Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Royal Affair (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Royal Affair

Nicolaj Arcel (writer, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) will satisfy every lover of the period-piece with his direction of "A Royal Affair" which concerns the life of Caroline Matilde, Queen of Denmark in 1766. The film is tense and riveting, putting us right in the thick of Europe on the edge of Enlightenment and volatility. Unlike a few cinematic tomes, this film is no cursory history lesson. The rhythm is accessible. There are no dull actions and the drama is never mellow or choked with consumptive sobs. Better yet, it does not overreach or pander.

Matilde was only fifteen when she travelled from England to Denmark to wed Christian VII, her cousin, a very compulsive/impulsive character. One might wonder why she was so eager to do so, as from accounts, and as evidenced by this film, he is quite insensitive, ribald and narcissistic.
As a harlequin-faced preening brat here, King Christian VII is wonderfully portrayed by Mikkel Boe Folsgaard. Christian VII reminds me a bit of Lord Alfred Douglas, a sociopath and a pale poison flower, not unaccustomed to manipulatively wilting to get his way.

As Caroline, Alicia Vikander is transfixing as the voluptuous idealist driven at all cost, to achieve happiness and wonder. No, there is nothing "Twilight" here. This is more akin to Mary Shelley, the desire to liberate the spirit, in politics and flesh and to vanquish all fiery Deist Doom & Gloom.
Unfortunately for Caroline, her king is a mere puppet to the court, obsessed with bordellos, masturbation and miming. And he'll sign just about anything.
But then the light of Reason enters in the dark and somewhat enigmatic form of Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). King Christian takes to the ambitious doctor immediately, who likes his informality.
And so does Caroline.

Mads Mikkelsen is terrific  in his role as the ambitious doctor and sly friend to the king who yearns to change Denmark for the better and will. There is an aura of Willem Dafoe in Mikkelsen and he is perfect as the progressive free-love radical who eschews marriage and religion in one bite. Struensee and Caroline become a Shelleyan pair, driven to combat routine domesticity as well as preach social reform and their battle is intense and frenetic, pitted against the porcelain King Christian and his clustered court.

"A Royal Affair" is what "Anna Karenina" should have been. A riveting episodic tale of style against substance with enough pathos to go with its pageantry. Not only is this film rich in content, it is also hauntingly beautiful with a painterly cinematography that recalls the artist Antoine Watteau as well as the filmmakers Lars von Trier (this film is produced by von Trier's company Zentropa) and Werner Herzog given its intense starkness against much supercilious ornamentation as symbolized by Christian VII.

Go see "A Royal Affair" for its charm and existential circumstance. You won't see a powdered face quite so disturbing or ineffectual, nor so oddly full of  hope in aching to be liked. This by itself is reason to enter the darkness and take a seat.

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