Period pieces are an art form that can be absolutely beautiful or an excruciating mess. There have been so many interesting historical events that have taken place in the world that filmmakers wish to put on the silver screen. While some are more captivating than others, the screenwriter must have a clear understanding of the material in order to make something that does the event justice. A Royal Affair is an excellent example of a motion picture that displays such a high amount of interest in its characters that it's nearly impossible to not become invested in the plot. If you're looking for a well-crafted historical drama, then you've found it.
Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) may be young and beautiful, but she's miserable in this true story of Denmark's history. She's married to King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), who's an insane and immature royal. The queen falls in love with Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), who is the king's physician. Even though their political and individual ideals weren't popular in Denmark at the time, they started a revolution that changed the nation forever.
A Royal Affair tells a story full of love, hate, politics, and the Enlightenment. Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel's screenplay has a lot going on, but it never gets messy. This is a roller coaster ride that's able to play with the emotions of its viewers. The three main characters are portrayed in such a genuinely human form, as they are never clearly protagonists or antagonists, but a mix of the two. Your opinions on the characters will continue to change throughout the story as they continue to develop. They're given such an incredible amount of attention, which really works to the feature's advantage. Heisterberg and Arcel have written some exceptional dialogue for these roles. Since that is the movie's primary focus, it could have easily become dull. Fortunately, this script is filled to the brim with intelligent dialogue. The conversations and ideas exchanged between Queen Caroline Mathilde and Johann Friedrich Struensee shine the brightest. It's fascinating to watch as some of the more modern philosophies were developed.
As well-written as this movie is, the pacing has its issues. There are times when the story stretches itself a little bit thin. Around fifteen to twenty minutes could have been cut in the editing room to make this drama run smoother. Regardless of the pacing problems, this movie will tap into your emotions, which can be a difficult feat for period pieces. By the end of the running time, we get to see the true colors of these historical figures when they're put under the stress of the climax. This was an incredibly dark time in Denmark's history that may be tragic, but it has sparked an entirely new way of living. A Royal Affair isn't only about the love that was kept secret between two individuals, but the movement it started. It's impressive how the writers managed to take a large story with such complex characters, succeed in making something of note, and make it look easy.
The three main characters have been cast to perfection. Alicia Vikander is captivating as Caroline Mathilde. She's able to express the incredible amount of depth in her character. When she's with the king, she appears to be depressed, but when she's in the presence of Johann Friedrich Struensee, she lights up without even having to utter a single word of dialogue. Mads Mikkelsen is just as wonderful in the role of Johann. He's extraordinarily believable and displays excellent chemistry with Vikander during the more personal scenes. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard fits perfectly in the role of King Christian VII. He's an immature coward, but there's a lot more to the character than one would initially think. All three of these performances are Oscar-worthy, as they truly bring this film full circle.
Even though A Royal Affair is dialogue-driven, it still has some breathtaking visuals. The costumes and the set designs are both absolutely outstanding. Each scene was extensively thought-out, which really paid off. There are small details in the costumes and the sets that make it feel like we're looking through a window in time and not just a silver screen. The score is suitable and captures the atmosphere of the motion picture very well. From start to finish, this is a beautifully shot movie with all the bells and whistles you'd hope to see in a moment frozen in time.
After getting the chance to see this historical drama, I can see why it has been announced as Denmark's official submission for the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards. This well-crafted period piece definitely deserves to be a nominee for this upcoming award-season. It isn't perfect, as the pacing is a little bit bumpy at times, but it manages to do what many historical films fail to achieve. This piece of cinema is very engaging and well-told. There are numerous themes and multiple intricate characters, yet the filmmakers accomplished making a strong period piece that holds its focus very well. A Royal Affair is an elegant and impactful film. Highly recommended.