|The English princess|
It is at this point that we are introduced to Doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee and, I should add, also from the very beginning, we are made aware that the Kingdom of Denmark is, at this point, still a feudal, absolute monarchy, lagging behind the times in “Enlightened” Eighteenth Century Western Europe. The Queen, at the time of her marriage, is told that her ‘Enlightenment’ books are not allowed in Denmark which is resolutely sticking to tradition. However, Dr. Struensee is also a devotee of Rousseau and the ‘Enlightenment’. A German, from the Danish possessions in northern Germany, he is portrayed as a progressive man of, if not low origins, at least perfectly comfortable with the common, crude and even vulgar. He does a man with connections a medical favor, this is returned by his being recommended to court and he soon finds himself appointed as the King’s personal physician. Whether it is whoring or bizarre conversation, he goes along with the King, seems to understand him and the King becomes very attached to him, no doubt because he is the only one who does understand him, probably because he is the only one who has taken the time to actually try.
|The King and his doctor|
Someone who does not oppose it is the Queen who, with all of these changes underway, sees that she and Struensee hold much the same pro-Enlightenment political opinions. The two soon begin an affair and Struensee seems on top of the world, or at least Denmark and what else really matters? The King is his friend and is basically allowing him to rule the country, he is committing vigorous adultery with the beautiful, young queen and he is re-making Denmark according to the ‘Enlightenment’ principles he most believes in. Everything is going his way. Then, the Queen informs him that she is pregnant. Uh-oh. It then becomes a matter of dire necessity to get the King back in bed with his wife very quickly in order to provide some plausible deniability for anyone else being the father. I do not like these, “the prince/king is not really the father” tropes in film but, unlike “Braveheart”, this one actually has historical merit. We cannot say for sure who the father of the child was, a girl born in 1771, but courtiers did say the child looked like Struensee and even in the King, with his supposedly limited mental capacity, had his doubts.
|The King & Queen of Denmark|
All of this scrutiny finally allows the Dowager Queen Juliana, mother of the King’s younger half-brother Prince Frederick, to learn of the affair between the Queen and Dr. Struensee. The tension shown was historically accurate. The King never got on with his step-mother, the Queen never liked her and she did have a history of trying to keep the King isolated. She was never very popular in Denmark and no doubt looked forward to having more influence by replacing the unsound King with her own son. The Dowager Queen and a powerful official work together to arrange a palace coup, meanwhile the public has been worked up into a howling mob as not only have the horde of liberal reforms upset their lives but now they learn the King is being manipulated by a German who is ‘playing doctor’ with the Queen.
|The downfall of Struensee|
That was, of course, a fitting way to end such a film but anyone who knows anything about the actual history of the Danish monarchy in this period will know that they lie by omission. Yes, King Frederick VI did issue many similar liberal reforms but then he also led Denmark to a fairly disastrous involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, the result of which was to see Denmark lose Norway to Sweden and afterwards, seeing the woeful state of his country, Frederick VI reversed course, abandoning his earlier liberalism and becoming a full-throated reactionary. It is an historical record that makes it rather difficult for the so-called “reformers” that every time their ideas were put into practice, disaster was the result. In any event, I have low expectations when it comes to the ‘messaging’ of most royal-subject films and I think “A Royal Affair” can be forgiven this effort at implying an altogether happy ending. I say that, however, only because I had expected worse and was pleasantly surprised.
|Mother and child at the mercy of step-mother-in-law|
It is certainly a well made film, well acted, it won a large number of awards and great amount of critical acclaim. It looks very good and it covers, fairly accurately I thought, a critical period in Danish history. If it prompts people to learn more, I think that alone would make it worth recommending. Personally, I am glad to see any such films from the Kingdom of Denmark and wish there was more available on Danish royal history in various language (such as English) for a wider audience. Denmark has the oldest monarchy in the western world and there is much there to enthrall and educate, I wish more people could learn about it, myself included. Anyway, bottom line, I would say it is a pretty good film, not perfect but better in some ways than I expected and I would like to see more, preferably next time about a Danish monarch who was successful and not insane.