“A Royal Affair”: *** or maybe ****

If you enjoy nice Denmark, you’ll probably like this movie. Oddly, if you like Scan-noir, you may also find it fascinating and enjoyable.  After all, one arrives ready for a frock-romp and it turns into something gorgeous but quite bleak. It is another brick in the wall of our outsiders’ understanding of child-friendly Denmark….

There must be something dark about Scandinavia in general and Denmark in particular. It has, after all, Hans Christian Anderson’s grim fairy stories; Karen Blixen’s gothic tales (which I will one day bother to read); Lars Von Trier and now its tranche of paranoia thrillers. And, for all that the happiness industry allways bigs-up Scandinavia as a cheerful place, we know that Munch, Ibsen, Strinberg echo something which more resonates with a low-sunlight northern and historically agricultural backwater of Europe.

A Royal Affair describes (and, if it is accurate, explains) part of the black-story. Here was an 18th Century state which remained curiously tyrannical even by the standards set by the Germano-French polities to its south, let alone the more liberal world emerging to its west. A foreign doctor, immersed in Enlightenment values and ideas, suborns and reforms the state (such as it is) by his mastery of the mentally-feeble king and his affair with the King’s free-thinking wife. The forces of reaction scupper the doctor and his paramour-queen and reinstitute their former style. And then, in an amazing, very short epilogue, we learn that the enfeebled king’s children (both by his queen; one by him and one her lover) later take up the reins and revitalise enlightened rule. This outcome is so beautiful, I hope it’s true (and will mug up on ths subject).

The craftsmanship of the movie is high-order. The king’s mental state is sketched well, and allows him a proper, emerging decency. The queen and the doctor are solidly believable, as is everyone else. The photography is pretty good, if unspectacular. The tone isn’t excitably demotic or dissident. All in all, this up there with Babette’s Feast (1987), which is saying something.

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Publication date

07 July 2012


On movies