A few years ago an award-winning Swedish novelist, Per Olov Enquist, wrote The Visit of the Royal Physician dramatising the true story of an illicit affair between the mad King Christian’s physician and the English born queen of Denmark, Caroline Mathilda. In the early 1770’s the love affair triggered one of the most dramatic series of events in Danish history. Enquist’s book won many literary prizes and became a best-seller in Sweden, and I have been raving about it for years.
So you can imagine I was both sceptical and excited to be invited to a pre-screening of the first ever film version of the story.
A Royal Affair begins with an older Queen Caroline, sitting at a desk alone, writing a letter to her estranged children. Next we go back in time and see her at the age of sixteen, when she is preparing to leave her native England to travel to Denmark. She is delighted to be fulfilling the role of a Queen, something which she’s been prepared for all her life – yet she’s fearful she’ll not be accepted in the foreign court.
Caroline is played by Alicia Vikander, who immediately charms the viewer with her beauty and vunerlabilty. Yet, you have a sense that behind this weakness lies a strong character. I very much liked Vikander in the role. She was given very few lines all throughout the film, but with her expressions and movements, she was able to convey how a woman in her position – a young, naive girl thrown into the murky politics of a foreign court – was little able to change her position. Until, that is, love of a great man, gives her hope and strength.
|Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen|
The other party of the fated love story, the Physician Johann Struensee, is played by Mads Mikkelsen (of Bond film, Casino Royale fame). Struensee is a man who believes in the Enlightenment. He has written anonymous papers on Equalitarianism and social welfare. Mikkelsen, who is supposed to portray the idealistic and kind Doctor, seems at first too rough and (dare I say it) too old for the part of the romantic male lead. But when Struensee falls in love with Queen Caroline and shows her what he is willing to do to reach his aims for a better Denmark, Mikkelsen’s demeanour softens. He just exudes steamy sexiness as his desire for the young, unattainable Queen grows.
As the two lovers gain political power and begin to reform the Danish society, their combined sense of innocent hope is infectious – yet there’s a strong feeling that all will not end well.
The script written by three writers, amongst them the Director Nikolaj Arcel, is composed well enough. The narrative hints at the historical events without being too obscure or patronising the viewer with too may facts and dates. The characters develop nicely, and more importantly they don’t seem to be 21st century people stuck in 18th century costumes, as often is the case in period dramas.
However, the pace of the two hour long film is slow. Arcel drew his inspiration for A Royal Affair from the great epic films of the 40′ and 50′ when ‘films would often feel like literary works, which didn’t necessarily follow an obvious screenplay roadmap’. This method, however, leaves the viewer at times without any direction; a lingering look at a sweeping landscape was probably acceptable some 60 or 70 years ago, but today, when we can download almost any film in minutes to watch on our iPads, it makes the viewer shift in his seat. I felt there were too many shots of Queen Caroline’s graceful neck, and the camera was held for a little too long on the peaceful Danish flatlands.
But all in all, this is a very enjoyable film. It’s atmospheric and smouldering, with excellent acting throughout. Even the predictably nasty old Queen Julianne played by Trine Dyrholm, was a wholly believable character. Her constant plotting against Queen Caroline gave the film its Machiavellian flavour, and kept the audience on its toes.
I predict (as far as you can ever predict) A Royal Affair will do well at the box office. How could it not? It’s Danish, it has period costumes, there’s sex, intrigue and even madness. Anyone who’s been hooked on The Killing, Borgen or the latest, hugely popular, TV detective series, The Bridge, will love A Royal Affair.
A Royal Affair
In cinemas 15 June 2012