Period pieces are part of a genre, like horror or romantic comedy, in which certain tropes and themes are essential: big, beautiful costumes and castles, fancy accents, forbidden love and horses. They’re usually set in England or America pre-20th century. This year, Magnolia Pictures delivers a Danish period piece with a pretty leading lady, two not so pretty leading men and a colorful background called A Royal Affair.
In late 1700s Europe, a teenage English girl named Caroline (Alicia Vikander) is arranged to marry the next king of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard). Soon after she moves into his castle, she discovers he’s mentally unstable and immature and doesn’t care about ruling the country. Later Struensee, a physician who moonlights as an anonymous radical theorist (Mads Mikkelsen), is randomly assigned to the king in hopes of keeping him in good spirits. When he and Caroline discover the Danish government is trying to manipulate the king into keeping censorship legal and turning a blind eye to poverty, the pair decide to influence the king’s decision-making for the good. But the plot thickens, as Struensee and Caroline become attracted to each other.
Vikander, also in Anna Karenina this month, is visually compelling, as she is breathtaking in the lead role. Like Caroline, the Swedish actress had to learn a new language for the role and still doesn’t miss a beat. Mikkelsen of Casino Royale fame is fine as the physician, but it’s newcomer Følsgaard who steals the show of the main males. Like all period pieces, even if the storyline is boring, you can still count on the cinematography and art direction to be gorgeous. Nikolaj Arcel’s film is visually captivating but shy of perfection. While the scenes focusing on the economic issues of Denmark at the time are interesting, the scenes with the love triangle aren’t so much. Mikkelsen and Vikander aren’t as intriguing intimately as they are independently.