The rise of Danish cinema more or less began in the nineties, when the likes of Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg came together to form the prolific Dogme 95 movement. Ever since then, despite it’s still rather underrated status among Western audiences, Danish cinema has gone to rise even further in prominence; producing such critically acclaimed films as The Hunt and Nymphomaniac, as well as giving precedence to award-winning directors like Nicolas Winding-Refn and Susanne Bier.
However, in making a case for Danish cinema to English audiences, my first suggestion would be to watch Nikolaj Arcel’s 2012 historical drama, A Royal Affair, starring Mads Mikklesen and Hollywood’s current golden girl, Alicia Vikander. The film is based on the true events surrounding Queen Caroline Mathilde and her relationships with both her husband King Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard) and his revolutionary-minded physician, Johann Struensee.
If you’re a fan of historical dramas and your typical Keira Knightley-lead aristocratic romances (The Duchess, Anna Karenina, etc.), then you will likely feel a sense of familiarity in this film, despite it’s foreign language. Indeed, A Royal Affair has all the robust grandeur that you’d expect from a film of that nature, but with the elevated lift that comes from the physical performances of the lead actors. As a casual English moviegoer, the thought of reading subtitles may well fill you with dread, but the visual chemistry between the characters – particularly Mikklesen and Vikander – is so intoxicating that the language becomes almost irrelevant.
This isn’t to say that the story itself isn’t interesting of course; the ever-changing plot which fluctuates between the lustful passion of the eponymous affair and the revolutionary politics that Struensee influences upon the nation is fascinating. And the way the plot comes to it’s rather macabre conclusion is similarly enthralling, if not somewhat upsetting.
The film also received a wave of critical acclaim upon release, including nominations for Best Foreign Language film at both the 85th Academy Awards and the 70th Golden Globe Awards. It also received two Silver Bear awards at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, awarding recognition to the film’s script as well as Mikkel Følsgaard’s performance. British film critic Mark Kermode also deemed it the Best Film of 2012 alongside Berberian Sound Studio in his annual list for that year.
Beautifully directed, and complimented by a superb cast and a compelling story, A Royal Affair is well worth a watch.
A Royal Affair (2012), directed by Nikolaj Arcel, is available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray through Metrodome Distribution. Certificate 15.