A Royal Affair (2012)

This Danish reconstruction of a significant feature of its 18th century history provided some nuance into how the world hadn’t changed too much in 250 years, despite Denmark being revealed as one of Europe’s most backward countries, determinedly keeping the Enlightenment from breaching its borders.

MIKKELSEN & VIKANDER

A Royal Affair (2012) explains what happened when a young English princess is arranged married to the young and very immature King of Denmark and then has an affair with the Svengali-like court doctor, who has gained immeasurable powers due to his friendship with the King.

However, the film is also an examination of absolute power; well-intentioned ideals being weighed against monetary cost; the influence of fear politics on the public; and good old sex. If only the major players in political life could keep that thing in their trousers!

Dr Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) wins appointment to the court of King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgaard) by realising the young, desperately unhappy monarch, considered mad by his court, needs a friend more than a physician.

By saving Christian’s son from a smallpox epidemic, Struensee also wins the confidence and eventual bedroom favour of the Queen, Caroline (Alicia Vikander), who is living in the loveless, arranged marriage.  The Queen believes she has done her duty by producing Frederick VI, heir to the throne, wants no more part of her whoring husband and the feeling is mutual (“So many princesses and I get the grumpy one” he explains to the doctor-friend).

Christian’s rubber stamping of policy bores him and he invites Struensee to attend council meetings where the influence of church and nobility make decisions that do nothing to improve the lot of the King’s peasant constituents.

FOLSGAARD & MIKKELSEN

As a German interloper, Struensee is not trusted and when the King begins ‘acting’ as a regal and introducing his own policies, suspicions turn to mistrust and an attempt is made to banish the good doctor.

As a German interloper, Struensee is not trusted and when the King begins ‘acting’ as a regal and introducing his own policies, suspicions turn to mistrust and an attempt is made to banish the good doctor.

Here Christian proves his mettle, stands up to the council, sacks them and appoints himself and Struensee as sole decision makers. Sweeping reforms take place but eventually the King is bored with his role and his Svengali produces a power of attorney so he can sign the policy decisions alone.

Here Christian proves his mettle, stands up to the council, sacks them and appoints himself and Struensee as sole decision makers. Sweeping reforms take place but eventually the King is bored with his role and his Svengali produces a power of attorney so he can sign the policy decisions alone.

Meanwhile, the Queen is getting a bit toey, falls head over heels for The Man Who Would Be King and takes him to her bed every night. This leads to an unwanted pregnancy, the King having to be misled back into her chamber and thinking the new child, a daughter, is his. 

BABY MAKES 3: COMPLICATIONS ARISE

In the shadows, Christian’s stepmother is moving against the German and wants her son to be considered the King and the worst of the banished councillors, Guldberg (David Dencik) plots to overthrow the regime.

Guldberg is a devout church man and it is this naïve God devotion that has kept his lot in power. If the peasant stock fears God, they can be kept under control; Struensee doesn’t believe in God and therefore is a huge danger. 

As his enlightened reforms take hold, it is ironic that one of the first to be promulgated is banning censorship and this eventually leads the King to realise he has been duped by his friend when he is shown a pornographic cartoon of Struensee visiting the Queen’s bedroom.  (Later in the film, when Caroline is stoned on laudanum and in her underwear refusing to dress for a costume ball, Struensee sits opposite, she sprawled relaxed on an armchair with legs spread and the doctor leaning forward to talk. It is an eerie reconstruction of the cartoon, minus the sexual act).

Things are falling apart, not least because the well-meaning policies are not costed and the country is going belly up. Struensee’s reaction is to cut costs and this badly affects the nobility and the military which proves his undoing, exacerbated by the revelation that he is the father of the princess.

Wicked behaviour by church, nobility and royalty and naïve weakness by the King, lead to Caroline’s banishment to neighbouring Germany and Struensee’s beheading.

The peasants come out in force to witness this and I had the feeling they were totally unconcerned the hated German was going to lose his melon. Gratitude didn’t enter their hearts and reminded me of Mel Brooks’ line in History of the World, Part 1 (1981) when a Count declares: “Sire, the peasants are revolting.” Brooks’s Louis XVI of France replies “You ain’t kiddin’. They stink on ice.”

However, when Struensee’s head falls there is no cheer from the mob. Did they realise what they had lost?

According to the post-film explanation, Frederick VI reached maturity and overthrew the pretenders – with the help of his father – then ruled Denmark for 55 years, introducing all of and more Struensee reforms and their like. 

A happy ending to a sad story which I thought could have been told in less time.

Mikkelsen was broody but effective; Vikander portrayed youth and later maturity with skill; but all plaudits to Folsgaard, who was still attending film school when he played Christian. A glittering career looks assured.

Score: 3

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