When they arrive back in Denmark, the queen doesn't initially trust the doctor, despite his knack for redirecting the king's worst impulses. Once she discovers his secret collection of Enlightenment literature, though, Struensee and Caroline Mathilde bond over their mutual devotion to free thinking and high ideals.
The physician becomes confidante to both royals. In one of the film's most affecting scenes, he sits holding hands with the couple after inoculating their young son from smallpox. It's a poignant foreshadowing of how complicated their love triangle would become.
As their relationship moves from avid talks and long walks to passionate secret trysts, though, Struensee and Caroline Mathilde provide their political enemies — especially the king's scheming stepmother (Trine Dyrholm) and a power-hungry priest (David Dencik) — with ample means and opportunity to counter their idealistic crusade.
A framing device of the exiled queen penning a heartrending letter to her far-off children makes some of the outcomes clear, but the period drama remains gripping to the end, which is not as grim as it might have been. Sensitive performances from the three principles keep it captivating.
Thanks to top-notch work from cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk, production designer Niels Sejer and costumer Manon Rasmussen, “A Royal Affair” is gorgeous to watch.
— Brandy McDonnell