A dark Danish romance
17 Feb 2012
It’s tough to watch the only real Danish movie star be decapitated. But Denmark’s tragic hero Dr. Struensee is justly played by Mads Mikkelsen in Arcel’s beautiful dark romance A Royal Affair, which is praised in Berlin.
I remember crying my eyes out. I was, maybe, nine, when I read Herta J. Enevoldsen’s colorful dramatization of the English born Danish Queen Caroline Mathilde and the German physician Dr. Struensee and their tragic story of love.
Their contribution to history was, nevertheless, not so much caused by the queen and her lover’s feelings for each other but by their veneration for Voltaire and the ideas of the enlightenment.
Enjoying Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair the other day, I admit I shed another tear. This time, however I didn’t cry for the melodramatic lovers.
I mourned the sight of Denmark’s only real mega star lose his head, and I’m not kidding. Being interpreted by Mads Mikkelsen with forceful, and an oh so very, very masculine elegance, Dr. Johan Struensee is finally granted his deserved rehabilitation on film, as well as by historians.
Whether or not Struensee and Caroline Mathilde were really in love, when they joined forces behind King Christian the 7th back, or whether she was an instrument for his political ambition, as suggested, his intention was to lead the Danes out of the sadistic feudal society and into modern age. And the we killed him for it. Shame on us.
“We know they had an affair. The romantic in me wants to believe that they were also very much in love,” Nikolaj Arcel said yesterday at the press conference in Berlin, where several journalists expressed their admiration for his film. And rightly so.
Indeed, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard gives an incredibly strong performance as the king, rendering him at once a pitiful, sad soul and a grotesque, unpredictable monster. The manic depressive disorder, today’s historians believe King Christian suffered from, hadn’t been discovered at the time. Struensee’s medical treatment of the king seemed to consist of his role as a much needed older brother an advisor. To Mads Mikkelsen he’s not just a hero:
“In my eyes he is an idealist. And all of a sudden he gets this chance to climb the social ladder. Why should other people whisper in the king’s ear, if he has better things to whisper? His weaknesses are very clear and I liked that about him,” he says.
It is this ambiguity to Struensee’s charachter that makes A Royal Affair so compelling to me, aside from the film’s smooth fusion of stunning costume drama and a vivid realism expressed in the charachters’ attitudes and dialogue. With an added sense of humor.
If you think a young Danish queen at the time would be demure, think again. Why not complain about the king’s cock, if it is in fact dirty? Just because you happen to live in the 18th century?
Critics from Screen and The Hollywood Reporter praised the film, which is now rumoured to take one of the Berlinale’s top prizes.
Much to my amusement, and to Nikolaj Arcel’s, I think, the foreign journalists at yesterday’s conference kept asking the director, if he was inspired by for instance Marie Antoinette in France? No,” was Arcel’s answer. Rasputin in Russia, then? No.
The story of Caroline Mathilde and Johan Struensee is a unique part of our Danish DNA. Unfortunately, I have to add, having been reminded of how stupid the Danes were when unable to appreciate a timely hero.
Arcel’s film is an important reminder of the liberties we enjoy today. Which I am thankful to say, sometimes include great cinematic storytelling.