For all its lavish set pieces, detailed costumes and epic scale, A Royal Affair directed by Nikolaj Arcel finds its success in the subtle complexities and its characters and its constant careful restraint. Despite its long running time, A Royal Affair never feels laborious and it’s so easy to get swept away amongst the layers or romance, political intrigue and deception. There isn’t a foot put wrong in terms of its pacing.
The beautiful Alicia Vikander plays the dainty, elegant and English Caroline Mathilde, who is sent off to Denmark to marry King Christian VII, played brilliantly by Mikkel Folsgaard, which turns out to be anything but the fairy tale she hoped for. It isn’t long before she realises how unhinged the king is. Enter Dr Johann Struensee, a left wing thinker strategically placed by allies to be the Kings personal physician. Played by a perfectly cast Mads Mikkelsen, Stuensee is brooding, intelligent, heroic and charming; leaving it only a matter of time before he wins the love of Caroline.
Over the Sydney Film Festival, you would be hard pressed to find three strong leading performances as good as in A Royal Affair. Vikander is heartbreaking as the duck-out-of-water Caroline, Mikkelsen delivers an emotionally complex and believable performance, but the real stand out is Folsgaard as the mad King Christian VII. For a character as unlikable as he is, Folsgaard has shaped a troubled and naïve figure, overwhelmed by his surroundings and never knows quite how to think for himself. He is far from the villain he so easily could have been.
A Royal Affair becomes beautifully cinematic in its scope, its stunning visuals and the filmmakers attention to detail. Audiences will find it so easy to be swept away in a great story that is rousing as it is tissue-reaching.
A Royal Affair is playing at the Sydney Film Festival on Friday 15th June at 4.15pm
and is being released nationally on June 21.