Bond baddie Mads perfect for the part of romantic hero
The idiom 'may you live in interesting times', which is attributed to the Chinese and is sometimes described as a curse (though there's no actual proof of that, nor that it originated in China) can be interpreted in two ways.
It can be taken as an expression of the hope events will unfold to the benefit of all concerned. It can also express the wish that the recipient of the remark suffers as much disorder and discomfort as possible.
When used with a touch of irony, its most appropriate context seems to be when referring to the impact of change. It's commonly agreed that change is potentially disruptive and that people fear it and its consequences.
As such, it is a neat way to sum up an essential concept of the plot of A Royal Affair (Denmark 2012), Film Society's next screening.
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It's a handsome period drama set in the 18th century court of Danish King Christian VII and centres on the relationship between the Queen, Caroline, and the King's German doctor, Johann Struensee.
The film doesn't just concentrate on the emotional bond that develops between them. It's also the story of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Court which takes a dislike to Struensee, an educated man of the Enlightenment, and the threat that he represents to them and their beliefs and positions.
Director Nikolaj Arcel has some form here. King's Game (shown by the Society in 2006) was a riveting contemporary thriller about a vicious conflict between two politicians, made all the murkier when a journalist gets wind of what's going on.
In that film, Arcel showed the ruthlessness of those with vested interests, who will stop at nothing to make sure they get their own way. He draws on the same insight into human nature in A Royal Affair.
As the film opens, Queen Caroline is clearly nervous about her impending marriage to Christian, whom she has not met. When they are introduced, it's hard not to share her reaction to the man. His behaviour is immature, erratic and child-like, which prevents him from exercising his royal duties effectively and earns the contempt of the Court, which controls and manipulates him to its own ends.
However, the King's conduct worries the Court sufficiently for them to decide to employ a doctor to treat him, and the post goes to Struensee.
Gradually he earns the King's confidence and trust and a friendship develops. At the same time, he makes a favourable impression on the Queen.
She is isolated and friendless and when she discovers they share an interest in the ideas of radical thinkers such as Rousseau, she feels she has met a kindred spirit and a force for good.
This finds its expression in their joint desire to do something to improve the appalling conditions in which much of the population lives, which have been created and are being sustained by the repressive attitudes of the Court.
These new ideas lead to reforming legislation and as his influence on the King begins to show itself, Struensee and the Queen grow closer. This developing self-confidence, bordering on arrogance, proves to be his fatal character flaw as the Court starts plotting to bring about his downfall.
Arcel has put together a handsome looking film. Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander are perfectly cast as the key protagonists. Mikkelsen, pictured right, is every inch the romantic hero while Vikander gives a well-judged performance as the Queen, capturing her nervousness and discomfort as a young, impressionable girl.
They are supported by an entirely believable performance by Mikkel Boe Følsgard (Best Actor at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival) as the King.
Arcel has long been fascinated by the goings-on at Christian's court, but he doesn't allow the need for authenticity to interfere with the drama that unfolds before us.
The story sweeps along at a brisk pace and in the sequences dealing with the emerging conspiracy against the doctor, there are echoes of the same theme that he explored so effectively in King's Game. There is no doubt where his sympathies lie as the film draws to a conclusion.
Production company Zentropa was at the forefront of the Dogme movement pioneered by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.
For those unaware, Dogme was a style of film-making that flourished in the mid-1990s and was based on the idea films should be made as simply as possible, with low budgets and nothing artificial, such as lighting or special effects, to interfere with the acting and story.
It's an irony they have come up with a fully fledged costume drama which seems the complete antithesis of that movement. The production values of this film are first class and there is plenty of period detail to enjoy, which adds to our enjoyment.
With A Royal Affair they have created an intelligent, entertaining film that questions the relevance of ritual and tradition while warning of the dangers of liberal thought.
A Royal Affair (Denmark, 2012, Cert 15): showing at The Venue, September 20, 7.30pm
Also showing, Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa (12a): September 21 7.30pm
Red 2 (12a): September 25, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.