Reviewed by Marc Glassman
A Royal Affair
Nikolaj Arcel, director & co-script w/Rasmus Heisterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen (Johann Friedrich Struensee), Alicia Vikander (Queen Caroline Mathilde), Mikkel Folsgaard (King Christian VII), David Dencik (Ove Hoegh-Guldberg), Trina Dyrholm (Julianne)
A Royal Affair is the Danish nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It won two awards at its festival launch last year in Berlin: best script for director/writer Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg and best actor for Mikkel Folsgaard as the deranged Danish King Christian VII.
Tales of royal scandals are and always will be popular. Think of “Candles in the Wind” Diana and hope for the best for Princess Catherine and Prince William!
Back in the 1760s, Denmark had a truly notorious scandal, one for the ages. King Christian VII of Denmark, who was probably schizophrenic, unhappily married his English cousin Caroline Mathilde, whose brother became King George III of England. Both George and Christian had mental problems but Caroline Mathilde was apparently a very nice, accomplished young lady thrust into a terrible situation. Eventually, she had an affair with Dr. Johann Struensee with tragic consequences. There’s buzz around this classic tale as well as the film, which garnered festival accolades including a Gala TIFF appearance.
King Christian of Denmark and British Royal Caroline Mathilde are forced into a terrible marriage. She’s refined, naïve and optimistic. He’s delusional, brutal, overly sensitive and a philanderer. Although the two do have a child, there’s no love between them.
Christian’s increasingly bizarre mood swings alarm the court including his stepmother Queen Julianne. Friends introduce him to a radical country doctor, Johannes Struensee, whose humorous and well-intentioned manner charms Christian into a state of near normalcy.
Johannes is a believer in the Enlightenment, a movement in favour of literacy, social health and democracy that is sweeping Western intellectual circles in the period just before the American and French Revolutions. Effectively, he becomes regent of Denmark and institutes a series of reforms that anger Julianne, the older aristocrats and the Church.
Queen Caroline becomes infatuated with Johannes; she is also a supporter of the Enlightenment and he also happens to be quite charismatic (and at least in the film) devastatingly attractive. The two have an affair, which leads to her becoming pregnant. To ward off suspicion, they convince Christian to return to the royal bed after several years spent with mistresses and prostitutes.
But rumours are spreading. Queen-Mother Julianne’s forces eventually turn Christian against Johannes and Caroline. The denouement is tragic for the lovers though eventually Denmark’s Enlightenment, briefly shining under Johannes’ “regency” became more prominent and secure under the regime of Frederick VI, Caroline and Christian’s son.