Kevin Wight watched
One of the better costume dramas of recent years, Nikolaj Arcel's A Royal Affair is a lavish true-life depiction of the marriage of Princess of Wales Caroline Mathilde to Christian VII, King of Denmark in the mid 18th Century. Christian is mentally ill, so Denmark is essentially being run as a regency by the fundamentalist Christian faction keeping the countries in the dark ages while the rest of Europe falls under the influence of the Enlightenment.
Pro-enlightenment physician Johann Friedrich Streunsee is employed as his personal doctor and exerts his influence for what he sees as the good of Denmark while falling into the arms of Queen Caroline.
Wisely, the affair of the title is relegated to the background; it's almost halfway through the film before there is the merest hint of a torn bodice. Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander are great as Struensee and Caroline, but there isn't that much chemistry there in the love scenes. They work much better as a meeting of minds, and are great fun to watch as they scheme Denmark out of the Dark Ages.
Mikkel Følsgaard gets a more thankless role as the insane King, given to hedonism with no aptitude for the actual running of the country. He's a sympathetic figure and although it's fun watching the fundamentalists getting short shrift against Struensee's ideas, there is a morally troubling side as Christian is used as a usual idiot for his ambitions. It's also a cautionary tale of the corruption nature of power, as Struensee begins to let the power go to his head.
Also in the movie's favour is that it doesn't spoon-feed its audience. It presumes at least a vague knowledge of the likes of Rousseau, Locke, and Voltaire and various Enlightenment concepts.
On the down side, it is fairly predictable, and the titular affair is the least interesting part of the movie for me. It does move at a fairly brisk pace for this type of movie and I was astonished that over two hours had gone by by the end.
Great review, and this may well have swayed me into watching this. Glad to hear it's not completely structured like the book, as I found I had forgotten vast swathes of plot by the time Mitchell picked up some of the strands again.
I love many of these, but as it hasn't been mentioned yet, Ichi The Killer.