Steamy court intrigue, wild passion and the momentous decisions of charismatic visionaries have never had it better than this 18th Century Danish potboiler.
Mads Mikkelsen (“Flame and Citroen” and “The Hunt”) plays man-of-all-seasons Johann Friedrich Struensee, the physician who befriended their hapless lunatic Danish King Christian the VII (played to the hilt by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) and changed the world. His redoubtable lover was none other than the queen of Denmark, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander).
Nobles Rantzau (Thomas Gabrielsson) and Brandt (Cyron Melville) fabricate a meeting with the naturally charismatic and hyper intelligent Struensee. Under the guise of a penile examination (yes, that is right) the two evaluate the German doctor for his ideas, leadership and ability to place them closer to the throne. Their verdict is thumbs up and doc Struensee is ensconced as the kooky king Christian’s care provider.
At first obnoxed by the king with the permanent brain of a six year old, the doctor uses bits of clever psychology here and there to bring the arrogant and tortured young man around. After a couple of years the two have bonded and the doctor is getting very close to the thrown and even closer to beautiful Queen Caroline Mathilde. The queen has a problem with her immature husband Christian. Namely, he alternately hates her and fears her, but mostly seems to have little interest in women, in general.
This leaves the door wide open for the handsome and urbane doctor to have the love affair of a lifetime with the beautiful queen.
Of course, things could never go on like this, or what would be the point of making a film? The court boils with jealousy as displaced despots claw and scratch their way back into fighting position. As the cross hairs are leveled at the royal family, the revolutionary progress of a decade of visionary laws is put to the test. In the end, the ultimate double-cross comes from exactly where one would expect: those closest to the brilliant doctor, the innocent king and the alluring and loving queen.
Nikolaj Arcel directed this 137-minute marathon of court intrigue. It has all of the extravagant costumes, the outrageous royal carriages and the gruesome 18th century torture and execution machinery. That was a good time to be someone brimming with new ideas, especially when they were new ideas that raised the poor out of deathly poverty at the expense of the rich nobility. When one of the minority ruling class broke the rules, there was no grand jury hearing, it was run for your life and hold on to your head.
In spite of the over whelming odds, the progressive and earthshaking legal, medical and freedom of speech legislation that came out of the reign of Christian VII are documented and respected to this day. As the good doctor was ministering to the queen, he was also administering the first inoculation in Europe to the King’s younger brother, the crown prince. In doing so, he may well have saved the life of the one man who could take over the throne in the unlikely (well, maybe likely) event that something happened to the good king.
It was during this same time that censorship was abolished and freedom of speech instituted, as the streets were cleaned of filth and health regulations and procedures instituted. In spite of the terrible penalties the hapless trio would end up paying, the impact these three left on western civilization survives to this day.
A fascinating story, largely true, this film is shot in color with allegiance paid to the historical accuracy of every scene. The sets are mostly interior, tight takes that get into the minds of the scheming, desperate courtiers of that time (at this time, for that matter. At 137 minutes, director Arcel has his work cut out for himself in keeping the crown from going to sleep. However, he keeps up the pressure until the bittersweet end.
A championship performance as Christian VII by break-through actor Mikkel Boe Følsgaard who took home the 2012 Silver Bear at Berlin for Best Actor for his work in this film. Named as one of European films’ Shooting Stars by European Film Promotion, Alicia Vikander also plays one of the main roles in Joe Wright’s soon to be released Anna Karenina.
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Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Bodil Steensen-Leth (novel), Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay)
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
Release Date: November 9, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for sexual content and some violent images
Run Time: 137 minutes
Country: Denmark / Sweden / Czech Republic
Language: Danish / English / German / French