Movie review: "A Royal Affair"
A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Looks section of The Oklahoman. 3 1/2 of 4 stars. To read more about the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Oscar Tune Up, click here.
It may be a steamy and sumptuous bodice-ripper, but “A Royal Affair” aspires to much more and succeeds in becoming a thoughtful and universal period piece.
An Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film, the 18th-century costume drama is playing at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art as part of its annual Oscar Tune Up.
Denmark’s official Academy Award entry, “A Royal Affair” begins in England, where teenage princess Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) believes her dream of becoming queen of an exotic land is coming true when she is wed to Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) without even meeting him.
She’s heard her husband is charming and a fellow art lover, but when she actually arrives in Denmark, the new bride discovers he’s also given to mood swings, inappropriate outbursts and bouts of depression. Some of his behavior is pure royal petulance, but Christian exhibits telltale signs of mental illness, too. And since he’s king, no one does much to intervene.
In fact, the powerful royal council prefers that Christian leave the governing to them, and since he’d rather debauch himself with alcohol and prostitutes, he easily obliges. The state of Denmark is definitely rotten: The people’s suffering is immense, and even Caroline Mathilde can’t escape the strict censorship laws, as half her beloved book collection is confiscated.
The young queen is not equipped to deal with her husband’s erratic behavior, so once she’s done her duty of producing an heir, she locks herself away in the palace and resigns herself to a life in a gilded cage.
When Christian falls ill while touring Altona, a Danish colony in Germany, a pair of down-on-their-luck noblemen (Cyron Bjørn Melville and Thomas W. Gabrielsson) approach local doctor Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) and propose that he apply for the position as the king’s personal physician. If Struensee gets the job and helps them resume their roles in the royal court, they won’t reveal the good doctor’s secret identity as a student of the burgeoning Enlightenment and the anonymous author of several verboten pamphlets advocating for sweeping reform.
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