“A Royal Affair”

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair, a 2012 historical Danish film based on a true story, is a surprisingly delicious introduction to court intrigue in 18th century Denmark. Starring Mads Mikkelsen (“Doctor Strange”, “The Hunt”), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl”, “Ex Machina”) and Mikkel Følsgaard, A Royal Affair was nominated for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

A Royal Affair centers on a delicate balancing act involving the young mad King Christian VII (an astonishing Følsgaard), the royal physician Struensee (Mikkelsen) and the young beautiful, highly educated Queen Caroline Mathilda (Vikander). Part forbidden romance between the queen and Struensee and part bromance between the mad king and his devotion to Struensee, this gripping tale changes the course of Danish history.

Soon after the royal marriage, Queen Caroline Mathilda realizes that her passion for the arts will be quashed, as many of her favorite books–some involving revolutionary political ideas–are banned by the state. Moreover, King Christian VII suffers from severe mental illness and is horrifying in his brutality, resulting in a deeply unhappy marriage for both of them.

When the German doctor Johann Struensee is recruited to be the mad king’s personal physician, he is soon the king’s confidant. The Danish Council takes advantage of King Christian’s disabling mental illness, ruling by fiat to serve their own interests against the welfare of the general populace. Struensee quietly begins advising the king, writing speeches which advocate his own progressive views based on Rousseau. Several reforms are passed but Struensee has alienated the aristocracy and threatens their wealth. The King, on the other hand, is soothed and becomes a more gentle and engaged human being with Struensee’s encouragement and support.

The Queen and Struensee fall in love and begin an affair, while Struensee simultaneously continues to become closer to the King and is given the title of Royal Advisor. Ultimately rendered de facto leader of Denmark, Struensee abolishes censorship and torture, and reduces the serfdom and peonage inherent in the the aristocratic system of property Heartbroken by the secret life he leads as both the queen’s lover and the king’s confidant, Struensee straddles between the two: an impossible mix of allegiances.

A Royal Affair is an Oscar-worthy production with beautiful recreation of scenes and costumes, impeccable acting, and an original plot revolving around the machinations of power, a mad king, a depressed queen, and an idealistic and revolutionary physician who fails in his attempts to heal all wounds.

This Danish film is a cinematic treasure not to be missed.

Note: Available on Netflix as a DVD.

 

“The Danish Girl”—There are Two

Danish Girl

Based on David Ebershoff’s novel, “The Danish Girl” is a compelling portrait of   transgender life in the early twentieth century. A dramatization of the diaries of Einar Wegener, one of the first trans women to undergo sex reassignment surgery, we see the transgender world: first, as Einar and then later, as Lili.

“The Danish Girl” opens with Einar, a landscape artist (played by Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”), who is married to Gerda (Alicia Verkander, “Ex Machina”), a painter of portraits. Both artists are supportive and sometimes resistant to each other’s career aspirations. In the beginning it is Einar who has more success in Copenhagen, and then later it is his wife, who becomes famous painting Lili. But the married couple has a passionate, bohemian lifestyle that suits both of them.

What begins one evening as a game—Einar dressing up in one of his wife’s gowns as cousin “Lili” for an artists’ ball—turns into the catalyst for his sexual transformation and discovery of who he truly is. Lili falls in love with Henrik (Ben Whishaw) and Gerda learns to fall in love again– with Lili. Both Danish girls care deeply for each other, and Gerda recognizes and appreciates Lili for who she is, in a wrenching and compassionate rebirth of love. In many ways it is Gerda’s ordeal, which is the heart and emotional pulse of “The Danish Girl”. She is the other Danish girl left to love first her husband as Einar Wegener, then as her best friend, Lili Elbe. Vikander is mesmerizing as Gerda (this year’s Academy Award winner for best actress,) struggling with the hurt, anguish, and confusion all registered simultaneously on her face as she stands by the love of her life.

This film tackles the life of a transgender individual with extraordinary dignity, respect, and complexity. The bravery to undergo harrowing experimental brain and sexual reassignment surgery, face brutal homophobic violence, and channel the confidence to accept who you are in spite of these affronts, will leave few viewers unmoved.   How many of us would have the grace of Gerda in adapting our relationship in similar circumstances? In watching “The Danish Girl”, you may be surprised to learn more about gender identity and crisis than you expected.