“A Royal Affair,” Denmark’s elegant shot period piece is one of the five features nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
Based on the true story of an ordinary man who wins the queen’s heart and starts a revolution, “A Royal Affair” offers enough intrigues for a melodrama, but the tale is absorbing and done in good taste—perhaps too reserved.
Set in the late eighteenth century, the story centers on the intriguing love triangle between the Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), who initially comes across as a childish buffoon, perhaps even insane, the royal physician who is a man of enlightenment and idealism Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), and the young, beautiful and strong Queen Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander).
In the background, there is a rather gripping tale of brave idealist citizens, who risk everything in their pursuit of freedom, democracy, and respect for their people. But it’s the center that holds attention: the passionate, erotic and forbidden romance that changed an entire nation.
As written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel, “A Royal Affair” is old-fashioned (but not sentimental or nostalgic) in the positive sense of the term, consciously inspired by and made in the tradition of epic romances of the 1940s and 1950s.
The internationally acclaimed Mads Mikkelsen, who is the top star in his native Denmark, may be best known for playing the villain, Le Chiffre, in the 2006 Bond picture, “Casino Royale.” Mads has appeared in a wide range of feature films, “Valhalla Rising,” “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky,” “Clash of the Titans,” and “The Three Musketeers.” He will next be seen in “The Hunt” which premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Fest and garnered him the Best Actor kudo.
Director Nikolaj Arcel has said:
The film is based on one of the most dramatic events in Denmark and indeed European history; whenever I used to pitch the film to foreign investors, people had a hard time believing that the story was true, that these momentous events had actually happened in the late 1700’s. In Denmark however, it is taught in school, more than 15 books have been written about it (both factual and fictional) and there has even been an opera and a ballet. I feel honored and extremely lucky to finally bring the full story to the screen.
Tonally, I was inspired by the great epics from the 40s and 50s where films would often feel like literary works, structured around characters and the passage of time, and not clearly following the obvious screenplay roadmaps.
But my creative team and I were also fired up by the idea of bringing the Scandinavian historical drama into the new century. We wanted to achieve this by adhering to a self-imposed rule; we didn’t want to “show” history, didn’t want to dwell pointlessly on the big official events, the fancy dresses and hairdos, or the way the food was served.
Rather, we wanted people to simply experience the story through the eyes of the characters, taking the 1760’s for granted. Even though the period is obviously there in the set designs, the costumes it was filmed and edited as we would have filmed and edited a film taking place in modern Copenhagen.
Gabriel Yared and Cyrille Aufort’s beautiful score has brought the film full circle, and home to its epic roots.