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A Royal Affair 

This Danish drama is handsomely produced and well acted, and for most royal watchers, a fresh take on history

Enjoying the light: Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander

Enjoying the light: Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander

If, like me, you know nothing about Denmark in the late 18th century, you're in luck. That means the rather extraordinary historical events depicted in A Royal Affair will be new to you. If you're just a sucker for any lavish costume drama, replete with illicit assignations and backstabbings, you've also picked a winner.

Nikolaj Arcel's palace intrigue occurs over a decade or so, beginning with the arrival of King Christian VII's new bride, Caroline (Alicia Vikander). It's an unhappy match: Caroline is relatively modern, while Christian (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) is feckless, louche and mentally ill.  

While the rest of Europe enters the Age of Enlightenment, Denmark's ruling elite remain happily in the dark. But the arrival of a new palace doctor — the German Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) — orchestrated by a few discreet free-thinkers, upends the political and the personal.

Struensee gradually convinces the king to put his royal signature to various reformations. In Caroline, Struensee finds a political ally (he loans her forbidden Rousseau texts), and the lonely queen finds a more compatible bedmate. It's a surprisingly workable threesome, until the German, the mad king and the uppity queen go too far for the un-Enlightened palace powerbrokers.

Arcel's palace melodrama is perhaps a shade too long. But it is handsomely produced and well acted, and for most royal-watchers offers a fresh take on history. In Danish, with subtitles.

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