How “Zero Dark Thirty” ruined me for “A Royal Affair” (2012)

15 January 2013

Could I be any less inspired to write this? Reason being that I watched this film within about 60 hours of seeing the amazing Zero Dark Thirty, which makes other films look lite.

I ask you, who wouldn't want to see this? and yet...

I ask you, who wouldn’t want to see this? and yet…

A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære) is the Danish nominee for Best Foreign Film this year and should have Feminéma written all over it: a period drama! featuring Mads Mikkelsen! set during the Enlightenment! Oh, if only I could muster the enthusiasm.

It focuses on King Christian VII’s new English bride, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander, above), who arrives pre-married in a country she’s never seen before only to find her new husband to be simple-minded and easily manipulated by various handlers. She has an affair with the German doctor brought in to manage the king’s mood swings and erratic behavior. This doctor is a freethinker named Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mikkelsen) who sneaks in many of the radical French enlightenment texts banned from Denmark at the time, texts the new queen had taken pleasure reading while growing up in England. Inspired by high-minded ideals as much as by one another’s hotness, Caroline Mathilde and Struensee conspire to subvert the highly conservative Court and institute for the first time free speech, democratic protections of rights, access to education, universal access to smallpox inoculations, and benefits to the poor.

600full-a-royal-affair-screenshotWas it that the genre-busting Zero Dark Thirty had ruined me for film? Or is A Royal Affair a highly romanticized, predictable piece of fluff — with only the extra layer of Enlightenment-era rights talk to give it a bit of fiber? I’d like to be generous, but I’m inclined to think that this is not worth the time and money when theaters are so crowded with great, Oscar-worthy films.

I’m still working on seeing the other Best Foreign Film nominees, of course. Everything seems to indicate that Michael Haneke’s Amour will be tough competition. Even acknowledging that I was in no shape to see such a film, I still maintain that this one is not a contender.

484459_largeYou will, of course, be forgiven if you want to spend $11 just to see Mikkelsen’s mouth and those haunted eyes for more than two hours, and the rest of him donned in eighteenth-century clothes — which he must shed for key scenes. Not to mention Vikander’s clothes and her perfect complexion.

Apparently critic Mark Kermode named this the best film of 2012. I do not understand how this can be the case, but hey, we’re all entitled to our opinions.

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5 Responses to “How “Zero Dark Thirty” ruined me for “A Royal Affair” (2012)”

  1. Z Says:

    What would be interesting is an actual film on Struensee, who was a very interesting figure and more complex / confusing politically, for someone from now, than what we get on the film (so was aftermath btw; the film ends on this rosy note about how the son brings Struensee’s ideas back). It’s a truly interesting period and Struensee has the Bolivarian contradictions, would make for a truly great story but I guess historians may need to work on it more first.

    • Didion Says:

      All the more reason for me to think this film is pedestrian. Perhaps it’s true that Caroline Mathilde shared his ideas and functioned as a co-conspirator for getting radical reforms passed in Denmark during that brief period; but the film muddies the real motivations behind those changes by clouding it over with romance. (And this from the woman who knew she was getting a romance with this film.)

      • Z Says:

        It’s very soap opera. Or else maybe it is porn that would work better if less hackneyed. The romantic hero from a lower social class who shows the innocent girl that there is torture in the world, etc.

  2. Hattie Says:

    I’ve been avoiding zero dark 30 but will see it on your say-so.


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