This is one that earns every bit of emotion you eventually feel in those final stages, setting itself up brilliantly along the way.
A Royal Affair
Love, politics and religion set the stage for Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair, Denmark’s official entry into this year’s Foreign Language Film race at the Academy Awards. Telling the true story of Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) who, while married to King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), had an affair with the king’s physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), this is an affair that isn’t afraid to let its emotions all out when the time is appropriate for them. For most of its duration, these intense desires, torments and rages are broiling just underneath the surface and as a result when Arcel allows them onto the surface you are truly able to feel them to their fullest extent.
It certainly helps that he has one of the finest casts I’ve seen so far this year, headlined by three tremendous performances from the leading triumvirate. Mikkelsen, the most seasoned of the group, is unsurprisingly brilliant in his portrayal of a man who plays his cards close to the chest but lets his guard down when in the company of the ravishing Mathilde. He’s a mostly reactionary figure for a large part of the picture, but the final act allows him to really sell the emotions that he had been bottling up inside and this is where he demands your attention in each frame.
Vikander has come onto the scene in a big way this year, receiving standout reviews for her work in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina and offering an open, incredibly fragile portrayal of Mathilde here. As the constantly scorned queen, she is often found fighting an internal battle not to lash out and forcing herself to take the abuse put upon her, having to hide her inner feelings in exchange for a more peaceful endgame. As with Mikkelsen, she shines brightest in the final act when that slow-burn explodes and she is able to pour out all of the internal anguish she had been building (her animalistic scream is sure to leave a mark), and the luminescence that fills her up when they’re on screen together is a beautiful contrast to the bleaker emotions felt throughout the rest of the picture.
The major newcomer here is Folsgaard, who takes on his first major role with impressive skill, getting a very big character and taking full advantage of it. We are constantly reminded that the king’s mental health isn’t in the best state, though we don’t particularly need the reminder whenever Folsgaard is allowed to bring that insanity to the surface, which is often. Mikkelsen and Vikander are given the opportunity to build more rounded, fuller representations of their characters off of the page which pays off big time in that final act, but Folsgaard’s performance is practically one money scene after the next.
A Royal Affair loses its steam a bit in the final act, as the political shifting behind the scenes doesn’t mesh too well with the love story that takes center stage, but it’s all part of the required setup that brings us to that explosive climax which is well worth any minor complaints along the way. This is one that earns every bit of emotion you eventually feel in those final stages, setting itself up brilliantly along the way. Adapted from a novel by Bodil Steensen-Leth, the script from Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg doesn’t overly concern itself with feeding you a history lesson, but rather gets the necessary information out while building mostly around that passionate struggle at the heart of the picture. A film that truly earns its emotional payoff, Nikolaj Arcel’s is one that I’m surely going to be rooting to pick up a nomination come January.