For how oft does one leave one's cinema seat cursing the loss of yet another two hours of precious life that will never be regained? Never fear. It is a sheer delight to spend two hours immersed in the intrigues of the Danish court of King Christian VII. Forget Hollywood. Forget Damon, Cruise and Jolie. A Royal Affair has no 'stars' - not in the Hollywood sense - because it jolly well doesn't need any.
That is not to say that the performers are not stars in their own right, but you know what I mean. Alicia Vikander (Queen Mathilde), Mads Mikkelsen (Johan Struensee) and Mikel Boe Falsgaard (King Chrsitian) would certainly never need to take lessons from anyone, let alone Hollywood. And what a refreshing change to not see the usual faces. I don't know about you, but the very fact that a movie stars Pitt, Hanks, Goldberg and co is enough to have me running for cover.
Anyway back to A Royal Affair - a sumptuous drama based on events at the Danish court of the 1780s and a place where worldy-wise doctor, Johan Struensee finds himself serendipitously cast as physician to mentally-ill monarch, Christian VII. Doctor Struensee soon gains the confidence of this most capricious of kings much to the chagrin of the court. Struensee is an outsider - a German, a foreigner and worse perhaps - a social climber.
Added to which the Doctor starts to become uncomfortably close to Queen Mathilde, a woman constantly neglected and humiliated by a husband teetering on the edge of madness. The ambiguity of Struensee's characterisation is one of the film's many strengths. As a fervent supporter of the Enlightenment and hence fully committed to social reform, Struensee easily wins our hearts, but as a man who manipulates the deranged king and has an affair with the Queen, sympathy is less assured. It's a deliciously subtle portrayal of man whose morals are sometimes questionable at best.
And yet one can't help rootinig for Struensee, despite the almost Rasputin-like character. The doctor makes powerful enemies at court as he pursues an agenda of sweeping social reform. Ruffling the feathers of the status quo though ultimately seals his fate. Meanwhile the affiar with Queen Mathilde produces issue. The intrigue deepens and the knives sharpen...
Add to this unfolding tale of deception and political power struggles, quite sumptuous production values and you end up with something very special indeed. A Royal Affair is all costumes and candelabras and gloriously so.
Read one way it's the story of a man who overeaches himself. While not quite being corrupted by power, Struensee comes very close. Read this way the film becomes an examination of one man's downfall - a man who ate the poisoned apple, a man who fell to temptation. And where the film scores so highly is in the sheer pace of its direction: events not only overtake Struensee and his circle, but the audience too is left gasping as the court reaserts its authority over the usurpers.
The finale is as painful as it is brutal. The impossible romance is finished: Struensee is sentenced to death, while Mathlde is exiled. Adding to the poignancy is the fact that A Royal Affair is based on true events in Danish history. Johan Struensee did indeed briefly rule the roost and was indeed executed and thus closed a remarkable chapter in Danish history known as 'The Time of Struensee.'
A Royal Affiair is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, epic, timeless. It's filmmaking as it ought to be: intelligent, thought-provoking and a damned good night out, or if like me, a damned good night on the sofa.
Made in 2012 it's my film of that year, this year, any year. Well, film of the decade, at the very least.