Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Bodil Steensen-Leth (novel), Rasmus Heisterberg, (screenplay) and Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay)
Produced by: Zentropa Entertainments, Danmarks Radio (DR), Trollhättan Film AB
Other cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Trine Dyrholm
Release date: 16 February 2012 (Berlin International Film Festival)
Genre: Biography | Drama | History | Romance
Running time: 2h 17min
A Royal Affair (Danish: En kongelig affære) is a 2012 historical drama film directed by Nikolaj Arcel, starring Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander and Mikkel Følsgaard. The story is set in the 18th century, at the court of the mentally ill King Christian VII of Denmark, and focuses on the romance between his wife, Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, and the royal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee.
Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain is shown writing a letter to her children in which she professes to tell them the truth. In flashback, Caroline talks of England, as she was about to leave to marry Christian VII of Denmark. She is passionate about the arts and education, but when she arrives in Denmark she is told that many of her books are banned by the state. Christian is mentally ill and Caroline is unhappy in the marriage. She is soon pregnant with a son (Frederick VI of Denmark), but the couple grow far apart and the king stops visiting her bedroom.
The German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee is recruited to work as the king’s personal physician. Struensee is a man of the Enlightenment, greatly influenced by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He keeps this secret from the state, who welcome him because his father is a well-known priest. King Christian takes a strong liking to Struensee and he becomes a close friend and confidant. When Struensee manages to inoculate Prince Frederick against a smallpox epidemic, he becomes greatly respected in the court. Christian has very little influence in the Privy Council, and the laws of the country are mostly decided by statesmen, but Struensee tells the king that he can have more power by “acting”. The doctor begins writing speeches for the king which advocate his own progressive views, and several reforms are passed in Denmark.
Caroline and Struensee learn of their mutual interests and liberal views. They fall in love and begin an affair. When Caroline becomes pregnant, they protect themselves by convincing Christian to resume sleeping with her. As a result, Princess Louise Auguste is believed to be the king’s daughter. Meanwhile, Struensee is appointed a Royal Adviser and eventually persuades Christian to assign him the right to pass any law, making him Denmark’s de facto leader. His reforms include the abolition of censorship, the abolition of torture, and reducing the power of the aristocracy. The queen dowager, Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, notices the romance between Caroline and Struensee and their affair is revealed. Christian is initially angry, but he forgives his friend and states that they must carry on as if nothing had changed.
Juliana and the prominent statesman Ove Høegh-Guldberg are strongly against Struensee’s reforms, while the Danish people also grow unhappy when it becomes clear an immoral foreigner has power over the country. Høegh-Guldberg incites a coup against him. Christian refuses to hand Struensee over to the people, but Høegh-Guldberg lies that the doctor and Caroline are planning to murder him and take control of Denmark. Christian thus allows Caroline to be arrested and taken to live in exile, while Struensee is sentenced to death. Christian issues a pardon, not wanting his friend to die, but Høegh-Guldberg keeps this from materialising in time and Struensee is beheaded. Høegh-Guldberg becomes Denmark’s new de facto leader, and many of Struensee’s reforms are overturned.
The film returns to Caroline writing the letter, where she reveals that she is dying of an illness. Ten years later, Prince Frederick and Princess Louise Auguste read the letter. On-screen text reveals that when he became king, Frederick returned to the reforming ways of Struensee.
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Trivia & Goofs
- Alicia had to learn Danish for this film. As Swedish born, it’s not a very difficult language to understand with a little bit of practice, as they’re similar in many ways; but the Danish pronunciation can be difficult to master for someone not used to it.
- As part of her audition process Nikolaj Arcel took Alicia Vikander out drinking to see how well she could understand Danish. Vikander faked that she could understand and speak it well but at the end of the process when Arcel told her she had the role she didn’t understand what he was saying until he switched to Swedish.
- This was Denmark’s official submission for the Foreign Language Film category of the 85th Academy Awards.
- The film is a Danish, Swedish, Czech and German production. The spoken languages are English, Danish, German and French.
- The film was filmed in Prague, Doksany, Kromeriz and Ploskovice Chateau (Czech Republic), Saxony (Germany) and in Sweden and Denmark.
- Opening weekend: $38,212 (USA) (9 November 2012). Gross: $1,545,726 (USA) (26 April 2013).
- The Danish colloquialism “rolig nu” (“easy now”) features in the dialogue, but this is a modern innovation dating back only to the 1990s or so.
- In 1769, when Queen Caroline Mathilde is taking tea with the Dowager Queen Juliane Marie, they are clearly seen to be drinking from Danish Flora Danica cups. The Royal Danish Porcelain Factory was not established until 1775 and the service was not put to use by the Danish Royal Family until 1803.
- While all of the characters all speak Danish in the film, the court language in Denmark at the time was actually German. In real life neither Count von Bernstorff nor Johann Struensee spoke any Danish, and it is more than likely that Christian and Caroline also conversed in German rather than the “people’s language.”
- Juliane Marie tells the servants that if they know about the affair and try to conceal it, it’s a mortal sin and they will end up in purgatory. The danish religious view in the 18th century was Lutheran protestantism, which denies the presence of purgatory.
Johann Friedrich Struensee: Your majesty.
Caroline Mathilde: You recognized me.
Johann Friedrich Struensee: I would recognize you blindfolded.
Caroline Mathilde: But your costume is not very imaginative.
Johann Friedrich Struensee: I’m afraid I’m not very good at the masquerade.
Caroline Mathilde: I believe this is the one night when everyone can be themselves.
Caroline Mathilde: But you never remove your mask. Do you?
Johann Friedrich Struensee: Do you remember our first night together?
Caroline Mathilde: It feels like we’ve been unhappy ever since.
Johann Friedrich Struensee: I have been happy.
Caroline Mathilde: Come to me tonight?
Caroline Mathilde: [writing a letter] I’m trying to remember him. Johann. I have to tell you about him. About us. Why we did the things we did.
Caroline Mathilde: My beloved children, you do not know me, but I am your mother. Perhaps you have never forgiven me. Perhaps you hate me. I hope not. I now know that I will never see you again, so I am writing to tell you the truth, before it’s too late.
‘A Royal Affair’ was first presented at the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival on February 16, where Alicia attended both the photocall & press conference and premiere. It later premiered in Denmark, on March 28.