A Royal Affair


Directed by Nikolaj Arcel. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Følsgaard, Trine Dyrholm. 15A cert, limited release, 137 min

Here’s a brief for an obscure film festival nobody would wish to attend: movies about commoners whose closeness to the monarch causes civil unrest. There’s Hammer’s Rasputin, The Mad Monk. You could screen Mrs Brown. Space could certainly be found for this lavish, engrossing, but somewhat overlong, period piece from Denmark.

Nikolaj Arcel’s picture concerns the relationship between Queen Caroline Matilda, wife to barmy King Christian VII, and her husband’s (if the current casting is to be believed) suave, charismatic physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mikkelsen).

The picture begins with Caroline Matilda (Vikander), daughter to the Prince of Wales, being dispatched to the Danish court. She does not like what she finds. Young, selfish King Christian (Følsgaard) turns out to be as jittery as Jedward and as mean- spirited as Flashman. She manages to endure his company long enough to bear a son, then retreats to the privacy of her own boudoir.

The atmosphere changes when Struensee, a German with Enlightenment views, turns up to minister to her increasingly deranged husband. He manages to inveigle his way into cabinet meetings and begins nudging the country towards liberalism. All might have progressed swimmingly if he had not then begun an affair with the Queen.

Mikkelsen, as sleek as ever, makes something genuinely interesting of the doctor. His political ambitions are admirable – an end to torture, rejection of feudalism – but his Machiavellian methods remain dubious. The relationship with the Queen plays out with a buttoned-up tension that passes for passion in northern climes.

The film-makers do an impressive job of rendering 18th-century Copenhagen on a limited budget and manage to make the most labyrinthine political manoeuvres lucid. Pay attention and you will grasp the beginnings of Denmark’s famous liberalism.

The picture is certainly 20 minutes too long and more leisurely than it needs be. But its intelligence is never in question.