A yummy Danish for fans of costume dramas
I know some people run away screaming if you as much as mention them, arguing that
a) it’s just for chicks
b) they’re bad since all the effort is put into the customs and film sets and nothing to the storytelling and the characters
c) they’re all the same. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen all.
I’m lucky enough not to suffer from costume crama intolerance. I rather enjoy them. Admittedly I don’t watch them every week or even every month, but I definitely want to include them in my film diet. One or two big costume movies a year keep me happy. While they often don’t pull me in as much emotionally as an intimate small piece of drama does, they offer something else – always eye candy, sometimes ear candy, and inspiration to dream away and imagine what it would have been like to live in a far distant time, at a far distant place.
If you’ve ever read and loved Edith Nesbit’s House of Arden, I think you know where I’m coming from.
Danish costume drama
I’ve come to associate costume dramas mostly with British cinema. There have been a few good dramas with other origins, such as Amadeus and Marie Antoinette, both from US, while taking place in Europe. But top on mind is Britain and I think you could blame the Janes for it – Jane Austen, the author and Jane Eyre, the novel. They just never seem to get out of fashion. There’s always room for another adaption. Not that I mind; they’re usually well crafted and enjoyable.
Considering this it came to me as a bit of a surprise when A Royal Affair recently came up in the Swedish cinemas. It wasn’t British at all. It was Danish, and considering how small budgets Scandinavian movies usually have to work with, I didn’t expect all that much of it.
I’m glad to say I was wrong. I’m not sure of how they made it; but I suspect it’s a pan-European production considering the names in the text credits. What I do know is that they’ve made a movie that isn’t short of the scope that a Hollywood production can provide.
A true story
This is the dramatization of a true story, a piece of Danish but also European history, taking place in the time of revolutions in the 18th century. It’s the story about the arranged marriage between the king of Denmark, Christian VII and Caroline Mathilde from England. She was a just a teenager when she arrived to her new country and it didn’t take long for her to realize that he was dysfunctional, not to say completely insane. The crazy king hires a personal doctor, Struensee, who secretly nourishes radical ideas about how to run the country, inspired by French thinkers such as Rosseau. The queen turns out to be on the same page and they start to influence the government of the country, manipulating the king while also having a love affair behind without his knowledge. The question is: can they get away with it?
If you’ve studied European history you might now the answer already, but perhaps you haven’t, so I’ll stop there. You can just watch the movie and find out for yourself. Or look it up at wikipedia if you’re too curious.
From a costume drama you expect gorgeous dresses, believable historical settings, beautiful music and a breathtaking cinematography that makes you nod, saying to yourself: “what a good thing I watched it in a theatre on a big screen”. A Royal Affair has all of this.
It also has some really good acting performances. Alicia Vikander, who plays the queen, is Swedish, but performs in Danish. According to an interview she learned to speak it fluently within two months, a condition to get the role. I suppose she’s allowed a bit of slack and an accent since the queen is British to begin with. But it’s still impressive. She appears to have an international career going now. (Next up is a role in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina.)
Mads Mikkelsen is perhaps the most successful Danish actors and if you’re a fan like me, you’ll probably like him in the role as doctor Struensee.
But the big surprise, the shining star, is an actor named Mikkel Boe Følsgaard in the role of the borderline crazy king. One moment he seems perfectly sane, but under the surface, the craziness is luring and the next moment he’s acting out like a child. I can imagine that all those shifting moods and levels of insanity could be difficult to navigate between, but Følsgaard makes it seem easy and natural.
What’s so remarkable with this is that this guy is completely unknown. It’s his first feature film and he hasn’t even left theatre school (the graduation is this summer.) He won the award for best actor in the film festival in Berlin. That’s what I’d call a successful debut. You may only wonder where he’ll go from here. Did I just see the beginning of the career of the next generation’s Mads Mikkelsen?
A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære, Nikolaj Arcel, DK 2012) My rating: 4/5