Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Danish Royal Affair

In 1769 the German outsider, Johann Struensee, arrived in Copenhagen as the physician and companion to the deranged Christian VII. By the end of that year he had not only made great political strides in a country that had the most complete absolute monarchy left in Europe, but had also become the lover of the queen, George III’s youngest sister, Caroline Mathilde. With her agreement, and the acquiescence of the king, Struensee took over the running of the state and attempted to transform Denmark into a model of enlightened absolutism. Struensee and Caroline Mathilde had a daughter; radical reforms multiplied; chaos mounted; enemies massed; violence and tragedy ensued.

Now, thanks in part to the surge of popular interest in Scandinavia, the first film to tackle the story has been released. A Royal Affair stars Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen. 

It is a beautiful film, tonally taking its cue from the historical epics of Luchino Visconti. Like these, it builds tension to gathering disaster with visual clues. The director, Nikolaj Arcel, is creditably true to the facts. At no point does he seriously deviate from the historical record. But this is a feature film not a documentary attempt to recreate the past and, like every historical fiction, it is therefore also necessarily a portrait of the present. 

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