IT seems we all love a royal scandal.
While most Australians would be familiar with the alleged extra-marital affairs that have marred the British royal family, the Danish monarchy hadn’t held much interest until Hobart-born commoner Mary Elizabeth Donaldson morphed into a Princess.
This connection brings some Australian relevance to A Royal Affair, an epic period piece from Danish director Nikolaj Arcel and screenwriting partner Rasmus Heisterburg, who co-wrote the original film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
With English subtitles, it tells of Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), who arrives in Copenhagen from England in the late 1700s to marry the mentally volatile King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard).
When the crown council appoints physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen, best known as the bleeding-eyed villain in Casino Royale) to treat the King, Queen Caroline falls for the German doctor’s Enlightenment ideals.
With the child-like King blindly onside, the doomed lovers plot to take Denmark out of its dark, repressed state by introducing a succession of laws including the abolition of corporal punishment and censorship, but not without suffering tragic personal consequences.
A Royal Affair succeeds in all departments of the historical costume drama.
It is well paced despite its 128-minute running time, it doesn’t rely on heavy-handed use of a theatrical musical score (think Elizabeth, The Duchess et al) and it has that restrained European sensibility while maintaining mainstream appeal.
The three leads – Vikander, Mikkelsen and Folsgaard (Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival) – turn in compelling performances and the costume and set design is, unsurprisingly, sumptuous.
Managing a near-perfect balance between style and substance, this is quite possibly the most sophisticated period piece you are likely to see.
A ROYAL Affair (M)
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard
Screening: from June 21
Rating: Four stars