Saturday, February 02, 2013

A Royal Affair (En Kongelig Affære)

Asking for It

The title would have you think that this is yet another bedroom scandal within one of many royal families of old being put on screen. Well, it's that, and actually a lot more, with Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel taking a look back in the history of the country in the 18th Century, under the rule of King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), a volatile man for his rumoured mental illness, told from the view of his Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) from England, which inevitably covered the titular affair with the Royal Physician Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German seen to be wielding too much influence on both the King, Queen, and his hundreds of reforms introduced by being de-facto regent.

If focused alone on the affair, then we'd see how Caroline, promising and every bit the lady a Queen ought to be, got quickly put in her place quite unceremoniously by none other than her King and husband, and a rather public one at that. In fact, everything went southwards in their relationship, with the King having mental issues, and a penchant for womanizing. One can feel for Caroline being short-changed, thinking that her royal life in the Danish household was one that was a walk in the park. In comes Johann from one of King Christian VII's European tours, with whom he shares a trusted bonding with since he's able to address, at times pander, but most times handle, the King's mood swings and erratic behaviour, and soon enough Johann's attention and mutual attraction with the Queen, led to a very physical affair that would be exposed once she got pregnant.

For those not interested in bedroom stories, this sprawling epic also covers the requisite power struggles within any royal household, with tales of jealousy, greed, and that of ineptness and corruption all rolled into one. It provided an insight to the process where bills got passed, which were ultimately signed by the King, and how this can usually be circumvented by the powers of the few noblemen, for their interests to be passed by the going through of the motions. There was a comment made at one point late in the film that dealt with religion being mixed together with politics, but may be felt as a little bit too late, since it's likely the filmmakers didn't want a certain vocal supporting character to be felt like he's bring targeted because of his background.

And if reforms is what you're interested in, Johann's subscription to the Enlightenment movement, being responsible for many reformative ideas being bandied around the land, becomes something on interest in the film as well. It shows how change can come from within, but only if you have someone on the inside willing to make and be the change put forth. The ideas introduced are far-ranging, from the abolishing of the peasant system, the abolishing of torture to things like freedom of the press and the abolishing of censorship, though it somehow did a balancing act when these powers return to bite its master's hands. So it's like a two edged sword, where freedom got provided, and the same freedom being used by the opposition to try and bring one down.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander makes for an arresting Queen, where you would be able to feel her willingness to risk everything for that level of affection, attention and closeness she craves when she lacked a proper support structure within the royal family. Mads Mikkelsen plays that charismatic doctor, and made it believable with his strong conviction of wanting to improve the lives of people, despite being judged most of the time as an outsider, and a meddler who has the ears of the kings. How he got dealt with in the end was rather ironic, and goes to show the fickleness of people, especially the masses, when it's easy for them to be manipulated to feel in a certain way, which is fair game, really. And rounding up the key trio in the film is Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as King Christian VII, an almost man-boy king of sorts who prefers to play than to rule, and is often tethering on the edge of some crazed, illogical behaviour.

With lush production sets, costumes and art direction, requisite essentials for any period movie, all combining perfectly to make it one enjoyable blast from the past, A Royal Affair proved to be a wonderful retelling of the political scene of the time, led by self-interests, the protection of one's turf, the constant lying and scheming for power by the inept, and betrayal all rolled into one. And sometimes, things just don't change that much too, especially when the same qualities get seen elsewhere even in today's day and age. A definite recommend!

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