Thought I'd do something a little bit different in this part of the Politic-A-Thon and go with a film looking at the older political struggles in a country and to that end I've chosen A Royal Affair. Now on the surface, A Royal Affair looks like a stuffy costume drama but when you watch it, you see a deeply political thriller based in the 18th Century Danish court and all of this works incredibly well in the film.
As I said, the plot of the film is deeply political in that it concerns the political reforms of King Christian VII, due to the influence of his physician Johann Struensee. However, this is actually more of a side-plot in the film with more of a focus being on the affair between Struensee and Queen Caroline. These two elements shouldn't really work together but they do when you see how much one influences the other. This mainly comes through at the end with the affair leading to Struensee getting arrested and executed while the Queen is deported (which isn't a spoiler by the way, it actually happened). Another element of the political side is the reforms introduced by Stuensee which include the abolition of censorship, abolition of torture, everyone being able to go to university, setting up orphanages and setting up inoculations against small pox. All of these ideas are excellent and showed just how modern Denmark was getting but the influence of the conservatives who wanted to maintain power leads to these ideas being corrupted in the minds of the people and the ultimate reversion of the laws. These elements from 18th Century Politics are still very much relevant today, especially a line of dialogue in which Stuensee says whether he is crazier than the person who believes the creationist story. You could very much take all these elements, set it in modern day America and you'd get the exact same film.
The main reason why the film works so well is due to a mix of the brilliant writing and the excellent performances. The standouts are easily Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander. Both of them have excellent chemistry with each other so you can buy the romance between the two and individually, they are also excellent. Mikkelsen really nails the conflict over how to get his ideas implemented into law and his influence over the King conflicting with his love for the Queen. He also nails the frustration over how badly things are going in regards to the laws, so much so that he has to reintroduce censorship. Vikander meanwhile nails the isolation felt by the character after having to learn a new language to go to court (by the way, Vikander didn't know how to speak Dutch before the film, lending a greater believability to the character) and her disgust over how the King treats her, despite clearly being more intelligent and enlightened than him. She also does a good job in nailing the love and fear felt as a result of the affair, and it doesn't help that Vikander is so beautiful that you understand why so many men would fall for her. Mikkel Boe Folsgaard also does a great job as Christian, showing just how much of a egotistical, self-centred, arrogant jerk, but you can also see that he does have some form of mental illness affecting his actions. This really comes to show during the scenes between Folsgaa and Vikander where they clearly can't stand each other but have to be together to maintain the state and it's in these scenes that you see just how much of a jerk the King is. The other cast members all do excellent jobs but they pale in comparison to how excellent Mikkelsen and Vikander are.
The technical aspects of the film are also excellent. The design of the sets and costumes are excellent, the direction by Nikolaj Arcel and the cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk are excellent and the music really fits the mood of the film. These elements though are not as important in the long run in comparison due to the excellence of the performance overshadowing these elements.
Overall, this film is excellent. The way in which it subverts expectations by disguising one of the most subversively political films in recent years as a stuffy costume drama is an excellent decision but the real reason to watch this film is for the excellent performances by Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander, who give some of the best performances from 2012 and fully deserved the Kermode Awards they received.
My Rating: 5/5