A ROYAL AFFAIR (EN KONGELIG AFFæRE) (director/writer: Nikolaj Arcel; screenwriters: Rasmus Heisterberg/from the novel by Bodil Steensen-Leth; cinematographer: Rasmus Videbaek; editors: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen/Kasper Leick; music: Gabriel Yared and Cyrille Aufort; cast: Mads Mikkelsen (Johann Friedrich Struensee), Alicia Vikander (Queen Caroline Mathilda), Mikkel Boe Folsgaard (King Christian VII), David Dencik (Guldberg), Bent Mejding (Bernstoff), Laura Bro (Louise von Plessen), Thomas Gabrielsson (Rantzau), Brandt (Cyron Melville) Trine Dyrholm (Dowager Queen Juliane); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating:R; producers: Louise Vesth/Sisse Graum Jorgensen/Meta Foldager; Magnolia Pictures; 2012-Denmark/Czech Republic/Sweden/Germany-in Danish with English subtitles)

“Slow moving factually based historical drama about political intrigue and sex among the royals in 18th century oppressive Denmark.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nikolaj Arcel(“Catch That Kid”/”Island of Lost Souls”/”King’s Game”) adroitly directs this slow moving factually based historical drama about political intrigue and sex among the royals in 18th century oppressive Denmark. It’s based on the novel by Bodil Steensen-Leth, and is written by Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg. The old-fashioned costume drama never catches fire as either a love story or as a political potboiler, as its blandness keeps it so-so. It’s questionable as a good historical drama because it stretches the truth about how much the foreign queen was responsible for the introduction of revolutionary ideas into Denmark.

It opens with an ailing Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander), in 1775, writing to her children, as the film has a flashback to her arrival at the Danish court in 1766 as a naive but cultured teenager who is astonished to find that her husband, King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), the king of Denmark, in an arranged marriage is a mental case.

The new queen, a supporter of the Enlightenment, finds Denmark to be an oppressive country, ruled by a reactionary Council headed by Bernstoff (Bent Mejding), and that her nutty husband goes along with the Council’s wishes to suppress his subjects and shows her no love.

The cunning step-mother of the king, thetreacherous Dowager Queen Juliane (Trine Dyrholm), and the king’s ambitious, manipulative tutor, Guldberg (David Dencik), are sickened that despite the rocky marriage the Queen is able to give birth to an heir and thereby reduce the chances of her son taking the throne.

Scheming nobles Rantzau (Thomas Gabrielsson) and Brandt (Cyron Melville), on the outside of this administration because they favor the Enlightenment sweeping over the rest of Europe, encourage the appointment of poor country doctor, Dr. Struensee (Mikkelsen), a German intellectual from the Danish colony of Altoona, to be the King’s personal physician. The doctor has written an anonymous tract praising the Enlightenment movement.

The savvy Struensee, when appointed as the king’s physician, befriends the troubled King and soothes his anxieties about being a ruler. The King now takes his advice to pass progressive reforms that will make him admired among the masses as a fair-minded ruler. Struensee becomes the King’s confidant and, eventually, when the King dissolves his Council for disobedience, he then makes the foreign doctor his chief minister.

Caroline finds she shares the same ideas about the Enlightenment with the good doctor, who loans her his valued collection of Voltaire, Rousseau and Holberg. Soon they’re also sharing the same bed in her chamber, and the country becomes a more decent place where reforms that benefit the peasants and serfs at the expense of the nobles make it the envy of Europe.

But the reforms are short-lived, as Guldberg and the Dowager fight back by enraging the foreign hating masses about accepting being ruled by foreigners, get the court stirred up over the royal affair and rally the nobles to fight against their loss of privileges and money–ordered to pay back taxes and give up their sinecures. Thereby the nobles are able to take back their kingdom.