Review: A Royal Affair

Davina Moss 6 July 2012

A Royal Affair

Nikolaj Arcel, 15, 137 mins


I learnt a lot of things watching A Royal Affair: some fascinating European history, emotional truths about the reality of enslavement, and even a few words of Danish. But I didn’t enjoy myself very much. Nikolaj Arcel’s period piece is an astonishingly acted, beautifully conceived and well-executed lesson in how historical drama should be done. Every moment of this film is elegantly shot and the central performances, particularly from upcoming Swedish lead Alicia Vikander and co-star Mads Mikkelsen, are a master class in the eloquent and the understated. The chemistry between this central pair of lovers lights up the screen.

Unlikely as it sounds, Arcel’s problem stems from the historical facts. His subject matter sounds like a Hollywood dream: a young and beautiful member of the British Royal Family weds the King of Denmark, causing her much sorrow before a romantic awakening from his physician allows her to blossom into a confident political powerhouse. Pinned to the backdrop of an almost unbelievable series of cultural shifts in 18th-century Denmark, the remarkable, miserable life of Caroline Mathilde lasted only 23 years, and has enough drama in it for hours of footage. And, as is all too common in true-to-life royal dramas, the gloomy facts don’t make for pleasurable viewing. The viewer just might find it all a little too much to swallow. In the end, we disconnect emotionally, out of emotional satiation.

Arcel’s pacing is also a little off. He attempts to include too many astonishing true events, and so the film drags on for a good two and a half hours; beautiful, lucid, hauntingly enchanting – but in the end just too depressing.

Davina Moss