"A Royal Affair": Doomed Love in the Enlightment

The way to a queen's heart is through Rousseau in A Royal Affair, in which church and state oppression can't, at least for a time, quell enlightenment urges. From prostitute trysts and physician-conducted crotch examinations to wild-stallion rides through the lush countryside, everything is eroticized in Nikolaj Arcel's historical drama about the illicit affair between Caroline (Alicia Vikander) — sent from London to Denmark to marry mentally unwell King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) — and the free-thinking doctor Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) who serves as His Majesty's personal physician. Bonded by progressive notions of a free press and peasant rights, their amour defies the status quo as much as their ideals do, and in the face of a religious and ruling establishment uninterested in political change, their passion and principles inevitably spell their doom. With compelling authority, Mikkelsen embodies Struensee with a conviction colored by reckless arrogance, and while Vikander comes off as a rather bland object of his affection, Folsgaard, all closed-mouth giggles and random outbursts of an inappropriate sexual and artistic nature, exudes royal lunacy. Director Arcel handles the material with a stately grace that compensates for the story's predictable trajectory, though humdrum period detail and monotonous pacing too often leave the proceedings feeling only partially aroused.

 
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