Set in the opulence of the 18th century Danish Court, A Royal Affair is a surprisingly effective tale of passion, decadence, politics and corruption at the highest level. Whilst seemingly just another costume drama, the film sets itself apart from this somewhat formulaic mold thanks to its stellar performances, weighty subject matter and wonderfully crafted look.
In recent years, British cinema has taken the lead in the cinematic world of costume dramas, with any number of Keira Knightley films (with a few others) utilising the costumes and locations that give a historic feel. However some feel these films lack anything particularly engaging. Yes they look good, and appeal to all the stiff-upper-lippers, but they hold no real interest for many. It is for this reason that the Danish film A Royal Affair was such a surprising gem of a film.
The film takes place during the reign of the unhinged King Christian VII, who after being taken ill on a tour of Europe, is joined by Johann Struensee, a radical freethinking doctor who manages to ingratiate himself into the King’s confidence. Johann also forms a scandalous relationship with the King’s new queen, the similar minded Caroline Mathilde, and together they use their combined influences to start an intellectual and freethinking revolution.
From just this short synopsis, it should be obvious how much this film has to offer. On top of the beautiful locations, impressive costume design and passionate narrative that often forms the basis of a historical drama, A Royal Affair offers a cerebral discussion on the corruption of power and the cost one must pay for progress. To link a passionate personal love story with an intelligent discussion of the morality of usurping power if it is for a noble cause is a rare yet effective mix.
Pulling this feat off is the film’s three principle cast members, led by the simmering Mads Mikkelson, whose performances are always undeniably engaging, as well as Alicia Vikander as the young, forthright queen. However, the most watchable performance comes from Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, who plays the eccentric King Christian. His magnetic performance dances on the line between madness and childish naivety, never quite tipping over the edge but coming perilously close whilst still maintaining an unexpectedly sympathetic character.
Adding credibility to these high quality performances are their surroundings, with decadence and wealth bulging from every corner of the screen. The impressive filming locations in the Czech Republic capture wonderful architecture and the lavish atmosphere needed to pull off the film’s high stakes narrative.
With its superb script intertwining a powerful love story with an intelligent and complex discussion of corruption, as well as the morality of power, A Royal Affair has everything. With its great performances, lavish surroundings and smart storyline, this is a wonderfully layered film, offering everything you could want from the surprising source of historical drama.