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Film / A Royal Affair

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A Royal Affair (original Danish title En kongelig affære) is a 2012 historical drama film, directed by Nikolaj Arcel and starring Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Følsgaard.

Set in eighteenth century Denmark and Based on a True Story, the film revolves around the love affair between the liberal reformist Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mikkelsen), royal physician to King Christian VII of Denmark (Følsgaard), and Christian's wife, Queen Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (Vikander), and their attempts to bring reform into Denmark to improve the lives of the people. However, Christian's other advisors don't take too kindly to a foreign doctor attempting to curb their power and set out to stop him and Caroline, at all costs.


This film contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear:
    • Caroline and Christian fear for the life of their infant son when a smallpox epidemic sweeps the city.
    • Struensee can only watch helplessly as the woman he loves and their baby is taken away, whilst he is arrested for treason.
    • Caroline is permanently separated from her children and told of the death of her lover in a letter, whilst living in exile.
  • Age Lift: Johann Struensee. In real life, he was in his early thirties when he began an affair with Caroline and died at the age of thirty-four. Here, he's played by Mads Mikkelsen, who was in his late forties at the time.
  • Arranged Marriage: Caroline and Christian have one at the beginning of the film. It turns out to be a disaster from day one.
  • Artistic License – History: The film is pretty accurate for the most part, but a few inconsistencies include Struensee speaking fluent Danish all the time (he actually spoke mostly German, barely being able to speak Danish, which further alienated him from the Danish court) and the letter Caroline has smuggled to her children, revealing the truth behind her affair and her daughter's parentage, which probably didn't happen and could actually have proved disastrous for Princess Louise Auguste if it had fallen into the wrong hands. However, it is generally accepted as fact that Struensee probably was Louise Auguste's real father, which lots of people at the time seemed to believe too.
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  • Authority in Name Only: It quickly becomes obvious that Christian is this. However, he starts exercising his power more with help from Struensee.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bordering on Downer Ending. Caroline and Struensee's affair is discovered and Struensee is declared a traitor. Caroline is sent away to the country and never sees her children again, whilst Struensee is executed and all his reforms are overturned. But, on her deathbed Caroline writes a letter explaining everything to her two children and it's revealed that upon becoming king, her son returned to Struensee's reforming ways, making Denmark a better and more free country for all its people.
  • Brainy Brunette: Caroline is intelligent, well-educated and likes to read. Their shared love of books and philosophy is what first warms Caroline up to Struensee.
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  • Break the Cutie: Practically the first twenty minutes of the film are dedicated to this for poor Caroline. And then it gets worse.
  • Caligula's Horse: Christian demands that his dog, Gourmand, is made an honorary member of the privy council.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: We see the aftermath of this on a poor Danish peasant, after being punished by his lord. It's one of many things Struensee tries to outlaw in Denmark.
  • Costume Drama
  • Costume Porn: It won a Satellite Award for Best Costume Design.
  • Dance of Romance: Struensee and Caroline have one at a royal ball, complete with gazing into each other's eyes in slow motion. It's implied this is truly when they realize they are in love.
  • Decadent Court: The Danish royal court comes across as this (especially within Christian's inner circle).
  • Despair Event Horizon: Caroline seems to cross this after she learns of Struensee's death.
  • Divine Right of Kings: Struensee exploits this to get Christian to take charge of the kingdom from the self-serving Privy Council.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The opening scene (or anyone familiar with Danish history) lets the viewer know this story is not going to have a happy ending.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Caroline wears several.
  • The Hedonist: Christian, indulging himself with prostitutes, and possibly bondage and whipping.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with an exiled Caroline writing a letter to her children, explaining how this came to be. The rest of the film takes place before this.
  • Ice Queen: Caroline comes across as this (double points for being an actual queen) due to becoming miserable and bitter about her disastrous marriage to Christian. She starts to thaw once she meets Struensee.
  • Internal Reformist: Struensee, with the help of Caroline, by working the system. It works initially, but eventually the Privy Council catches on and plots against them.
  • It's All About Me: Christian can be this, until Struensee comes along and convinces him he could actually use his power to make good changes.
  • Jerkass: Christian. He's a sadistic, immature, spoiled brat who treats his wife horribly. However, he has severe mental health issues which are not properly understood or treated, and he is continually manipulated or undermined by his stepmother and the Privy Council, arguably making him more of a Jerkass Woobie.
  • Kick the Dog: Christian has several moments. This includes:
    • Telling his new wife in front of everyone to "move her fat thighs" away from the piano, because he thinks she's upstaging him.
    • Physically attacking, then banishing, his wife's only friend from court, out of jealousy.
  • Love Epiphany: Caroline and Struensee have a beautiful moment in the middle of a crowded ballroom, where you can physically see them realise that they love each other.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: Played with. Struensee and Caroline's relationship actually helps make the realm a better place, giving more rights and freedom to the common people, thanks to Struensee's influence on Christian. But the Privy Council clearly don't see this as being a good thing and end up manipulating the people to turn on Struensee so they can reclaim their power, setting Denmark back to square one.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Struensee is the father of Caroline's daughter. They contrive to have Christian share a bed with Caroline as soon as she realizes she's pregnant in order for Christian to believe the baby's his.
  • Manipulative Bitch: The Queen Dowager.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Privy Council.
  • Off with His Head!!: Happens to Struensee after he's accused of treason.
  • Oscar Bait: Period Piece? Check. A tragic love story, set against the backdrop of political reform and political intrigue? Check. Based on a True Story? Check. Angst? You bet.
    • It was actually nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards, but lost to Amour.
  • Prince Charmless: Christian (who's technically a king) turns out to be this, much to Caroline's disappointment.
  • Puppet King: Christian effectively becomes this to Struensee (though Struensee's intentions are benevolent - he wants to use Christian's power to bring Enlightenment reforms into Denmark to free the people).
  • Questionable Consent: Caroline and Christian's wedding night. She's clearly uncomfortable, even pushing him away and saying no at one point, but feels it's her duty, especially after her mother told her that if she can get the king into her bed on the first night, she'll be seen as "a great success".
  • Ray of Hope Ending: The very end, where Caroline's lady in waiting smuggles Caroline's final letter to her children. The afterword and history bears out that it gets better.
  • Royal Brat: Christian (though it's not entirely his fault).
  • Ruling Couple: An unusual example: Queen Caroline and her secret lover Struensee become this. The king's more interested in partying.
  • Screaming Birth: Caroline has one when she gives birth to her first child. When the physician tells her that a "true queen gives birth in dignified silence", it just prompts her to scream louder.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Caroline and Struensee. She's a princess, trapped in her marriage to Christian, whilst he's the royal physician and her husband's advisor. It doesn't end well for either of them.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Caroline is treated very sympathetically - her marriage to Christian is miserable and loveless and Christian treats her very poorly, whilst Struensee treats her as an equal and loves her.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Christian's scheming stepmother, Queen Dowager Juliane Marie.
  • Your Cheating Heart: As stated in the title, a big chunk of the film revolves around Caroline's affair with Struensee. Christian also has many affairs, primarily with prostitutes.


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