of a confused couple? By the end of the film, viewers will have the answer.
Vikander is another bright spot in the film, portraying Caroline as a young woman trapped between two worlds. Although she knows that she has a duty to her husband, she craves the excitement and adventure of falling in love. Struensee represents everything that she wants in the world and everything she cannot have. She wants someone who loves her unconditionally, but she finds herself stuck with a man who does not want her. Struensee makes her feel like she is beautiful and special. Even in the scenes in which the two stand across the room from each other, their chemistry is palpable.
Some viewers might draw a connection between "A Royal Affair" and the real-life relationship of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Like Diana, Caroline married a man who seldom had time for her, and like the modern princess, Caroline watched her husband have affairs with other women. Struensee gives her a chance to escape the hardships of her life, even if it means seeking comfort in the arms of another.
The true story of the star-crossed lovers is popular in Denmark and even appears in history books for children. The affair continued for a number of years, and some believe the relationship even resulted in a child. Caroline later served time in jail before moving to England, and the king executed Struensee. The film thankfully avoids the darker side of their relationship, instead focusing on how Struensee changed the life of the young princess.
"A Royal Affair" is the type of sweeping romantic drama that Hollywood stopped making years ago. Modern films like "Marie Antoinette" have tried to bring classic love stories into the modern age, but they have received bad reviews and limited earnings. "A Royal Affair" takes a classic story and does it justice.
The epic story gets a boost from the talents of top-notch actors practically unknown outside Denmark. When those actors slip into the elegant dresses and clothing and stand within the gorgeous sets, viewers may find themselves swept back into another era. "A Royal Affair" is easily one of the best foreign-language films of recent years, and it has an excellent chance of winning Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Academy Awards.