Director Nikolaj Arcel and writer Rasmus Heisterberg (The King’s Game, the Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, et al.) again join forces to mount a handsome period piece about hot times in the 18th-century court of Denmark. Such a revolutionary era, plus a scandal that rocked all of Europe, should have fueled A Royal Affair with high-octane dramatic juice: oversize personalities, royal adultery, intellectual ferment, dynastic intrigue. But Affair is disappointingly conventional, much too decorous and, at two hours-plus, sometimes just plain dull. Narrated in voice-over from some date in a tragic future, the story’s robbed of immediacy and color.
Worse, the lack of any directorial point of view makes it an even more tepid Affair. There are many ways to come at historical melodrama, from the hipster revisionism of Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette) to the voluptuously stylized sado-masochism of Josef Von Sternberg (The Scarlet Empress). Arcel, Heisterberg and lenser Rasmus Videbaek bring little that’s exciting or notably enlightening to the way they frame these volatile times and characters.
Fifteen-year-old Caroline Mathilde, sister of a future king of England (pretty Alicia Vikander, also appearing in Anna Karenina), arrives in Denmark in 1766 resolved to be a good and dutiful wife to young Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard). Unfortunately, hubby’s an unstable, debauched boor given to giggling maniacally and insulting his talented teen wife publicly. After Caroline manages to birth an heir, she bars the royal spouse from her bed.