A Royal Affair

Art & Culture

England is not the only country to have had a monarch incapacitated by illness (see The Madness of King George). In fact, it was George III's youngest sister who married the King in question – Christian VII of Denmark. And this film tells of the love affair she had with Christian's doctor, Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen).

The reason this affair is of interest is that Dr Struensee was not only Christian's doctor, and his wife's lover, but for a while he also became the most powerful man in Denmark. His hold over the king was so strong that he was able to take almost complete control of the country, with the Queen as his friend and ally, as well as bedfellow.

Struensee took the opportunity to try to implement some radical and liberal policies designed to improve the lot of the ordinary person, but in the late 1760s, trying to help the common man didn't go down well with the ruling elite, among whom he made many enemies, which is one reason why the monarchy continued in Denmark for some decades longer.

As a film, this errs on the side of worthiness rather than originality. But it looks good, is well acted and has an interesting and engaging story which is all the more fascinating given that it is true. We can see how the initial impetus for the affair between Caroline and Johann was the fact that it was forbidden. Whereas when they are caught up in the business of running the country with everyone against them, it's harder to maintain a romantic liaison.

Struensee is as much a victim of his own ambition and determination to do the right thing as he is of the conservative elite who are far more ruthless than he is. He represented the shape of things to come, and it is extraordinary that a man with no background should have achieved such prominence through a combination of circumstance and will power. A story worth telling, though it could have been told with more precision and elegance.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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