Film review: royal affair changed the course of history
The royal courts of Europe have always had their scandals but few have had such profound impact as that involving Danish Queen Caroline in the late 18th century.
Caroline Mathilde, a daughter of the Prince of Wales, married the mad King Christian VII in 1766. The king, however, was more interested in a whoring and drinking, having little to do with the queen or running the country.
German doctor Johnan Struensee was appointed as the king’s physician to treat Christian's mental condition and become his confident.
In a short time he managed to get the king to grant him unlimited powers to rule Denmark. He also had an affair with the queen, who eventually had a child by him.
Struensee was a reforming liberal and in his 18 months of absolute power he started to change Danish society, abolishing ownership of peasants, allowing a free press, changing the law on sentencing for minor crimes and outlawing torture.
He issued more than 1000 Cabinet orders over the period of reform but created so many enemies that he was eventually arrested and executed.
His reforming zeal even saw Voltaire send a letter of appreciation as Denmark was enacting the sort of reforms which would take the French another 15 years to achieve.
In some ways, Struensee could be compared to Napoleon in his ability to see how society could be transformed by creating a new political and social order.
The queen was banished and never saw her children again and the film begins with her telling her children of the liaison. Through the memoir she revisits the boredom, tedium and stifling atmosphere of the Danish court which in part led to her a having the affair.
The court scenes are a mixture of pomp and restraint, with director Nikolaj Arcel providing a lovely soft palette of pastels and greys, with occasional dramatic flashes of light and colour.
A Royal Affair is a sumptuous film with lingering shots of countryside and ballroom scenes cleverly contrasting with the grime and poverty of life outside the court.
It captures the conflict between the liberal thinkers of the Enlightenment and the conservative feudal attitudes of the ruling class which led to the Struensee experience and later the French Revolution.
Mads Mikklesen as Struensee gives an intense performance of a man suddenly thrust into both a world of romance and a world of political intrigue by fate and fluke.
Alicia Vikander as Mathilde does a great job as she moves from naive new court arrival and the bed chamber to a reckless lover and reluctant exile.
As Christian VII, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard could easily have made the role into a caricature of the man king. But he manages a tight performance, carefully modulating Christian’s pacifity, rampant lechery and temper tantrums.
Apart from being a lavish, unhurried film with some fine acting, it provides an insight into a slice of revealing and enlightening history.
It also manages to depict the way in which a dominant individual can change the course of history.