Rewarding Tension is Uncovered in Best Foreign Film Nom
DIRECTED BY NIKOLAJ ARCEL/DANISH, ENGLISH, GERMAN, FRENCH/2013 (U.S. theatrical release)
A woman put into an arranged marriage. A power-hungry King who doesn’t treat her right. A worldly peasant meets her. Sparks fly, an affair begins and consequences must be paid.
But this isn’t the same story with the same clichés you have seen a hundred times before. Things are a little off. The lover is the peasant Doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) who has ambitions to be a leader, and the philosophies to back it up. The King is not evil, but rather mentally ill. At times he is berating his Queen, but it’s from a place of having a disease rather than being overly arrogant. At the same time he takes affection to Struensee and agrees to implement his ideas, at times even referring to him as the King.
Struensee and the Queen Caroline Mathilda begin to have an affair, even though they are warned it will result in death. Their relationship is pure love. She represents the free-spirits he lacks and he represents the challenging intellectualism she has been denied of since becoming Queen. You want them to both stop and keep the relationship going. The audience feels what they feel: passion and danger. And even if the movie does clock in at over 2 hours and 15 minutes, so much of the movie is drenched in tension that becomes almost unbearable at times, but never boring.
Mads Mikkelsen proves himself again to be one of the best international actors working today.
The true historical story of Struensee is an important one to tell. His ideas helped make Denmark one of the most progressive countries in Europe. His important story was previously told in the 1999 novel “The Visit of the Royal Physician” and was the subject of the 1935 British film The Dictator.
Mikkelsen proves himself again to be one of the best international actors working today. He plays Struensee with both pain and heroism. He knows the destination of the path he is leading, but is still not above cowering from the inevitable fate like we all would. He proves that the ultimate hero isn’t the one who is above dying, but like Gary Cooper in High Noon, is the one who goes forward even when he’s terrified. Mikkel Boe Folsgaard is also fantastic as Christian VII, who goes from being the obvious villain to slowly becoming one of the most sympathetic characters in the movie and the strongest ally to Struensee.
A Royal Affair is nominated for Best Foreign Language at the Oscars, and even though it really has no shot against Amour, it still needs to be seen. The villain in Affair is no single person, but rather institutions of oppression: The state, the church, the monarchy. And even though Struensee is the protagonist, the hero of Affair is only what he represents: freedom, love and the mentality of change.