A Royal Affair [En kongelig affære], the 2012 Danish film by director Nikolaj Arcel, has just missed out on an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2013 Academy Awards. Up against the critically-acclaimed Amour, which earned the lead actress, Emmanuelle Riva, a win at this year’s British Academy Film and Television Awards, A Royal Affair need not hang its head in shame for missing out on the statue. This film is a wonderfully directed, melancholic portrayal of life in the court of the insane King Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Følsgaardon) on the eve of the enlightenment in Europe during the 18th Century. The director has created an opulent, engaging and entirely believable world in which the characters tragedies draw you into their story.
The narrative follows Caroline Mathilde’s (Alicia Vikander) life inside the Danish Court; a life consumed by her conflicted beliefs, her role as mother, wife and queen, and her relationship with the King’s closest friend and eventual political overseer Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). Viklander is a compelling screen presence and delivers a mesmerising performance as the young Danish Queen. You can easily see why her talent was recognised in the Rising Star Category at the BAFTA’s this year. At her side, Mikkelsen puts in a solid and commendable performance as Johann, but it is Følsgaardon’s portrayal of the sick young King that really stood out. He portrays intensity, vulnerability and insanity all at once and manages to create empathy towards an otherwise unlikeable character.
Arcel has not broken any boundaries with A Royal Affair, but what he has done he has done extremely well. This film is an epic history lesson with a love affair at its heart which has genuine passion and plenty of credibility. The characters have been written flawlessly and the film manages to retain atmosphere and show restraint despite the sheer size of the story. As well as great performances from the leading actors, the supporting cast nail down their roles and collectively they manage to bring a truth to the period without resorting to pantomime. The film was long at 140 mins but glided by at a pace and never dropped the ball or descended into unnecessary scenery chewing.