Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Royal Affair (2012)

Last night I went to see the latest royal period drama, A Royal Affair, a visually lush and compellingly acted Danish film concerning the ill-fated relationship of Denmark's British-born Queen Caroline Matilda (1751-1775) (Alicia Vikander), sister of King George III, with the progressive Dr Johann Struensee (1737-1772) (Mads Mikkelson), physician to her eccentric (though perhaps not literally insane) husband King Christian VII (1749-1808) (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard).  Struensee, enjoying in different ways the favor of both the King and the Queen, briefly rose to become the de facto ruler of Denmark, implementing many progressive reforms influenced by the Enlightenment, before falling from power just as dramatically.  He lost his life and Caroline her freedom and her children, dying at 24 in Germany three years later.

Despite some obvious heavy-handed liberal bias (We Must Tell the Audience in the Prologue how Oppressive the Nobility and the Church were, Just So They Know), which in any case is more anti-religious than anti-monarchist, I found the movie impressive and enjoyable both as entertainment and as an introduction to a fascinating episode in royal history which is not very well known, at least outside of Denmark.  I'm not sure how close the movie is to historical truth, though I do know that if you're going to criticize religion, you should at least try to get your denominational facts straight: since when do Lutherans threaten sinners with Purgatory?

The "villains" of A Royal Affair are not the Monarchy per se, not even the undeniably difficult and unstable King Christian, though his stepmother Queen Juliane (1729-1796) (Trine Dyrholm) is depicted as a classic wicked stepmother, as she probably would have seemed to Caroline.  Rather, the primary culprits (besides the main characters' own recklessness) in Caroline and Struensee's downfall are unscrupulous politicians such as could just as easily surface in any republic.  And critics of the Enlightenment might even take some grim comfort in the way Struensee eventually has cause to regret and reverse his reckless abolition of all censorship.  Even the written epilogue makes it clear that it was with the Monarchy, under Christian and Caroline's son Frederik VI (1768-1839) (William Jøhnk Nielsen), that Struensee's liberal vision triumphed in the end.   And of course Denmark, unlike far too many other countries, happily remains a constitutional monarchy today, under the impeccably admirable and talented Queen Margrethe II--a direct descendant of Queen Juliane, via her son Prince Frederik (1753-1805) (Frederik Christian Johansen).

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