A Royal Affair (Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic, 2012)

a-royal-affair-il-poster-internazionale-del-film-280697Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel. Like everyone, I was drawn to this movie because I took one glance at the poster and I thought it would be fun to watch a Danish 18th-century period piece with powdered wigs and Mads Mikkelsen. Based on those points, this movie knocks it out of the Danish-powdered-wig ballpark. As an overall film experience..I’m not sure why, but I feel a bit let down. What was I expecting? I saw some powdered wigs, I heard some Danish being spoken, I got to see Mads do his thing, what else is there? Maybe I’m spoiled for the other entries in the genre that I’m quite fond of. For one, this movie didn’t have the overflowing, majestic, picturesque landscape and game-changing cinematography that Barry Lyndon had. And it didn’t have the distilled, Greek-mythical quality of Amadeus (nor, for that matter, the music). To be fair, these are very different movies, and if this movie tried to re-create the cinematographic effects of that movie, we would all  condemn it as a knock-off. Giant debate about the categorization of art aside, I’m having a really hard time with this one: it’s a doomed romance movie, but it’s also got this weird political balancing act going on. It’s a condemnation of the misery that absolute rule and monarchy can bring, a celebration of Enlightenment rationality and free-spiritedness, but as the film goes on, it resolves into a weird celebration of the wondrous works that the right monarch can have, and the film functions by the sharp contrast it depicts between the absolute power of the mean-spirited and close-minded Church authorities (Mads Mikkelsen being beheaded = sad), and the wonderful, progressive and bold future that the future monarchs will usher in (happy ending). There’s a strong echo with the message of The King’s Speech, which was a feel-good movie that derived its good feels from a (by then, largely symbolic) monarch, struggling to confidently assume his symbolic identity, and saving the world in the process (historically dubious, but mythically very effective). What this film did, it did admirably. I just wasn’t that into what it did, and most of the impact this movie is going to leave on me will be from the great performances from everyone involved. Obviously, my man Mads was the chocolate icing on this thing, but the film wouldn’t work without all three leads firing on all cylinders. Alicia Vikander does the most heavy lifting, giving a resilient human face to what is on paper an unbearably depressing lot in life. Mikkel Følsgaard as the idiot king also does a good job turning this one-dimensional monster into a living, breathing, human being who is actually pretty sympathetic, especially once the progressive 21st century doctor Mads all but diagnoses him with autism. As always, my eye was caught by a small role carried by a recurring support player I keep seeing, David Dencik, who keeps popping up as a loathsome toad character, from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to The Homesman. Here again, he’s the go-to actor for depicting the character that the audience has to find totally unsympathetic, and he does a great job of it. I almost feel bad for him, that he keeps getting these same roles over and over, but then again, he’s getting roles in critically acclaimed independent movies, so what are you gonna do?

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One response to “A Royal Affair (Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic, 2012)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2016 | Offhand Reviews·

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