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 the queen and the royal physician Struensee. The film competed in competition at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival
Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg started the writing process by reading the 1999 novel The Visit of the Royal Physician by Per Olov Enquist, which is based on the events surrounding Johann Friedrich Struensee's time at the Danish court. The exclusive film rights for the novel were already sold to a company which had been struggling for over a decade to make a large-scale adaptation in English, and did not want to sell the rights to Zentropa. Research continued and the film was eventually credited as based on Bodil Steensen-Leth's erotic novel Prinsesse af blodet, which tells the story from the perspective of the queen, Caroline Mathilde. The film's perspective and characterisation did still remain highly influenced by Enquist's version, in particular in the portrayal of Struensee as an idealistic promoter of freedom of speech, the romantic view of the royal court as an ironical charade and the role of the queen as a revolutionary partner-in-crime to Struensee. To avoid conflicts about rights, Enquist was contacted to clarify some instances of what he had made up and what was based on documented events, and a person was employed specifically to compare the screenplay and the novel to guarantee that they were dissimilar enough.
The film was produced by Zentropa and is a co-production among Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic. It had a budget of 46 million Danish kroner. Before settling on the final title, the film had the production titles Dronningen og livlægen ("The queen and the royal physician") and Caroline Mathildes år ("Caroline Mathilde's years").
At the Berlin Film Fesitval, Mikkel Følsgaard won the Silver Bear for Best Actor and Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg won the award for Best Script
Mads Mikkelsen as Johann Friedrich Struensee
Alicia Vikander as Caroline Mathilde
Mikkel Følsgaard as Christian VII
David Dencik as Ove Høegh-Guldberg
Søren Malling as Hartmann
Trine Dyrholm as Juliane Marie
William Jøhnk Nielsen as Frederik VI
Cyron Bjørn Melville as Enevold Brandt
Rosalinde Mynster as Natasha
Laura Bro as Louise von Plessen
Bent Mejding as J.H.E. Bernstorff
Thomas W. Gabrielsson as Schack Carl Rantzau
Søren Spanning as Münster
John Martinus as Ditlev Reventlow
Erika Guntherová as Hofdame
Harriet Walter as Augusta, Princess of Wales
Klaus Tange as Minister
November 18, 2001
Take My Queen, Please
By Bruce Bawer in The New York Times Review of books
THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN'S VISIT
By Per Olov Enquist.
Translated by Tiina Nunnally.
312 pp. Woodstock, N.Y.:
The Overlook Press.
THE royal court of Denmark. A usurper. An adulterous queen. Whispers of regicide. And, at the center of it all, an intelligent, perhaps mad young man who alternates between anomic withdrawal and a passionate, if unfocused, impulse to take arms against a sea of troubles.
No, I'm not speaking of Hamlet. In fact, the young man in question is King Christian VII, who ascended to the Danish throne in 1766, at the age of 16, and who is now remembered in his country for the ''Struensee era'' (1770-72), during which his German court physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, served as the kingdom's de facto ruler. During that Copenhagen spring, Struensee, a student of the French Enlightenment, introduced reforms by means of which he hoped to turn oppressive, poverty-ridden Denmark into a model of liberté, egalité et fraternité. Meanwhile, with the apparent approval of the king, he carried on a more or less open affair with the queen, Caroline Mathilde, who bore him a daughter. The Struensee era came to a swift end when the physician's enemies at court, led by a palace tutor named Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, ordered his arrest, accusing him (falsely) of having plotted to kill Christian, and had him executed.
It is one of the strangest chapters in all of Scandinavian history, and the more one examines the historical record the stranger it gets. Now Per Olov Enquist, a veteran Swedish novelist and playwright, has shaped this remarkable story into a gripping, fast-paced narrative, ''The Royal Physician's Visit.'' Though the book is labeled fiction, questions about its generic status are perhaps inevitable; the subtitle of Norman Mailer's ''Armies of the Night'' may say it best: ''History as a Novel, the Novel as History.''
Certainly Enquist's principal characters are realized with a vividness and subtlety that place the book in the front ranks of contemporary literary fiction. There's Struensee, the unlikely reformer, a theologian's son with good intentions but no political instincts. There's the king, a gifted, elfin youth who corresponds with Voltaire but who, as Struensee consolidates his power, increasingly spends his time spewing anxious gibberish and escaping into childish play with his pet schnauzer and his African page, Moranti. There's Caroline Mathilde, sister to George III of England, still in her teens but far more strong-willed and shrewd than her husband or her lover. And there's the Machiavellian Guldberg, who plots to put an end to the whole scandalous business and return Denmark, as he sees it, to God.
At first blush, Enquist's rendering of the face-off between Struensee and Guldberg seems overly schematic, with the gnomish Guldberg a textbook villain and the tall, handsome Struensee simply too good to be true. Yet eventually the two men seem less antipodes than doppelg* ngers. Each considers himself a selfless agent of truth and justice, acting in the best interests of Denmark and its king.
Almost everyone here meditates on purity: Guldberg regards Struensee as an enemy of it; the queen thinks Struensee has too much of it for his own good; as for Christian, he cheers Struensee's reforms as a means of purifying his kingdom, an action he equates, unsettlingly, with destruction: ''Smash! Everything to bits!!! . . . The temple must be cleansed!''
But nothing human and alive, of course, can be absolutely pure. (''The dead were pure,'' muses Guldberg, an undertaker's son, with creepy admiration. ''They did not roll in filth.'') Among this book's merits is its perceptive treatment of the collision between the sheer purity of absolute ideas, whether religious or philosophical, and the stubborn impurity, complexity, ambiguity of actual human lives. This collision generates an abundance of ironies. Struensee institutes freedom of the press, only to see it exploited mainly by his enemies. A poem by Voltaire, praising Christian for his wise and virtuous embrace of reason, arrives when His Majesty is in bed playing an infantile game in which he, his dog and his wife's page are courtiers and Moranti is king. The physician's revolution, intended to benefit the proletariat, earns him the mob's enmity; on the one occasion when he is faced with a suffering peasant, he flees in fear. Believing at the outset that inaugurating an Age of Reason will be as simple a matter as lighting a candle, Struensee comes to see reason as possessing a ''dark heart'' that Christian's insanity -- of all things -- somehow illuminates.
One of the striking facets of this account of a people's revolution is that we see almost nothing in it of the people. Indeed, with the exception of a handful of brief walk-ons by celebrities -- among them David Garrick, whom Struensee talks out of performing ''Hamlet'' for Christian, fearing the play might hit too close to home -- Enquist gives us few glimpses of life beyond the royal household. When he does introduce promising scenes involving ordinary folk (Struensee's terrified encounter with the suffering peasant; the queen's brilliant handling of some restive sailors), he moves past them faster than one might wish. He also skimps on descriptions of clothes, manners and other specifics that might give us a richer sense of time and place.
Yet Enquist knows exactly what he's doing. He's plainly less interested in serving up period details or providing a portrait of peasant life than he is in exploring his characters' minds;
he doesn't want to transport us to 18th-century Denmark so much as he wants to help us see these figures from history as our contemporaries. This, it must be said, he does with admirable virtuosity. His prose, skillfully translated by Tiina Nunnally, is brisk, lucid, vigorous, penetrating, rich in arresting epigrams and marked by calculated repetitions that give the novel a touch of hypnotic power. And he does offer some evocative vignettes, including one that captures the peculiar but touchingly familial nature of the royal inner circle during the Struensee era: while the physician works at a table in the cabinet room, ''the boys, as he was in the habit of calling them whenever he thought of them, meaning the king and the Negro page,'' play with the schnauzer. ''He thought: They see me as a father who must not be disturbed. They play at my feet and they hear the scratching of my pen, and they whisper.''
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this story that astonishes at every turn is that it took this long for someone to tell it. We are fortunate that it is Per Olov Enquist who has done so.