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royal affair

Seems that around Oscar time overseas film studios submit their big prestige flicks to vie for the foreign language film award. Often it’s a sprawling historical costume epic, which is the case for Denmark’s entry A ROYAL AFFAIR. There’s elaborate period dress, opulent interiors, and, as the title suggests, a juicy bit of scandal. The majority of AFFAIR takes place in the 18th century during the reign of King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgaard), particularly his arranged marriage to England’s Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander). Caroline is apprehensive about leaving her home for a foreign land and nuptials with a complete stranger. She hastily learns the language and customs, but no amount of study prepares her for life with the king. He’s a coarse brute that abuses her verbally and physically almost from their first meeting, a spoiled brat who’s humored manipulated by advisors and elected officials. Soon the King is ignoring his new bride completely, preferring to spend nearly every evening at a brothel. But shortly things are shaken up at the dreary castle. Two former members of the King’s inner circle hear that His Majesty is in need of a new court physician. They convince the German-born Doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelesen) to interview for the position (and maybe restore their former status). The King takes an immediate liking to the blunt older man and soon they’re spending many hours together. The Queen doesn’t warm up to the doctor as quickly, but they bond over a love of literature and philosophy (and they’re two strangers in a strange land). After sharing books, they eventually share a bed. They also devise a plan. They’ll unite to persuade the King to end the feudal system and make Denmark a more democratic country. This upsets the ruling classes and the politicians who soon conspire to rid the formerly disinterested ruler of these two unwanted influencers.

Director Nikolaj Arcel has crafted a gorgeous looking drama. The royal court is breath-taking with colorful tapestries and splendid furnishings that dazzle the eye. We can almost feel the crisp, cool air as the principals stroll the meadows outside the castles and mansions. Of course it’s a fine cast of actors that really make this tale come to life. Vikander (recently seen in her first English film ANNA KARENINA) really grabs our sympathies the neglected queen. She’s truly a beautiful bird trapped in a golden, gilded cage. After enduring constant humiliations from her husband, she’s finely able to breathe thanks to the new member of the staff. That, of course, is Mikkelsen (CASINO ROYALE, CLASH OF THE TITANS) who brings a leading man authority to the role of the enlightened physician. He puts up an emotional defensive wall when he meets the queen, but it’s the love of ideas rather than physical attraction that melts away the barriers. The real scene stealer may be Folsgaard as the ultimate “upper class twit of the year” (as the Monty Python troupe would say). He behaves like a clueless buffoon (who fancies himself a fine thespian) and a cruel, abusive beast, but he gains some understanding as an overly sheltered, pampered man-child who just wants an honest friend (and who may be mentally ill). It’s a spirited, energetic performance. A ROYAL AFFAIR is an interesting drama full of lies, deception, and intrigue (fascinating to see how the disgruntled politicians used xenophobia to rile up the poplace..the doctor is “the wicked German”). Seems that scandals were shaping public policies many centuries ago.

3 Out of 5 Stars

A ROYAL AFFAIR screens exclusively in the St. Louis area at Landmark’s Plaza Fontenac Cinemas

Royal_Affair poster

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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