Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Thinking about A Royal Affair, my mind began to make comparisons to another “historical” movie, Lincoln. Spielberg took a well-known historical figure and stripped him of any nuance, boiling complex events into simplistic fluff. Here, director Nikolaj Arcel is examining the reign of Denmark’s King Christian VII. Being a proud American, I know absolutely nothing about this man … and can only hope that what’s being portrayed on-screen isn’t the same kind of broad generalization.
Played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, the King is not shown in a very favorable light, depicted as the spoiled product of a royal blood line who has good intentions but is driven into near madness by his wife (Alicia Vikander). A British woman, their marriage was arranged and meant to bolster relations between the two countries. The introduction of a physician (Mads Mikkelsen) sporting the ideas of philosophical enlightenment creates a love triangle that would have profound effects on the future of Denmark.
Not being able to comment on the historical accuracy, I’ll get right to critiquing the filmmaking. Arcel and his team do a marvelous job of production design and costumes, transporting the audience back into the 18th century. The film looks good enough and the script balances the focus between the romantic angle and historical events … for the most part (I’ll get to that shortly).
To no surprise, what sells the film are its performances. While I’ve seen much better from Mikkelsen, his stoic nature is a nice counterbalance to the unrestrained emotion of Følsgaard’s take on the King. Vikander is really the main character here and she acquits herself well, though it’s the kind of role audiences familiar with period pieces like this have seen time and time again. If you took out the Danish politics, you’d basically be left with a Jane Austen novel.
All of that isn’t to say there aren’t flaws. The main deterrent to recommending this movie, even to fans of the genre, is how long and drawn out the film ends up being. I understand there was a lot of ground to cover but after the first hour we can all see where things are going and what had began as a well-balanced script becomes almost a run-on film (much like this sentence); with the unpredictable stopping point making the already methodical pacing feel that much longer. It’s towards the end where it seems like Arcel wasn’t sure whether he wanted to make a film that was primarily about the romance or the history, and the end result fell somewhere in the middle.
Watching the movie, it made me wish I was more aware of Danish history. That’s a good thing as it sparks curiosity but it also means that if any Danes out there think the film pulled a “Lincoln“, I wouldn’t be in a position to argue. Still, A Royal Affair should please fans of period romances, as long as they realize this doesn’t boast any of the light-heartedness one might find in a movie with the likes of a Colin Firth. This is a much grimmer portrayal of the confined statuses people endured during a time period dominated by aristocracy and bloodline-appointed leadership. The quality of the movie is decent enough to warrant a trip to the theaters, but the decision to do so depends more so on your predilection for the genre than almost anything else.
A Royal Affair is rated R for sexual content and some violent images.
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