A Royal Affair
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard
In Danish with English subtitles
The best costume dramas have a way of defying the specificity of their settings to resonate today.
We've come a long way from 18th-century Denmark and the world of "A Royal Affair," but Nikolaj Arcel's portrait of illicit romance and political reformation efforts inside the traditional Danish court has a timeless power. The players have changed, but the game remains the same.
The film splits its perspective between Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), stuck in an unhappy marriage to the unstable King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), and the king's physician Johan Streunsee (Mads Mikkelsen), a man of the Enlightenment.
Streunsee fast becomes the king's closest adviser, urging a series of humanist initiatives, as well as the queen's lover.
The film has sweeping scope and finely-attuned intimate drama. It's equally at home outside the king's lush country estate, within the palace's chambers and amid the crowded, decaying Copenhagen streets. The actors bring passionate intensity to their parts.
Above all, "A Royal Affair" offers a vivid portrait of the ways matters of the heart can stifle the best intentions, in the form of the conflict between one's idealism and personal interests.
It's a film about a society at a crossroads, with two competing visions of the future being hashed out against a backdrop of political intrigue. Sound familiar?