Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Royal Affair

I have always been kind of a History buff. I love almost anything and everything about it, especially if it involves any political aspects. There is so much to know, there is so much to learn from there. For my money, I think the second world war is the most fascinating period in history of mankind. Almost every other thing happening in the world right now, you can trace back their origins to something that happened in World War II - directly or indirectly. Even in cinema, there is so much material based on holocaust, almost overdoing it, it has almost become a genre of its own. However one aspect of cinema that is usually associated with History and still gets lukewarm response from me is Period pieces. To tell you the truth, it is mostly because most of them only take the setting from the certain period and more often than not are a work of fiction than actual true historical events. Even if there is a smidgeon of a truth to them, I am still attracted to them. Such was the case of A Royal Affair(2012). Not that it only tells the part of the true story as apparently most of it stays to the history but I had no idea if it's a true story or fictional. I was drawn to it only because of the Oscar buzz surrounding it and incidentally, it was playing in a theater near me. This is only the second occasion of me watching a foreign movie in a theater - other being The Intouchables(2012) - and again, incidentally, both seem to be locking horns against each other in the Oscar race.

Set in 18th Century Denmark, A Royal Affair(2012) is a story of Caroline Mathilde who served as Queen of Denmark and Norway for 6 years, from 1766 to 1772 until she was arrested and sent into exile amidst allegations of affair between her and Johann Struensee. Struensee started of as a personal physician to the King but became very important figure, virtually running the country for two years prior to his arrest. It starts with her arrival from England after her marriage to Christian VII of Denmark. As she finds out right after their marriage, Christian is ill mentally. They got off on the wrong foot as Christian's stepmother makes him believe that Caroline is everything he is not and will eventually take his place. This rift between them keeps on growing because of his aggressive behaviour towards her and her indifference towards him. Doctor Struensee comes into the picture on King's tour of Europe when he falls ill and court starts looking for a personal physician for him. He gets this job not based on his qualification but first because of the referral from Count Rantzau and Brant and then because King finds him interesting. Rantzau and Brandt have lost their place in Royal court since Christian became the King as Bernstoff, who became most powerful minister in King Christian's court, did not like them and they expect to be re-instated to their position in return of this favour to Struensee. Struensee is a man of progressive thinking, a man of enlightenment as he calls himself and they are considered as an enemy since they oppose the medieval thinking with strong emphasis of faith and religion. However, Struensee and King hit off immediately and start spending a lot of time together. Struensee is seen as a bad influence initially as after his appointment Christian starts firing people who have been with him since his childhood like his tutor and people blame him for that.

Struensee uses his influence in a lot of good ways - he tells King to improve his relationship with Queen, he encourages Christian to put his ideas in court and most importantly, keep his craziness in check. Even queen doesn't have a much high of an opinion of him at first. But as she gets to know him better, they get acquainted to each other with the help of common interests like Books and Horse riding and Voltaire. She likes the man of enlightenment in him who is speaks of things she is been told not to. Around him, she can be an intellectual that she was accustomed to or was known for in England but never had a chance to be in Sweden because of censorship and King's behaviour. He cements his position further as a faithful adviser in eyes of both King and Queen, this time by using his doctor degree, when he successfully vaccinates Prince Frederick. With incidences like this, Queen and Struensee get closer and closer and then dances and illicit meetings turn acquaintance into friendship, friendship into fascination and then into full-blown titular affair. In the mean time, Struensee becomes much more influential on King too. With some other free-thinkers like him with Christian and Caroline together, they try to bring some reforms. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't until one day in one crazy moment, Christian dissolves the existing cabinet and replaces Bernstoff with Struensee. What follows is rule of reform to bring Denmark out of stone age mindsets, off course until relationship between Carolina and Struensee threatens it all.

Over the last week, I have caught up with all the Oscar roundtables released at 'The Hollywood Reporter'. First one was the writer's roundtable where, among other things, they talked about the responsibility films have in terms of telling a story certain way. 'The Office' fame John Krasinski talked about manipulating audience to believe something being incredibly dangerous. There is something similar I noticed distinctly about A Royal Affair that it never leads you as a viewer to believe anything. It puts everything on the table and let you be the judge to choose our own side. It doesn't glorify anyone and at the same time, does not villainize anyone either by being overtly critical. Each of the three leads are being presented from all the angles, good or bad. Another thing that I really liked about it is, even though it's named A Royal Affair, it doesn't dwell too much only on affair part and gives a well rounded view of everything that lead to the eventual end, politically as well as socially. I loved that it spends time introducing the characters, building them and circumstances around them so that nothing seems forced, out of the blue or superficial but at the same time never looses its pace. It takes a lot of maturity on director and writer Nicolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg's part to show such constraint in a script that could have gone either ways. Similar restraint shows in the acting as well as each of the three leads give a powerful performances. After Casino Royale(2006), Oscar nominated After The Wedding(2006) and this year's The Hunt(2012), Mads Mikkelsen must be the most recognizable name from the cast. He is brilliant in the central role of Struensee - very intense and passionate for his cause. Mikkel Boe Folsgaard making his feature debut as Mad King Christian in all of his crazyness turns in a very captivating and spontaneous performance. However, the biggest highlight for me was Alicia Vikander as Queen Carolin - very controlled, restrained but nuanced, subtle and above all very royal. Off course, to add to the whole feel it does contains all the usual props for a period piece like beautiful sets, stunning locations, make-up and big, flowy costumes.

As I said above, along with The Intouchables, it is almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination and even though it is still little premature to be talking about winning right now, it is one of the front runners in foreign film category. Now I do prefer The Intouchables a little over this one but I will be perfectly fine if either of the two wins. At least then, I would have seen the Best Foreign Film Oscar winner before winning its Oscar. Well, that's the First !!
Rating(out of 5):

8 comments:

  1. I'm a bit of a history buff too, and -- as a reader of your blog -- I'm really glad you enjoy watching and discussing movies like this. I'm adding A Royal Affair to my list.

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    1. Thanks !! Hope you like it as well. :)

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  2. I loved this film. Wasn't expecting such a strong political aspect to it. Beautifully crafted and excellent cast too.

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    1. Me neither, That was one of my favorite things in this movie.

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  3. Great review! I may check it out, the cast looks interesting and I love costume films.

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    1. Thanks !! Check it out but let me warn you. It is more political film than anything else.

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  4. I'm not sure how close it was to the real life people, the smalltalk obviously was invented to some extent. For me, there were lines of dialogue which seemed too modern to be in a period film, but overall I thought it was decent enough. The thing that impressed me the most was the set design and cinematography. That's true, that there is room for the audience to interpret at the end

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    1. Well, I am sure most of their smalltalk was invented. After all, I doubt if there is any way of knowing what they actually said. What I meant was whatever actually happened, they mostly seem to have got those events right. I kinda assume that in a period piece things like set design, cinematography, costumes should be good. Otherwise, it is just bad period drama. But as you said, that room for interpretation is what I like the most about it.

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