Suspense, politics and a glimpse into history

MATT LAWREY AT THE MOVIES
Last updated 15:08 05/07/2012
royal affair
 

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One of the best things about being a movie reviewer is that sometimes you have to see films you don't really want to see.

Take the Danish costume drama A Royal Affair (M), for example.

Set in the 18th century, the suitably lavish production tells the story of an English girl by the name of Caroline Matilda who, as a member of the British royal family, was sent to Copenhagen to marry Norway's new, and quite possibly mad, King Christian VII.

Life isn't much fun for either of them until Christian goes on a European tour, loses the plot and is put into the care of Dr Johann Friedrich Struensee.

A German with some radical ideas about things like the treatment of peasants, Struensee ingratiates his way into the King's affairs and is soon pulling his boss' strings to bring about radically progressive changes in the country. To complicate matters, he and the Queen also fall deeply in love.

By my estimations A Royal Affair offers twice as much as your average film of its kind.

Yes, it's got wonderful outfits, majestic castles, palatial interiors, lots of servants, silly wigs, interesting hats, horses, folk dancing and a harpsichord. And, sure, it's got romance, great performances, sumptuous cinematography, beautiful lighting and excellent direction.

But what A Royal Affair also offers is a complex plot that is full of genuine suspense, fascinating politics and a glimpse into an amazing chapter of history.

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, the bloke who wrote the screenplay for the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, A Royal Affair stars Mads Mikkelsen (the baddy in Casino Royale) as Struensee, and the much younger Alicia Vikander and Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as Matilda and Christian.

Mikkelsen, the owner of one of cinema's most interesting faces, makes Struensee a very easy guy to like. Smart, warm and ambitious for humanity, he is a poster boy for the Enlightenment.

Vikander shows huge skill and discipline in a role that requires her to experience a few highs and lots of lows. The really impressive bit is that she nails all Matilda's emotional traumas without ever milking them.

The same is true of Folsgaard, who somehow manages to create an ever-so-slightly sympathetic character from a man who should be really easy to loathe.

Kudos also to David Dencik, who was in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and both the Swedish and Hollywood versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, for his low-key performance as a brilliantly detestable statesman.

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The script by the film's director Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg keeps you guessing and wonderfully brings history alive in a way that is exciting without ever feeling overly exaggerated.

Not only that but, if Wikipedia is to be believed, most of it is true.

Bottom line: Really, really good.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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