Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's not just about the costumes.

En kongelig affære
(Int. title: „A Royal Affair“)

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Written by Rasmus Heisterberg, Nikolaj Arcel
★ Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Alicia Vikander


Who would have thought that the co-writer of the Danish slapstick-animation Rejsen til Saturn would turn out to be such a great director? Arcel, who is also to be applauded for his screenplay for the original first Millennium film Män som hatar kvinnor, clearly waisted his talent on that annoying movie we just recently saw in class. But as I go on looking through his filmography, I find that he has written the screenplay of one of my favourite films as a child, Klatretøsen (Catch That Kid), so I guess Rejsen til Saturn was one of those bloopers everyone has to experience once in a while.

A Royal Affair revolves around the Danish King Christian VII, who is known to be mentally ill, while the politics are mainly controlled by a council. Christian VII marries the English princess Caroline Mathilde, who becomes immensely disappointed by her marriage to the partying and straying king. However, everything changes when Christian hires the German Joseph Struensee as his private physician. Struensee brings the heretic ideas of the reconnaissance to the Danish court and a tragic love story develops between him and Queen Caroline.

As Män som hatar kvinnor was a Swedish film, and Nikola Arcel "only" wrote it, I think we can look upon A Royal Affair as his best work until now. It is a giant and unexpected success both from and for my second home country, Denmark, after the Oscar-winning but in my opinion not completely overwhelming Hævnen (In A Better World) in 2010. The most striking element of this film - because there have been many great Danish films before this - is its technical sophistication. Leaving all the hand-held-camera Dogma-films and realistic-trimmed other productions behind, A Royal Affair is not afraid to impress with mind-blowing visuals of an ancient Copenhagen and its Danish royals. Most of the film shows the royal splendour of the time, but even the frames that show the ordinary people are stunning despite their often morbid and disgusting content.

Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Alicia Vikander

The sharp focus against blurry golden backgrounds and the close-ups of lace studded gowns, radiant jewellery and Alicia Vikander's lovely brown eyes let the audience be caught up in a whirlwind of beauty. Add to that some georgeous pictures of the often boring scolded Danish landscape, and the successfully stunning imaging of rain and snow, and you have a film that - when it comes to visuality - outshines every other Scandinavian film I've seen before. 
The bad news is that although the female audience is able to admire all the surely uncomfortable yet amazing gowns, hairdos etc., the men's curly wigs/ real-hair-ponytails are much less impressing. And although Mads Mikkelsen is doing good for his age, he just isn't as incredibly attractive as he used to be, while newcomer Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the insane king is too weird a character to develop some sex-appeal. But after all that's not what intellectual individuals watch movies for, so let's gladly leave these superficialities to the men (as I said before, Alicia Vikander is stunning) and focus on the artistic qualities of the film and actors instead.

With Mads Mikkelsen being excellent as always in the role of Struensee, the true star of the picture is Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the mentally ill king, for which he won an award at the 2011 Berlinale while still attending theatre school. Rarely is a debut as overwhelming as his, and he'll push at many open doors after his finishing school this summer. It is simply a pleasure to watch someone so young and unexperienced deliver such a magnificent performance, and immensely inspiring too. Already the first scene with Følsgaard made my brain feel funny, as if it were saying: "Get ready for something truly special". He managed to bring King Christian alive perfectly, as if he knew exactly how he had been - the nervous chuckle, the childishness, moments of tailspin - yet also a dash of normality that makes us believe the character might've developed quite differently in other surroundings, under different circumstances. I am in awe of Følsgaard for taking my breath in his first feature film - he proves that you can do anything with the right portion of talent and a little luck while still being refreshingly humble. Goodbye mediocre Hollywood teen-crushes, hello gifted star of tomorrow.

The weakest of the three leads is Alicia Vikander, who plays the lonely Queen Caroline Mathilde, however she handles her part well and as opposed to many Danish critics, I didn't care she's a Swede. Sure, she has an accent, but her Danish is very, very well and you can easily pretend her accent is that of a Briton. In my opinion she was well cast, because she brings the necessary youth and beauty to fit her role, and she brings across the emotional spectrum from initial excitement and shyness, to disappointed severity, to secret lovingness, and finally forlornness and pain. There is only one scene in which her character seems to truly let go of herself, and that scene really shows us a glimpse of Vikander's abilities as an actress. Hopefully she will get the chance to prove her talent in the future.
Now, briefly about Mads Mikkelsen; he didn't belie expectations either this time, and my favourite scene is the one in the end. It is all in his eyes - the pure pain and grief, as if you could touch it when holding out your hand against the screen. Who needs 3D when you can get that close to a person, a feeling, without wearing glasses that give you a headache?

To call A Royal Affair a costume drama would be mis-judging this phenomenally suspenseful picturization of an important piece of Danish history that is backed by some of the most skillful Danish film people of our time. The long list of producers clearly knew what they were doing and where they were heading, and the result is - to say it one last time - amazing.
A Royal Affair is a film I can recommend to anyone who doesn't get scared by the word "history" or "2,5 hours", and generally everyone interested in film. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard's performance is more than worthy of an Oscar, and this should be reason enough to see the film - which, I can almost guarantee, is going to captivate and enthrall you with much more than just costumes.


  1. Okay, I know you said it's not just about the costumes... but I just have to say those costumes are pretty amazing.

    1. They are! I wish I'll have the chance to wear one of those dresses just once in my life. I know, I know, they must be very uncomfortable, but so pretty!

  2. Yay! I'm glad you got around to see it. I knew you'd love it. And I agree that Mikkel Boe Følsgaard is amazing and worthy any kind of award they'll toss over him.

    1. Me too! I was freaked out when I saw it was going to play at our small repertory.
      Hope that this one will catch the attention of people next award season - if In a Better World did, this one more than deserves it (and especially Mikkel).


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