Objectively, Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair tells a fascinating tale of palace intrigue, the birth of the Enlightenment, treachery, insanity, and illicit sex. These are all things that I enjoy watching. I also enjoy watching beautifully constructed shots filled with shadowy blues and flickering fire. Fine acting—such as the potent type exhibited by Mads Mikkelsen—pleases me as well.
But I didn’t engage with A Royal Affair. As I sat watching it, appreciating it, I found my mind drifting to other things. Errands to run. The slow, inexorable passage of time.
So subjectively, A Royal Affair‘s tale wasn’t fascinating. This surprises me because when I try to explain what the film is about, it sounds fantastic. Positively brimming with slurpy, greedy, goodness.
Mads Mikkelsen plays small town physician Doctor Struensee, a secret supporter of the Enlightenment which is slowly raising eyebrows across Europe. Meanwhile, Alice Vikander’s Catherine Mathilde, an English royal, is married off to the nutsy-cuckoo Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard), King of Denmark. Through political maneuvering, Dr. Struensee becomes personal physician and only real confidant to the King, who, remember, is batshit loony.
The Doc slowly coaxes Christian into a pliable state and usurps his power. More or less all of it—his kingly command and his marital duties vis-a-vis the minxy Catherine. And what does he do with this power? He shoves Denmark into the vanguard of the Enlightenment.
A Royal Affair isn’t a happy story, though. Doing good (not well, good) is no guarantee of entry to heaven, as our historical characters discover.
In the end, while I empathized with the motivations of the characters, I didn’t care. Would Dr. Struensee escape retribution? Would the Queen find her elusive happiness? Would Denmark lead the world into a new age of human rights? Would the King look good in a flaming banana costume?
Would the film end?
I am happy to say the film did end. It was a good film that I didn’t like, so I was glad to see the credits roll. The clash between my objective assessment and my subjective interest continues to grumble on, though.
I suppose in the end all I can say is that if you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this sort of thing. Or at least more than I did.