If you like your period drama to be as much about Enlightenment rationalism as about forbidden lust and/or Mads Mikkelsen’s astonishing cheekbones, you won’t find a better film than En kongelig affære (A Royal Affair) 2012.
I won’t recap the plot much beyond the basics - the mad king of Denmark, Christian VII, marries a bright young English princess, Caroline Mathilde, who finds herself intellectually and emotionally suppressed in the conservative 18th century Danish court. While on a kind of royal progress, Christian engages the services of Johann Struensee, a radial German doctor, who is able to keep the king calm and controlled. Christian brings Struensee back to court where the good doctor and Caroline discover a shared interest in radical Enlightenment principles ranging from freedom of the press to the abolition of slavery. As well as a shared interest in each other, which probably goes without saying. (And, frankly, who can blame Caroline? The ferociously independent Struensee is, after all, played with characteristic intensity by the afore-mentioned zygomatically-blessed Mikkelsen.) Things go about as well as might be expected.
Alicia Vikander plays Caroline’s intelligence and loneliness well (and without the requisite, Kiera Knightly-esque blank affect and parted lips). Though I didn’t adore the framing device the filmmakers chose, Vikander did her best by it. Mikkelsen, it should be clear by now, is a firm favorite of mine. You may know him as the blood-weeping villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, but he’s a legitimate superstar in Denmark, and well worth chasing down in other films. (Try Flammen & Citronen.)
Based on a true story (that’s worth reading up on), A Royal Affair is a pleasure. It’s a film that’s as much about trying to make the world a better place as it is about beautiful people in beautiful clothes and their forbidden sexytimes. And let’s not forget Mikkel Følsgaard as Christian, who could have hammed up the role of the mad king but made him instead nuanced, likeable and just as sympathetic- and tragic - a character as Caroline and Struensee.
Hot guys: yes.
Period costume: yes.
Forbidden sexytimes: yes.
Stunning panoramas: yes.
Actual movie review stuff, like good acting and things: yes.
The last word: Overall, a beautifully produced, beautifully acted period piece. With several hot guys in period costume. Vintagedudes says check it out.