Thursday, November 01, 2012

En kongelig affære (A Royal Affair)

I was really impressed with this movie, the remarkable performances, the little known (for me) piece of history and how Nikolaj Arcel was able to do "another" European period movie quite different to many that I have seen. So, just imagine the "cultural" shock I had when discovered the not so good reviews movie gets mainly, but not only, in English from a few professional critics and many viewers. This motivates me to do a different approach here as seems like if I saw (again) a different story than many did.

The Film Story - Part 1

Film tells the story of a young queen, Caroline Mathilde, who is married to insane king, Christian VII of Denmark, falls secretly in love with the king's German physician, Johan Friedrich Struensee, and together change too early what later becomes the norm not only in Denmark but across the civilized world or -if you wish- Europe. Is told from the queen's perspective and accordingly to what I read is based primordially on the novel Prinsesse af blodet (Princess of Blood) by Danish author Bodil Steensen-Leth where the queen is the protagonist and the one who narrates story; but also is based on the novel Livläkarens besök (The Visit of the Royal Physician) by Swedish author Per Olov Enquist. So these gives us some clues that story even do is based on actual facts has to have some fiction.

The History

As I'm not that much familiar with Danish history my first instinct told me to check what was fact, so I did a little research from reliable sources. Seems movie is a good dramatization of actual events but there are several issues that seems today are still questionable; most are related to the "affair" or the romance. Some still doubt that Struensee had an affair with the queen, but others confirm that the daughter pictures show resemblance to him and many claim that he had an affair with the queen and also with another woman in the court, which made both women very jealous of each other.

What seems to be real is everything related to Struensee ascension to power, his ahead of time rulings based on his studies of Enlightenment philosophers, and his fall to the aristocrats that had lost all power and finally got it back. All this happening in Denmark 20 years before the French Revolution.

The Story - Part 2

Seems that most viewers see film and only watch the romance, after all who can blame them as if you read the movie title is none other than "A Royal Affair", which most will relate to the romance and not to the other kind of affairs. All right I also saw the romantic affair and admit that it was good, interesting; yet was similar to many European royal stories that we have seen in film, including one mentioned profusely in viewers reviews: the story of Camelot. Most like the romance movie and some even call it a "girlie" film, meaning that is suited only for female audiences. I totally disagree, but then I saw more the "other" story, the one that really captured me to feel all kind of intense emotions, the one that made me think that infamous phrase: "people have the government they deserve".

As movie begins to introduce us to the characters, the queen's tragedy, the king's insanity and whatever follows I was seeing the film with "romance" eyes; but there was one scene that changed all and made me think that there was something more in this story. I'm talking about the scene where the queen finds the books hidden behind the front books in the bookshelf. From that moment on I awoke and started to see film with different eyes. What captured my attention are all the elements that seem to be history accurate and that story seemed to me just fascinating.

I was not aware of this piece of history that happened 20 years before the French Revolution, regret that is lost in history annals and probably will be lost for many even after seeing this film. Won't get into analyzing all the implications but due to Arcel's so contemporary storytelling style plus the outstanding screenplay, made me think about what is happening nowadays around the world, where history tends to repeat itself many times. About the fear of change that some have because will lose their power while others because ignorance. Then, just imagine if Struensee had remained in power world history would have been told quite different today.

The Film

Nikolaj Arcel might be known to some of you because he wrote the outstanding screenplay of Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), that for me is the best of the Millenium saga films; so was not surprising that the screenplay of this movie won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the 2012 Berlinale that he co wrote with Rasmus Heisterberg. I believe that what makes this movie quite outstanding is the remarkable screenplay that spectacularly blends romance, some humor and historic events while impregnating a very contemporary feel.

Performances by Alicia Vikander (the queen) and Mads Mikkelsen (Struensee) are remarkable but the one that steals the movie for me is Mikkel Boe Følsgaard that gives his insane king performance many layers to make our eyes fixed on him every time he is on the screen. Production design is lavish as well as costumes and production values are on the high end of the scale.

In the end the film is as good as many other European royal period films if you think only about the production values but what makes this film very different is not only the story it tells but also how is told.

As we know film is Denmark's submission to Oscar and before reading reviews I was sure this film will make it to the shortlist of nine and maybe will get a nomination; now I think that only if Academy members see the "other" affairs and how magnificently is blend into romance then perhaps will make the shortlist. Sigh.

Still this is a film I highly recommend to many regular readers as know will enjoy the romance and will appreciate the historic value of this film.


Watch trailer @MOC

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