It was produced by Lars von Trier’s film company and its writer/director team adapted the original ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. But don’t go expecting a hornet’s nest of Scandinavian outrage from this chronicle of the political sex scandal that rocked 1770s Denmark. ‘A Royal Affair’ is the definition of classy period drama: well acted, intelligently scripted with a small-ish dose of bodice-ripping. It’s almost impeccable, in fact, if ever-so-slightly underpowered.
It begins, like Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’, with a 15-year-old princess, Caroline (Alicia Vikander), being traded in marriage to a king. Caroline is cultured and educated, while her betrothed is mad King Christian VII of Denmark, a petulant pea-brained ninny. Caroline resigns herself to her fate until doctor – and radical thinker – Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) is appointed as the king’s personal physician. The pair embark on an illicit affair and, with the king as their puppet, plot to take Denmark from the Dark Ages to enlightened utopia, one edict at a time.
There’s plenty of authentic-looking historical detail here: a bored doctor oversees the women’s work of delivering Caroline’s baby (‘A true queen delivers in a silence with dignity’). Politically too, we watch the corruption of Struensee’s ideals: when his affair with the queen becomes the butt of satirists’ jokes he rescinds his earlier ban on censorship. All of which is genuinely engrossing, if a little stiff, and it’s only in the drama of the last five minutes that actor-of-the-moment Mikkelsen shows us what he’s really made of.