For a country best known to Americans for its progressive social policies and its invention of Lego blocks, Denmark wasn’t always at the liberal and intellectual vanguard. In the late 18th century, as the rest of Europe crept out of the mud and murk of feudalism, Denmark remained a repressive state, with a reactionary elite ruling over a population of poor peasants and serfs. Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair introduces us to a true story from this time, a love triangle among the mentally unstable and infantile Danish king Christian VII; his English-born wife, Caroline Mathilda; and the forward-thinking, German-born physician Johann Struensee, who becomes an adviser to Christian and a paramour to Caroline. A brainy bodice-ripper of a tale, it’s stuffed with sumptuous costumes, masked balls and fevered discussion of Rousseau and Voltaire. Struensee is a devotee of these Enlightenment thinkers, and as he ingratiates himself to Christian, the king becomes a pawn who pushes through his puppet master’s radical reforms. Likewise, it’s the passion of the mind, rather than of the body, that draws together Caroline and Struensee—despite the film’s title, their illicit romance isn’t terribly spicy. As Struensee, Mads Mikkelsen’s searing eyes and cut-from-stone jaw—hell, even his jutting cheekbones—exude broody passion, but Alicia Vikander’s Caroline is a bit spiritless. Mikkel Boe Folsgaard turns in an absorbing performance as the alternately feeble and malicious king (he also creepily calls Caroline “Mother”), but for all its lush details and historical richness, A Royal Affair suffers from an overlong running time and scenes of oddly excessive restraint. Like Vikander, it’s terribly pretty but just a tad flat.
- Running Time:
- Release Date: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
- MPAA Rating: R
- Critic's Score: B
- Watch the trailer