The historical romance genre is one that can see its movies go one of two ways. The first, less entertaining way sees a movie pick a historical/royal figure, put them in a lot of big wigs and fancy costumes, shoot some balls with a lot of extras and hope that’s enough to make your audience feel like they’ve had a valuable cinematic experience. “The Duchess” and “The Young Victoria” come to mind when thinking about this kind of historical drama. The other way it can go is in the direction of a film like “The King’s Speech.” Movies like this take an important but maybe not well known element of a period in history, and give it some depth and wrap it in a compelling story. The movie is about the story, not the accents, the costumes, or the name of a king or queen you read in a magazine. Danish Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award Nominee “A Royal Affair” leans much toward the latter end of the spectrum.
Helmed by original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” director Nikolaj Arcel, “A Royal Affair” tells the story of Queen Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander, “Anna Karenina”) who travelled from England to Denmark to marry her cousin, King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard). It doesn’t take long for the new Queen to realize that her husband is, well, kind of a douche. He his family little attention, ruins plays, and is constantly getting drunk and seeking the company of prostitutes. Imagine that Charlie Sheen was the King of Denmark, and that’s what she’s dealing with here. The King then enlists the services of a doctor who is part of the new “age of enlightenment.” Dr. Struensee pushes the King and Queen towards a new, enlightened approach to social reform, but as Dr. Struensee and the Queen get closer politically, a romance forms.
Vikander carries the film with class as the lead. Her sultry, but innocent take on the Danish Queen projects the perfect balance of youthful inexperience and power. The Queen’s role in the film is not particularly dialogue heavy, so Vikander’s performance is largely demonstrated through her eyes and body language. Watching a foreign language film can really expose a viewer to the non-verbal nuances of a performance, and Vikander truly presents a master’s class in non-verbal acting in “A Royal Affair.” The English speaking, Swedish born star certainly has potential to break out in Hollywood.
Folsgaard , as the bumbling King, whether from experience or pure talent, was able to channel his inner dirtbag very well, to the point where you find yourself rooting for the Queen to get back at him somehow, which is exactly where the script is trying to take you so it’s the perfect marriage of writing and acting.
As is the expectation for a film of this kind, the costumes, the scenery and the overall production are breathtaking. That said, to the benefit of the film, none of this overshadows the story or any of the performances. The film is not without its flaws however, the biggest being that, at 137 minutes, it runs a little long and the plot really slows down about an hour in the movie until the final 20 minutes or so. A tight, two hour cut of this movie would be ideal and I don’t think any important plot details would have to be left out.
“A Royal Affair” lends itself perfectly to the Blu-ray format. With lots of color, big ballroom production scenes, outdoor mob scenes, and of course the costumes, the movie gives you plenty to gawk at in high definition. There dark interior scenes are still sharp and low on grain and the bright exterior scenes are not washed out or overexposed.
With a Danish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, it allows you to listen to a lot of the things you may miss while listening to dialogue. With “A Royal Affair,” the subtle but beautiful piano score spread throughout the film is one of those hidden gems. There is a short English spoken scene towards the beginning of the film and the dialogue is perfectly audible. My suggestion: put on your subtitle reading glasses and enjoy the wonderful music.
This Blu-ray comes royally stacked with cool extras. There is a 30 minute interview with the cast and crew from the 2012 Berlin Film Festival but the coolest features are the Portraits and Biographies of the King, Queen, and Dr. Struensee, and the Royal Family Tree. The family tree allows you to scroll through Caroline Mathilda’s family history all the way down to Princes William and Harry. While the features are very attractive, I found the menus to be clunky and slow to respond to remote presses. It would also be cool if you could access the bios or family tree while still watching the movie or on a “second screen” with a tablet.
“A Royal Affair” is a well-produced, expertly performed but uneven film. It can be dry at times and feels long but overall this is a captivating story. What makes this movie work is that even though it is a foreign language period piece, the story can translate to any language in any time period. People love to watch a good affair, and there’s no better language to present it in than the language of cinema.