Fresh from Denmark, historical drama A Royal Affair tells the true story of a scandal that rocked Danish society in the late 18th century. Caroline (Alicia Vikander), whose elder brother became King George III, leaves her native England to marry Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard). So set for life then? Well not quite. After marrying, Caroline soon realises that the young King is a few cards short of a deck – i.e he’s nuts – and suffers from severe mood changes, extreme paranoia and apparently has a worrying penchant for masturbation. She resigns herself to this miserable life with the unpredictable Christian certain that she will remain unhappy forever.
Whilst on a tour of Europe Christian’s mental instability worsens and Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) a German doctor is called in to help. He immediately strikes a bond with the troubled King, understanding his problems and is brought back to Denmark as the royal physician. Caroline and the doctor slowly start to fall in love and before you know it the two of them become involved in an illicit affair. Meanwhile Christian, through Struensee’s help, has gained the confidence to speak up in council of state meetings to the shock of councilmen who had previously ignored and controlled him. Struensee and Caroline, who both seek to reform Denmark and help those of the lower classes, realise the potential power they have through the newly invigorated Christian and, somewhat naively, set out to change Denmark.
Mikkelsen, who many will remember as the ball-busting baddie from Casino Royale, gives a fine performance although arguably not a great deal is actually required from him until the final 15 minutes. Swedish actress Vikander is similarly watchable despite a rather dull narration she gives which bookends the film. No, the real stand out here is Følsgaard who is marvellous as the loopy Christian making him a wholly sympathetic, amusing and interesting character complete with his own nervous take on the mad, idiotic laugh famously used by Mozart in Milos Forman’s masterpiece Amadeus.
Scriptwriters Nikolaj Arcel (who also directed) and Rasmus Heisterberg clearly understand what they have in Christian and the film really becomes quite fascinating in how it explores his development as a character as well as his relationship with Struensee. From his beginning awkwardness to his more comedic side coming out later – he happily announces to the rest of the council how he wishes to declare war on ‘shit’ – through to the touching final third of the film his is the most enthralling journey. Perhaps the only detrimental aspect of this is that it rather overshadows the central storyline of the Struensee and Caroline affair which seems fairly pedestrian in how it’s handled in comparison.
Nevertheless, A Royal Affair remains an entertaining if slightly overlong ride for which the filmmakers deserve credit for crafting such a beautiful film on a non-Hollywood budget. The sets, costumes and locations are stunning, authentic and nothing short of picturesque. However the thing that really captivates is a nutcase who tries to get his dog elected into his council and who has a particular fondness for “hookers with big breasts”. His words not mine.
A Royal Affair (2012), directed by Nikolaj Arcel, is distributed in the UK by Metrodome, Certificate 15.