It's a Danish soap opera, or rather, just a Danish royal period drama, because it does seem like Danish royalty was always somewhere on the promiscuous side during the time in which this film takes place. Shoot, it was so bad that during the 1600s, before all of this stuff was even going on, Shakespeare was writing a play about adultery, incest and all of that good stuff in the Danish monarchy, or at least I guess that's what they were talking about in "Hamlet", because as much as I like that story, Shakespeare sure knew how to convolute things, so I guess that means that he's perfect to write about something like relationships within the Danish monarchy, which were more convoluted than "Inception" (Ha-ha, "Incestion"; no, there's no incest in this film). Okay, jokes aside, maybe the Danish weren't too soap operish with their relationships, or at least no more so than any other nation that was led by a monarch who sure knew how to use his or her power, but do rest assured folks that this film does indeed deliver on affairs of the royal persuasion. Speaking of which, I just cannot help but feel as though this film's title is unimaginative, but hey, I don't know what else they could call this historical drama about an "affair" than involves "a royal" person, and it's not like they were going to keep the same title from the 1935 film that also dealt with the events portrayed in this film, because they're gunning for the Oscars, and I don't think that they would have as good a chance of getting there if they held the flaunted the title "The Dictator". Actually, maybe they should have kept that title and had critics mistake this film for Sacha Baron Cohen's latest opus, because as much as Cohen has been randomly working his way into recent serious dramatic pieces set in Europe, this film probably would have actually been taken more seriously as Oscar bait. Eh, it'll do just fine, because it is indeed with some juicy subject matter, and is, on top of all of that, actually pretty darn good. Still, it's not like this film is entirely as juicy as its subject matter, having quite a bit of kick, though not without spots that are flatter than others, and for a number of reasons.
While not exactly deserving to be sprawling, this film's intriguing and ultimately generally well-handled story is conceptually meaty enough to warrant something of a hefty length, and at just over two hours and a quarter, this film appears to boast a comfortable runtime, but ultimately achieves its length through a few problematic means, particularly pacing unevenness, which leaves certain aspects to feel glossed over and hurried, if explored at all, and quite a few other aspects to drag out, or at least feel like they're dragging out, thanks to atmospheric slow spells. I wasn't exactly going into this film expecting a bore, but the final product is livelier than I feared it would be, and yet, with that said, Nikolaj Arcel can go only so far with liveliness as a storyteller before slipping up, thus leaving more than a few bits of this film to quiet down a bit too much and bland up quite a bit, very rarely to a dull point, but consistently to a disengaging point. These particular extremes in the film's sloppy pacing range distance emotional resonance a smidge, but not as much as they distance quite a bit of fluidity to pacing, until what you end up with is a paceless opus that may make most every one of its beats compelling enough to sustain your investment thoroughly, but still finds time to meander along as it treads its 137-minute course with limited pacing. Plot structuring problems really aren't as severe as I make them sound, but they are common and undeniable, though not the only problems within Nikolaj Arcel's and Rasmus Heisterberg's script, whose characterization is handled well enough directorially to genuinely hit, but sometimes feels a touch tainted by subtlety issues that aren't too considerable, but betray a bit of genuineness, particularly in the drama department, which will occasionally slip into ever so unfortunate histrionics. The genuineness in this film's directorial execution is enough to dilute the stings of subtlety issues, but the point is that the film isn't quite as consistently comfortable with its dramatic aspects as it probably should be, thus full dramatic impact suffers, then takes some additional beatings from the film's simply being, if nothing else, a rather conventional historical drama, complete with formula tropes that leave the film to, after a while, take on some sense of predictability. It's not too hard to see where this film is going, and while the journey that this film takes to a foreseeable point is engrossing enough for your investment to never go distanced too far, trouble with plot originality and structure, as well as atmospheric pacing, can be found more than a few times throughout this film, thus making for a rewarding final product that still could have been a bit better. Still, do note that I did, in fact, just deem this film rewarding, because even though this film isn't quite all that upstanding, or even all that refreshing, it is strong, with plenty of engagement value and, of course, artistic value.
Though not entirely breathtaking, Rasmus Videbæk's cinematography for this film is nothing short of excellent, with striking detail and distinct lighting, which will often play with coloring to give the film's visual style a kind of fitting warmth that attracts consistently, especially when we reach relatively rare, but worthwhile occasions in which magic falls into the path of Videbæk's photographic eye and delivers on a truly stunning shot or two. Photographically, the film accels and finds its visual style firmly reinforced, while setting goes brought to life by Niels Sejer's production designs and Manon Rasmussen's costume designs, which are essentially exceptional in their reviving 18th century Denmark with a kind of broad intricacy that captures and sells you on the scope of this film's environment and era, but not at the expense of some restraint that secures you down to earth and gives you a kind of intimate acquaintance within the world that this film's upstanding production value brings to life without getting to the point of style over substance. A lot of care clearly went into this film's technical value, and the results are fruitful, delivering on upstanding production value and striking photographic tastes that breathe much life into both style and substance, though perhaps the former most of all, as substance stands pretty strong on its own. There's not too much that's all that unique within this film's fact-based subject matter, or at least not in the execution that further dilutes substance impact through pacing and subtlety issues, so we're not quite looking at the makings of a great film, or even an all that excellent film, but you'd be hard pressed to not be intrigued by this film's, as the Rotten Tomatoes consensus put it, "juicy story", whose historical, dramatic, thematic and character depths could have hit harder in the long run, but hit hard enough in concept to, as the great Leonardo DiCaprio would probably put it, claim your curiosity, while Nikolaj Arcel, as director, truly claims your attention. Arcel does only so much to compensate for the hiccups in his and Rasmus Heisterberg's screenplay, but compensation is here, and can be found throughout the film, gracing the atmosphere with a kind of inspired intrigue that doesn't always deliver on the fun factor, but certainly draws some range out of this film's layered story, especially when the more effective dramatic points come into play and deliver on some pretty effective emotional resonance. It's this film's ending that may deliver on the sharpest emotional punctuation, but most every part of the film goes saved as strong by the inspiration within Arcel's efforts, and goes carried by the inspiration within this film's lead performers, some of whom are a bit of material consistency punch-up away from being all-out remarkable, with Mads Mikkelsen portraying Johann Friedrich Struensee's descent from smooth respectability to a man threatened by his own love with layers and emotional range that are just as present in our younger, less experienced talents, from Mikkel Følsgaard - whose charming, when not either sympathetic or even kind of scary portrayal of the spoiled king is more convincing than the writing of Christian VII - to the lovely Alicia Vikander, whose often atmospheric portrayal of a woman who is being driven deeper and deeper into entrapment by unhappy relationships is particularly enthralling. Whether they be veterans or newcomers, most everyone in this film engages, with the leads really commanding your attention, which shouldn't drift away too often, because with all of its lapses in full effectiveness, this film feels inspired enough to reward as a strong drama.
To conclude this affair, when pacing isn't uneven, it's simply too slow for its own good, thus emotional resonance goes distanced a bit, and further driven back by subtlety issues and conventionalism that help in making this film a predictable one that falls short of what it could have been, but still accels as strong, with a striking visual style and remarkable production value that compliment the selling of this film's compelling subject matter, which is truly brought to life by Nikolaj Arcel's inspired direction, and carried by our lead cast members' inspired performances, thus making "A Royal Affair" a generally compelling historical drama that has its shortcomings, but nevertheless perseveres as rewarding.
3/5 - Good