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A Royal Affair (2012); And Notes on Human Nature

May 2, 2016

aroyalafair When will we as a society learn from our faults? Although our recorded history reminds us of our ancient roots as human beings, we continuously embrace our livelihood with a childlike zeal by letting fear and superstitions control our decision making. Anyone with a message that is outside of the confines of the mass belief system have not only been deterred, but brutally silenced even if that message carries universal truths. If the message isn’t delivered through the socially, unconsciously agreed upon packaging the presenter of said message is treated to a barrage of punishment for their delivery. We don’t have to go too far throughout history for the brutal examples. A Royal Affair is a snapshot into a time period where this timeless anomaly arises through an English girl’s marriage to the King of Denmark and her affair with his German doctor during the 1700s.

Caroline is a young lady in waiting before her marriage to the soon to be King Christian VII of Denmark. Caroline is intelligent and innocent of life’s ills. She’s wondrous of her husband to be, giddy with excitement even until their paths finally converge. Immediately things seem off. Christian is awkward and apathetic about his new bride. When he hears whispers and praise of her enchanting, talented nature he reminds her that he is in control and that she is merely a background showpiece meant to have his babies and tolerate his eccentric behavior.

Years pass and Caroline slips into depression and contempt for her husband and life. Christian continues to rule the land through impulsive sex in brothels and drinking, all the while his small council delegates decisions for Denmark and it’s people. A shift takes place when a German doctor, Johann Friedrich, catches the admiration of Chrisitian by understanding his eccentric behavior. Unbeknownst to the men whom hire the doctor during Christian’s mania, Johann is a philosopher with grand, blasphemous ideas and he begins to bond with Caroline over French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s words and American thinker John Locke’s musings. Together the two embark on a hidden relationship and figure how to pull the strings of Christian to change the order of Denmark. Change never comes easy though and those on the small council who’ve lost their power will stop at nothing to get it back igniting a simmering uprising to boil to the surface.


Through muted, soft tones and glows of the period Nikolaj Arcel illuminates the predictable story with an air of uncertainty and surprise. A Royal Affair moves with the grace of the period, a charm from its characters, and jostles with a dramatic punch delivered by the situations they find themselves in. A Royal Affair’s story progresses with a gentle lag, but that’s not to say that the film gets tedious, in a general sense that is. The pace of the film could definitely have used a swift kick here and there and editors Kasper Leick and Mikkel E.G. Nielsen could have shaved off some lagging parts to help the film drive its message with more power. But, the story is captivating and it’s easy to slowly ride the low tide of what takes place before the gut wrenching ending makes its mark.

There are liberties taken with the story of the real life figures of course, but the crux of the story is real and its pulsating message still stands ground which is what affected me the most about it. A Royal Affair bummed me out for the better part of a day after watching. It lingered with me playing over and over in my head. Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg’s script unravels the tattered stitching of the royal social fabric, furthermore, humanity’s complex modes of thinking and governing. The normality of marrying off young girls to men with abusive, despondent, idiotic, unfaithful tendencies is still astounding to witness happen even in our current time. Still this notion that a woman must show grit through her situation and her bear husband’s children with no care for her personal happiness is a jaw-dropping, atrocious reality.


No choice or voice exists for these women. Alicia Vikander highlights Caroline’s gloomy life filled with angst and depression while her husband openly shames her without consequences. You can’t help but feel miserable for Caroline whose soft, dainty persona is quickly rattled by her cold, harsh reality. Her choice to elude into an affair isn’t a choice, it’s a must for her sanity. Like all women, nevertheless, delegating themselves to a man’s level, she is punished for her unfaithfulness to him. Her fate along with Johann’s is gut wrenching sending me into a dazed depression.

Sure they falsely assumed power and maybe hubris was their biggest sin, but ultimately they are retributted for merely being thinkers in an age when thinking wasn’t widely accepted. And how could it? Most peasant citizens likely couldn’t sit around and meander with thoughts on the human condition and the natural rights of man. They were wondering how to care for their families and how they’d received their next meals. Free thought is a privilege, but one gilded by the general beliefs of an already established society. Caroline makes the astute observation when she quotes Rene Rousseau that every man is free yet “everywhere is in chains.”

These chains still bind us today and is what holds our society back from breaking ground in technology and advancing our species to higher frontiers. We are still bound by tradition, a false sense of morality, and discrimination. Over four centuries since the story of this film’s existence and women are still struggling to have their ideas respected and heard on par with that of men. We still have citizens getting punished for attempting to shine a light on injustices and ridiculous behavior in our world that separates us by physical make-up and personal doings. We still refuse to move forward as a group because we allow ourselves to get so hung up on archaic ideologies. A Royal Affair begs to question, now in our current political climate more than ever, will we ever get it right or will continue to make the same mistakes until we destroy ourselves?

SEE IT. Then question what social boxes you choose to stay in and does it affect the greater good?

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