Reviewer's rating: 10/10

A Royal Affair - Trailer

A young queen falls secretly in love with her physician, and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever.

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Reviewer rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reader rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (28 votes)

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Or at least, it was in the 18th century. For while radically progressive reforms were sweeping across Europe, the Danes were being ruled by a grim, iron fist. They had an inept, young king - clearly mentally unfit to rule - who allowed his council to favour land owners over the poor living in squalor, where disease and death were rife.

Nikolaj Arcel's sumptuous period epic - penned with his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo co-scripter Rasmus Heisterberg - relives a fascinating, yet largely forgotten period in history with vigour and grace.

Arcel's film conveys its subject so well, in fact, it defies its generous running time with aplomb.  

In keeping with the royal fashions of the time, a beautiful English princess, Caroline (played by rising star Vikander), is forced at age 15 to marry her cousin, King Christian VII.

Arriving in Denmark, the soon-to-be queen naturally expects her future husband to be sophisticated and culturally aware. Instead, she discovers, to her horror, Christian (Folsgaard) is a childlike, foul-mouthed fool, more interested in drinking and whoring his way around the palace than running his divided nation. It's little wonder all his advisers run circles around him, with very little effort required.

To complicate matters, Christian craves love and affection - at least in both a brotherly and motherly way.

With his scheming stepmother, Julianne (Dyrholm), hovering dangerously in the background, the young king takes a shine to his personal physician Johann Struensee (Mikkelsen) - who favours the ideas of the enlightenment, including ridding the poor of disease and redistributing wealth. Initially, he has the king's eye, rising rapidly to his own position of power concerning matters of the state, while also forging a forbidden romance with his queen.

Playing Struensee would be a challenge for any actor worth his salt. Wisely, then, the task falls at the feet of Mikkelsen, a man who last month won at Cannes (for his performance in Thomas Vinterberg's coming drama The Hunt) and, for his exemplary turn here, similarly triumphed in Berlin. His trophy cabinet ever expanding, Mikkelsen (the villain in Casino Royale) offers a heady blend of clarity and insight, with just the right degree of restraint.

Arcel's film conveys its subject so well, in fact, it defies its generous running time with aplomb. An 18th-century epic that harks back to the great film Amadeus in its detail and vision, A Royal Affair is one of the finest, most refreshing period dramas to emerge in a long time.

Rated M, 138 minutes, opens Thursday
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Trine Dyrholm