The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A yummy Danish for fans of costume dramas

with 9 comments

Costume dramas. Love them or hate them.

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.

Good acting
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

Written by Jessica

May 10, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in A Royal Affair

9 Responses

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  1. Sounds interesting, but I am not a fan of those costume drama thingys!! I try every now and again but I just do not get it!

    I haven’t even seen an episode of Downton Abbey….. Am I really British??

    • If you don’t get it I’m afraid you probably should avoid it. Perhaps it’s an aquired taste, like olives, coffee and beer. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

      I haven’t watched Downton Abbey either, even if I actually fancy this kind of things. I just don’t watch a lot of TV series.


      May 10, 2012 at 10:23 am

  2. This one has been on my radar ever since it took home a couple of awards at the Berlinale. Hopefully it gets some North American distribution soon.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    May 11, 2012 at 3:39 am

    • I hope so too! I said to myself as I watched it: “this is classy. I think it could work for an international audience and not just Scandinavia”. It’s always more fun to discuss movies when someone else has watched them. As always I put my hope in you. You’re the one who is most likely to pick up those odd European movies I watch.


      May 11, 2012 at 7:13 am

  3. Mads Mikkelsen is one of my favourite actors, but that’s not the only reason I want to watch this: the story has always sounded interesting to me, ever since I heard of it in history class.
    Sadly, even though I live in the Danish-German borderland, the next cinema showing this one is really far away. But I’ll find a way to watch it.

    And by the way: costume dramas are great. The great ones at least.
    My favourites are Pride and Prejudice (2006 version) and Marie Antoinette.


    May 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    • I totally think you’re going to love this! Find a way and you’ll be rewarded. Looking forward to see your take!


      May 11, 2012 at 10:42 pm

  4. Great review as always, Jessica. I sort of agree with option “c” but also with what you say about them being ear and eye candy. The last costume drama I watched was Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender and I loved it. And that’s great about Mikkel Boe Følsgaard. How cool is that he’s already an award-winning actor before graduation?


    May 13, 2012 at 4:03 am

    • Thanks!
      As of Jane Eyre I thought it looked beautiful, but I’m a bit sceptic as of how well it works to cut down that story as much. I had seen a TV adaptation of it pretty close to that I watched the movie, and it felt way better in many ways. This said: the cinematography, costumes, atmosphere was awesome.

      We really need to work on learning how to spell that Danish actors name. It’s a bit tricky! But I’m sure he’s got a bright future.


      May 13, 2012 at 9:05 am

  5. […] A Royal Affair I can’t recall last time I saw such a good costume drama – well made in every detail and with wonderful performances by MadsMikkelsen and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard. […]

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