Enlightenment, as we learned this week, is a two-way street. Or, as Dorothy Parker once said, you can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.
Lest you think that we are living in a unique period in history – with half the country believing in angels but not in man-made climate change – it was ever thus. That’s one of the takeaways from Nikolaj Arcel’s “A Royal Affair,” opening today (11/9/12) in limited release, a lush romantic drama set in 18th-century Denmark.
Our guide to this seemingly benighted time is Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), a Welsh noblewoman who is a distant cousin of the Danish king, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard). She is chosen to be his bride and queen, arriving in Copenhagen to discover that he’s a fatuous dandy (who may have actual mental problems), uninterested in performing his husbandly duties because he’s too busy shagging courtesans. “It’s unfashionable to love one’s wife,” he sniffs.
Still, his advisers – who mostly come from the church – suggest strongly that he have it off with Caroline in order to produce an heir. But that’s about it. So she’s ripe for companionship when a German doctor, Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), turns up at court, the friend of one of the king’s nobles. He befriends both king and queen, flattering the king and reminding him that, in fact, he runs the country, not his determinedly anti-science-and-enlightenment council or his mother, the dowager queen.
The council runs the country, outvoting the king in meetings that leave Christian bored and frustrated with government. But Struensee points out that, well, he’s the king – so he can disband the council and make decisions himself.
This review continues on my website.