Royal Affair, A (2012)

Director:  Nikolaj Arcel
Cast:  Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
Plot:  A young queen, who is married to an insane king, falls secretly in love with her physician - and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever.

Genre:  Drama / History / Romance
Awards:  Won Silver Bear for Best Actor & Best Screenplay (Berlin).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film.
Runtime:  137min
Rating:  M18 for sexual content and some violent images.

Power.  Desire.  Consequence.  These are three words that aptly describe what A Royal Affair is about.  They provide the thematic framework for this sumptuous period film set many, many centuries back in Denmark.  It targets the upper classes of Danish society with its main narrative focusing on how power fuels desire, which inevitably results in personal consequences that do not bode well.

Director Nikolaj Arcel consolidates Denmark's status as one of Europe's filmmaking powerhouses outside the big four - France, Britain, Germany, and Italy, with an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, an award last won by Susanne Bier's Into a Better World two years ago.

A Royal Affair features performances that are delightful to watch. The star performance, I feel, belongs to Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt, 2011), who does a brilliant job channeling the subtleties that come with playing the King's physician, who falls in love with the King's wife, played by the elegant and graceful Alicia Vikander (who has a smaller role in another period film – Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (2012)).

The forbidden relationship plays out quite conventionally, and on many occasions, too straightforwardly.  Thus, emotions may come across as plainly distinct and perfunctory to the setup, rather than achieving any sort of layered complexity that provides viewers with a range of ambiguous emotional responses.

Arcel, however, weaves political intrigue and social class issues into the common 'forbidden love' tragidrama narrative trope.  This is after all a royal affair which can be read in sexual, political, and even nationalistic terms.  The King's physician is a German who thinks liberally and makes rational choices in politics.

This is in stark contrast to the self-appointed Danish elites who are bounded by conservatism and religious faith.  The presence of the German physician personifies the idea of foreign indoctrination.  But it is an ‘invasion’ that justifies itself through the law of rationality.  Arcel does a quite excellent job infusing such themes into an otherwise standard story.

A Royal Affair also features outstanding cinematography with beautiful, wide shots of horses striding across green plains.  Interior shots are lavishly captured with soft lighting, accentuating the grandeur of royal life.  This is contrasted by shots of decay and disillusionment of the impoverished and ill-treated Danish citizenry.

As far as costume period dramas go, this is one of the better efforts to come out in recent years.  It is also a Danish film, which strikingly proves that the Brits don't always have a monopoly in this genre.

Verdict:  The polished cinematography and quite excellent performances are standouts in an otherwise conventional period film about the consequences of power and desire.


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