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Aug 15, 2013

Review: A Royal Affair (2012)

           Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, David Dencik, Soren Malling, Trine Dyrholm, William Johnk Nielsen, Cyron Bjorn Melville, Rosalinde Mynster, Laura Bro, Bent Mejding, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Soren Spanning, John Martinus, Erika Guntherova, Harriet Walter and Klaus Tange


                   Nikolaj Arcel


                 This Danish movie alongside the French "Farewell, My Queen" from last year were both costume dramas giving us a peek inside two different countries and their past within the royal setup. Both had a different approach, i prefer the latter mentioned movie's level of intimacy by making us a character as we "follow" Lea Seydoux as she sees the various events unfold right in front of her own eyes before the defining moment that comes later on. This however is a very straight-forward historical/costume drama that gives us the account of the 18th century Denmark but is a better movie overall. Of course, since it is a Danish movie, you know its style and look is going to be very different. A Royal Affair as the title suggests involves a love triangle. The King Christian VII of Denmark is mentally ill but still, British Princess Caroline is betrothed to him. Life is completely different here, things are quite messed up here. The queen soon has an affair with the royal physician, the German Dr. Johann Struensee. Things then gets far worse than they were but still on the way, they make reforms proving to be worthwhile for the condition of the country but not for them. A Royal Affair maintains a very chilly and misty look throughout, the romance at the center is the only warmth we as a viewer get to have. But its not enough, its not everything. The "revolution" sparks and things end on a sad note but i guess they did what they wanted to knowing the circumstances they will end up with. Things were not just about the love or lust that existed between them but the love they both had for the country and how much they wanted to change the course of history and end the oppressiveness and backward traditions that have plagued the nation at that time. The movie begins just like one would expect when Caroline meets the King for the first time, its really not in her own hands her fate but her life has been decided and she has to go with it. The first jolt that she gets is by meeting the King who squeals and acts like a crazy person, that is who he is unfortunately. She is an avid reader and a fan of literature but censorship in the nation abides her from bringing or keeping certain books. The atmosphere in the castle between everyone is very distant and cold as one would expect. The King is told to do things, the very simplest of things. That shows the kind of affect and control "others" has over him and not actually the King himself over his nation because he doesn't know jack!

                 There is light at the end of every tunnel as they say, the entry of this doctor in their life acts as such. The good thing is that the King himself develops a bond with the doctor and he listens to everything he says and acts on it. They become inseparable since he listens to whatever King has to say himself but then knows exactly how to make him do things as well in a very subtle manner. Soon, Struensee starts using that for his advantage and he begins making reforms that enlightens the nation slowly. Struensee is a very idealistic person, rock solid with what he thinks and believes in. This kind of personality, much better suited for the queen herself who in person is likewise makes her slowly fall for the doctor. The exchanges or the conversations that they have turns into a heated affair which results in the obvious thing but the reality of it is hidden. Their enemies starts using their love for their advantage and things become much more than personal or political that ends up in a very tragic way for them. Talking about the performances in the movie, no one beats Mikkel Boe Folsgaard. He quite deservingly so won the acting prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. He was one of my six favorite supporting performers of the previous year. Folsgaard has a very powerful presence in the movie. Of course he plays the mad king role but with very confidence and sort of attitude that has an element of complexity that i always love when actors make these type of roles into much more sympathetic or either completely repulsive and nothing in between. King Christian in certain moments comes off as a complete awful person, you hate him for acting and treating, lets say his wife like that. Then in the others, like when he has Struensee's influence on him, he is much more mature and tries very hard to come off as one, so you love him. Folsgaard's voice, his expressions and his command elevates as the movie progresses. Christian has been like a puppet in the hands of the officials inside the court who have long gotten away with their acts thanks to the king who can't speak or think for anyone even for himself. That makes him very sympathetic and equally worse in parts. Folsgaard had an amazing feature movie debut with this, impressive performance. Alicia Vikander is a very innocent looking actress but she comes off as rather younger than who she really is which ultimately helps here. As far as Caroline's intelligence goes, she was wise beyond her years. It is torturous for her to live in such country like a prisoner and thus her rebellious-youth attitude is what causes troubles for both her and the people around her. Vikander's performance to me wasn't very significant but she was nice in the movie.

                 Now talking about the main actor in the movie, Mads Mikkelsen yet again proves that he is a very good actor. His fans are going to love him in this movie no doubt. His portrayal of a very wise, idealistic and innocent human being is quite a lot of "positive" attributes one will not really expect him to have in a movie. He is not the bad guy here but still delivers a good performance. Mikkelsen is always very calm and composed in his performances even though his face is very rough and menacing. He looks unpredictable but of course we don't need to discuss those things here since its out of context. You guys will see his worth towards the end of the movie which will break your heart into many pieces. But as much of a good performance he gave in the movie, Folsgaard steals the actual show. A Royal Affair has magnificent art direction and costume work. Everything looks grand but still not candy colored, the starkness, grayness and the chilliness is visible even inside the castle as much as it does outside and in what everyone wears. There are some scenes where everything looks so beautiful for a change, people dressed up beautifully dancing together without knowing about the storm that is silently making its way towards them. Cinematography is beautifully done by Rasmus Videbæk and has a very well done score to go with it. A Royal Affair is written with deep insight, very convincing and engaging in the sense the narration gives to the characters before they can even actually act on their beliefs or their thinking. Handled with quite an energy by director Nikolaj Arcel who knows his way through the movie and makes the long running time worth it as far as i think. The movie's examination of various themes like friendship and love is quite beautiful and at the same time, betrayals and acts of unknowing selfishness that are inevitable in the situation.

                 What makes A Royal Affair a compelling and rich experience is its careful mixture of politics and history with passion and romance. None of which is drawn out to a point that the movie ends up being one sided exploration. It takes the political themes along with its romantic one which are interconnected to make up for a wholesome and quite thought provoking experience that will truly satisfy the fans of both period films and those looking for a costume dramatic love story. Tragic the central love story is between these soul mates with the same level of understanding but an inevitable grim end is how it all ends. Solid performances and outstanding production makes "A Royal Affair" a very good Danish entry that you should must watch if you haven't already.

Grade: B+