Greetings again from the darkness. I would venture a guess that most are as uninformed as I about this brief, but altogether impactive and fascinating period of history in Denmark. The story is bookended with the (late 17th century) letter that a seriously ill and deposed Queen Caroline sent to her children, the eldest who would later become King Frederick VI. Director Nikolaj Arcel co-wrote the script with Rasmus Heisterberg (the two also collaborated on the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and present insight into a most bizarre love triangle andpolitical power struggle that instigated national change … and then a severe reversal … and then change again.
We meet the luminous Caroline (Alicia Vikander from Anna Karenina) as she is traveling from England for her initial meeting with her new husband, King Christian VII of Denmark. Unfortunately, this intellectual and talented woman is stuck with a mentally unstable and childlike spouse. Once she fulfills her duty by delivering a son, the chamber visits are cut off and the two live mostly separate lives. The king is manipulated and controlled by the court and mostly just does what he is told to do, and signs what he is supposed to sign. This keeps the aristocracy fat and happy, while continuing the harsh policies against the poor peasants.
A local doctor is arranged for the king’s European tour and we discover that this doctor has learned how to co-exist and gain the trust of the odd king. What few know is that this doctor … Johann Struensee is a revolutionary thinker and follower of Voltaire and Rousseau. He seeks social reform in Denmark and soon schemes with the idealistic queen to use Christian as their mouthpiece and gain control of the court.
It’s not long before Caroline and Struensee are sharing much more than ideas, and the big question is … will their downfall be their ideas for enlightenment or their dangerous love affair? Speaking of the love affair, it bears mention that this is one of those rare, believable stories of true soul mates. Most movies, especially costume dramas, have us believe that soul mates are created by an exchange of glances across a crowded room. Here, the love between these two grows in step with their ideas for social reform. In other words, there is more than lust between Caroline and Struensee.
Sometimes the story gets a bit muddled between the love affair and the political maneuvering, but it’s not difficult to imagine that these conflicts actually occurred during this period. These are real people with real issues and it’s a pleasure to watch the tangled web.
Mads Mikkelsen is known to most as the villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Here he captures the nuances of Dr Struensee as both a revolutionary figure and an illicit lover. Alicia Vikander is clearly on the verge of stardom and is wonderful as the complex Caroline. The real scene stealer here is Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as Christian. This key role could have easily spoiled the film in the wrong actor’s hands. Instead he balances the mental issues with enough doubt that we viewers are left wondering how much is illness and how much is insecurity … just how much did he understand?
This is a very well crafted, if somewhat conventional film that tells a remarkable story from a turbulent time in Denmark. It’s a story that deserves a greater audience … despite it’s lame title … and this Oscar contender (Foreign Language category) should provide just that.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of costume dramas, especially when steeped in historical accuracies
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe all things are rotten from Denmark (see what I did there?)
watch the trailer: