And now for something completely different from Scandinavia. The kind of juicy material often made into deliberately shocking and challenging films by the filmmakers from that peninsula was given a rather classical treatment in A Royal Affair, a still running contender for an Oscar. The country in question is Denmark, who was in the forefront in summoning the ever growing future of freedom of mind back in the eighteenth century (its arrival is expected shortly even as we speak).
Somewhere in the middle of the century, new age was in the air. The Enligtement, which started spreading around the Europe from the cafes of France, found its natural habitat in distant Denmark. King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgard) was praised for it back then, but the real makers of progress were off course people outside the court's life. In this case, that was doctor Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a son of a very conservative priest. At one of king's escapades through Europe, he makes Strusse into a personal medic, a perfect oportunity for him to put his philosophy in practise, esspetialy considering nature of relations on Danish court.
The king, as he already found out, is mentaly ill, and thus manipulated by the nobility more than in any other country from that period. But, more importantly, he finds someone who could be an ally in his endeavor. Young Queen Caroline (Alicia Wiklander), who has lost even the illusion of freedom when she came from native Britain to become a part of a previously arranged marriage, doesn't find the doctor pleasent at first. He is just some childish older gentleman Christian has found to play with. Then, she discovers they have something in common.
Namely, they like the same books. As he makes it possible for her to read Rousseau and Locke without looking over the shoulder, an affair from the title, which will determine the destinies of everybody involved, seems inevitable.
I would say that the director's main standing ground is respect to history of his country, and though I don't find that to be a main goal in depicting true historical events, I was very pleased how it played out in this case. The lavishess of the production is used to put a thin shadow over all of the controversies this story has by its verey nature. Instead of giving us a visceral insight into the madness, drunkenness with power or sexual perversions, the director plays them all as down as he can in order to give a full rounded story in the most traditional sense of period pieces. Nevertheless, the end result is not fear of going deeper into the subject matter; it's pleasentness with the evocation of certain period in time.
To keep the predictability under control, Nikolaj Arcel (the director) devised three firm characters who balance each other. Though his desire to seperate them from stereotypes (the tortured idealist, mad power man, women in the middle ages) can sometimes make them seem too dim, close observation show that it isn't so. Mads Mikkelsen, a current man to go to if you wanna cast your European film, excepts that he wont be able to show his true potential until the final scenes of the film. It's a mature piece of acting. Mikkel Folsgard, a newcomer, is the biggest indicator this is European cinema you are waching. He is appalling, and to accept him demands an effort made from your side. Caroline is an emotional centre of the film, largely due to the presence of Alicia Wiklander. She has the potential of becoming a new European star.
The film has a feel equal to the effect of ideas it depicts. It preocupies your mind while it lasts. You become aware of the potential those ideas have, you engadge in the struggle these characters lead, just because, for a change, these are filmmakers who are inspired by something which can lead to a rich discussion. And then the movie ends and the feeling fades, just like you forget about the illusions of freedom or whatever you fantasize about when the reality strikes in. That doesn't change the fact that it is very pleasent while it lasts and necessary to give in once in a while.
It has now been few days since I've seen the film. Putting the fading effect I mentioned asside, I give it a rating based on the feel I had just after it was finished. It was an 8 than, and that's how it will remain.