Historically relevant, A Royal Affair shows its true period-drama nature in the very intelligent and detailed storyline, steadfast and conspicuous acting, and, most of all, sumptuous and glorious interiors, which actually enhance the visual experience significantly. The film expressively reminds the world once again about the illicit affair between Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), the beautiful Queen of Denmark, and the enlightened, German-born physician named Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). In all its courtly essence, A Royal Affair presents this 18th century tale with utmost thoroughness, adding huge amounts of tension to its naturalistic substance with every following minute.
It starts very similarly to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, with a young princess bound to marry a king she doesn’t even know, through the old-fashioned way of a royal transaction. Right after the queen finally sets her lovely eyes on the mysterious husband-to-be one thing is certain – there is something wrong with his majestic appearance. Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) giggles nervously, and is more interested in greeting his own dog than the woman, with whom he will probably (but not likely) spend the rest of his palace life. Right after the both absolutely awkward and truly humorous announcement of king’s nightly visit in his wife’s bedroom, and Caroline’s anxiously awaited pregnancy, it becomes perfectly clear that those two characters won’t even pretend that they’re in love with each other. The king wanders angrily around the luxurious chambers making fun of everyone, ostentatiously uncovering all of his biggest weaknesses. At the same time, the queen spends most of her time with the newborn baby. Soon the king sets off for a long European trip and, in just a few days, his mental illness becomes much worse. This is the moment when Johan Struensee first shows his handsome face. Apart from his unquestionable medical abilities, he proves to be a great admirer of the Enlightenment movement’s greatest thinkers and their innovative works, and that’s what makes him an ideal partner for the king. After returning to the country, their companionship grows stronger every day. Unfortunately, so does Johan’s affection towards the queen’s awe-inspiring persona. Scheming behind the back of the wig-wearing, ignorant council, Caroline and Struensee use the gullible king for the sake of a greater good – they create many reformative laws and – using Christian’s powerful yet unstable hand – they end up improving the whole land and its citizens’ life, rushing Denmark towards the desired Enlightenment.
As history so often shows, when there is the optimistic, hard-working side there must also be the pessimistic, mischievous one. In A Royal Affair, it takes the form of an ominous, recalcitrant aristocrat named Ove Høegh-Guldberg (David Dencik). Conspiring along with Christian’s stepmother Juliane Marie (Trine Dyrholm) he comes up with a perfect plan to get rid of the unwanted German and, at the same time, bring back Denmark’s old ‘glory’. Revealing the shocking truth about queen being pregnant with Struensee he wreaks havoc among the society. The return of the Dark Ages is upon Denmark, as the king gave in to Ove’s strong and convincing arguments and, ultimately, to his own illness. Johann and Caroline are banished from the Kingdom, just to see that, sadly, their thorough plan wasn’t actually meant to help anyone.
With its splendidly high entertainment value, A Royal Affair turns out to be a history lesson for everyone. The considerable attention to details in plot and in art design enhances the experience significantly. The costumes are picture-perfect, the music flows adequately to the events, and the ongoing transition in the film’s atmosphere intensifies reception of the whole. A Royal Affair possesses a great energy, which shows its true strength in all the performances. Without offending anyone from the amazing cast, it’s important to note that Mads Mikkelsen gave the most award-worthy performance, showing the straightforwardly persuasive impassiveness that may really convince his fans and anti-fans alike. Therefore, those irrefutable acting skills – combined with a well-written script and steady direction = make A Royal Affair one of the most spellbinding Danish movies.