Film Review – A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære)

Enlightenment Entertainment

You’d have to be mad to marry King Christian of Denmark, but then that’s because he’s a bit bonkers himself. An infantile muppet who likes whoring, drinking and pushing snow in the faces of people he doesn’t like, he seems entirely unsuited to the job of governing a country.

Hold on. Since when did it matter what kind of lunatic the king is? Looking into the history of the monarchy all over the world, most of them seem to be venal morons. Their subjects just smile, back away and get on with their lives and that’s largely what is happening in 18th century Denmark. When soon-to-be Queen Caroline is shipped over from an idyllic-looking Britain (well done us)  to take up the exalted position of heir-birther, she soon realises her husband is a bit of a tool. But then she would think this, being as she’s a huge fan of a recent cult trend called the Enlightenment. She’s got the books and everything, although most are taken away by a stern governess who equates them to Justin Bieber posters. The Queen should have grown out of that stuff.

But Her Majesty hasn’t and, the job of supplying the male descendant out of the way, she shows about as much interest in her husband as he shows in her. So, a typically unhappy royal life with naught but all the peasants you could eat, but wait! Over in Austria, a doctor named Struensee with similar Enlightenment leanings is being pressured into taking up the vacant post of King Christian’s personal doctor/nanny/partner-in-whoremongering in order to get ‘one of us’ on the inside. Despite being played by the movie bad guy du jour at the moment Mads Mikkelson (soon to be playing Hannibal Lecter, no less, on TV) the doctor quickly wins over the reluctant King by the seemingly revolutionary act of pointing out that he’s doing nothing wrong. You’d think being King you’d be surrounded by yes men, but apparently this was rare in 18th century Denmark.

Quickly becoming invaluable, Struensee attempts to guide the easily suggestible King towards reforms that include not treating the people as less-flammable firewood. Inevitably, there are powerful people who see the King’s new right hand man as a menace and want to be rid of him, and an opportunity arises to strike at this uppity doctor.

You’ll notice the lack, so far, of any reference to the Royal Affair of the title. This is because it’s the least interesting thing in the film. Queen Caroline is portrayed as a servile drip at first and then a revolutionary drip, without an ounce of passion. It doesn’t help that the actress playing her is so young (of necessity; the real Caroline died at 23) and there’s a gulf between her and Mikkelson, both in age and in charisma. Plus, it’s hard to get hooked into a romance stoked by the fiery passion of wide scale reforms of intellectual and scientific thought.

A Royal Affair is a good-looking production and most of the story is fascinating, but it’s hard to see how it won its awards, especially in this country when the BBC tends to knock out stuff like this every other weekend. And don’t look up the real story unless you want to know that the real Struensee was a bit of a dictator and was probably closer to Rasputin than the nice guy presented here. A Royal Affair is a fairy tale. Treat it as that and you’ll enjoy it far more.


About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at) or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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