A Royal Affair *** (R) This subtitled period costume drama from Denmark rises above most of its peers in a couple of key respects. It is somewhat fact-based, covering a time in the 1700s when The Enlightenment was spreading around the rest of Europe, but staunchly resisted by the Danish nobles and clergy. It also evokes an unfortunate sense of parallels to our contemporary political machinations and malfunctions. The turgid romance permeating the proceedings may have occurred, and may seem cinematically essential, but it’s not nearly as interesting or unique as the social issues the principals addressed in their various ways.
The tale is told by Queen Caroline, raised in England to marry King Christian VII when both would come of age. Despite her romantic hopes and lofty goals, she arrived to find a twit for her intended. Christian may have been retarded; he was certainly immature, and more interested in hookers, booze and theater than affairs of state. This began to change when he bonded with a new court physician from Germany who was a Voltaire devotee, and modern idealist. Over time, he and the queen found ways to get the king to live up to his role and responsibilities, bringing sweeping changes in the laws - all for the public’s freedom, health and well-being. Unfortunately, the two kindred spirits also bonded in the boudoir, with dire consequences.
The acting, staging and pace are just about average for such fare, though it’s among the Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Picture. These opuses always seem longer than necessary. But this one stands out for its relevance to current events. Public health measures (smallpox vaccinations, improved sanitation) were bitterly opposed by The Establishment. Disease was God’s will, and science was Satanic interference. The landed gentry wouldn’t grant any sort of freedom to their serfs, allow an end to corporal abuse of their peasants, or otherwise empower the masses - especially if they would have to pay any more taxes or lose even a slight amount of their pensions and subsidies from the Crown. When reforms were decreed, they responded with smear tactics to demonize those who were trying to help the 99%. Does anything here seem familiar? Will we ever learn from history? (1/11/13)