Something is Rotten in Denmark (Film Review: “A Royal Affair”)

A Royal Affair  (En Kongelig Affære) is a lush, historical costume drama set in Denmark in the late 18th Century, when the Age of Enlightenment is igniting the souls of daring free-thinkers across Europe, setting the stage for the French Revolution yet to come.  It’s the completely true story of the mad young King Christian VII of Denmark, his marriage to the 15 yr. old Princess Caroline Matilda of England, and the love triangle that galvanized a nation.  Directed by Nikolaj Arcel (who wrote the original Swedish screenplay for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) the film stars my favorite Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, as Dr. Johann Struensee, a country doctor with radical ideas about social reform who becomes the King’s personal physician and confidante and eventually the Queen’s lover. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander is Caroline Matilda (in a sensuous and emotionally rich performance) and Mikkel Følsgaard as Christian VII pulls out all the stops, making the volatile, mentally unhinged King so believable and really puts the Z in Crazy.

SnapShot Plot

Caroline Matilda arrives in Denmark in 1766 to meet her husband, King Christian VII. A literary free spirit who loves language and philosophy, she approaches her new life with a romantic heart, based on Christian’s reputation as an avid lover of the arts, especially the theater.  What she meets instead is a clearly tormented soul, who by today’s medical standards would have been diagnosed with everything from schizophrenia to bi-polar disorder, with a good dose of Oedipus complex for good measure.  In other words, he’s a total nightmare from the get-go.  What Caroline also encounters is a palace Court and Cabinet as chilly as the Danish climate which is her new home.  Everyone ignores Christian’s outbursts, his debauchery and general instability, treating him like a feeble-minded child whose moods and tantrums are just part of the royal scenery.  His kingly duties amount to mainly sitting in Cabinet meetings and obediently signing bills and proclamations he knows nothing about, a puppet with many puppeteers. Enter Dr. Johann Struensee, a seemingly simple doctor who quickly gains the trust of the King and maneuvers him into becoming a ruler in the truer sense of the word, while also lighting the fire of social reform in his troubled mind. It’s not long before the good deeds and personal idealism of Johann Struensee  gain the attention of the young Queen, which ignites a powerful attraction between the two, dangerous as it is.  As the sexual and romantic intrigue escalates, so does the power play among the corrupt members of the Danish government, incensed that their previously ineffectual King is now being pulled around by a different set of strings.  What ensues is a whirlwind of social reform and change, putting Denmark on the map as an epicenter of progressive reform, even gaining the attention of Europe’s most outspoken writer, Rousseau.  Of course, this idealistic Shangri-La cannot last forever. There are eyes everywhere in the Palace. People talk.  At one point, a trusted confidante of Struensee asks if he’s familiar with the legend of Le Mort DÁrthur, or Camelot as we know it, in which Lancelot and Guinevere become lovers behind the back of their beloved Arthur, bringing about their own doom and the collapse of the kingdom itself.  It’s an apt warning which foreshadows what we all know is coming.



Parting Shot

Publisher’s Note: This film is also available on Netflix Streaming, hyperlinked below.

A Royal Affair proves that we are still capable of producing exceptional historical period pieces and making them both sumptuous and romantic as well as historically enriching.  And it’s got Mads Mikkelson in an especially appealing characterization, a real departure from what most American moviegoers will recall of his work:  the sadistic villain in the first Bond picture with Daniel Craig, the fantastic Casino Royale (remember his bleeding eye?…ugh) I think Mikkelsen is the Daniel Craig of Scandinavia, maybe without the 6-pack abs.  Watch out for his new movie, The Hunt, in which he plays a Danish schoolteacher wrongly accused of child molestation.  I hear he gives an amazing and heartbreaking performance in the film, which has just been nominated as the Danish entry for the Best Foreign Film at the upcoming Golden Globe Awards.

Thank you to my Danish friend, Else Herman, who not only has the most lovely gift shop in Denville but excellent taste in Danish cinema.  I appreciate your suggestion!

Featured Image Courtesy of:


  • […] movie is the AI robot, Ava. This is the year for Swedish beauty and rising star, Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair; The Danish Girl, for which she’s picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.) […]

  • NIno Casabona says:

    I have just finished reading the book “Il medico di corte” (“The Royal Physician’s Visit” in the U.S) by the Swedish writer Per Olov Enquist. I did not know “A Royal Affair” but I guess the film is based on this very exciting historical novel. Although in Italy it is not still possible downloading foreign movies, this and other tips in your blog are always very precious.

    • Norma says:

      I am so happy that you continue to read and enjoy Norma’s Streaming Picks, Nino! I pray that Netflix will arrive soon in Italy. Right now this movie is available on both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. If you get Amazon in Italy, you can download this film for a nominal cost, so you may want to investigate that. In the meantime, thanks again and your Comments are always treasured!

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