Saturday, January 19, 2013

To Royal Effect

    Danish screenwriting duo Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg are probably best known on this side of the pond as the pair who adapted the script for the first version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Here they take their work more firmly into their own hands (Arcel also directs) and prove to be as adept in the world of courtly intrigue as they were in the world of ultra violent cyber espionage.  The film is a little talky in places, but overall it is a tightly written script, realized by a whole ensemble of fine performances.
     The film fits nicely into one of this year's thematic niches:  the acknowledgement of and fight for human rights, especially over the course of history.  These issues resonate through Cloud Atlas, Lincoln, and Django Unchained, and they predominate in A Royal Affair as well.  The politics at play here are every bit as vicious and partisan as in our time, or any of the time periods touched on by the other films.
     A Royal Affair is also a love story, though, and a rather unconventional one.  It is a story of forbidden love, fully realized.  It is the story of the love a man and a woman can have for all the people of the world.  In places, it is a tale of self-love, taken to abhorrent extremes.  It is also, and this is the part that got me, the love of a man for the one man who treats him like a friend (although a friend that he treats pretty poorly), rather than like a king.  It is a story of betrayal, yes, but also of forgiveness and acceptance.
     As I said, the acting in this film is tremendous.  Alicia Vikander's face is just made for the camera.  She is such a captivating presence onscreen.  She has an instinctual knack for emoting just enough to make you empathize with her without ever pushing the matter in a way that looks like she's trying.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that she's absolutely gorgeous.  Mads Mikelson first really caught MY attention in Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, but general American audiences are more likely to have seen him in Casino Royale or Clash of the Titans.  His chiseled face, like Vikander's, can convey so much emotion with the slightest shifts of expression.  Their onscreen chemistry is searing, perhaps all the more so because by necessity it must exist mostly behind a veill.
     The performance that sticks with me most, however, is that of Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, as the slightly unhinged King Christian VII.  He gives the foppish monarch such depth of personality, so many sides and layers, that he becomes one of the most fully realized characters that I have seen in film this year.  Fear, courage, love, lust, loyalty, resignation, and every other extreme of human emotion are at play in a performance which takes the king through phases of hedonism, growth, regression, and defeat.  Maybe my favorite Supporting Actor turn of the year thus far.
     The film is also very impressive technically.  The camera work by cinematographer Rasmus Videbaek is interesting and mostly quite beautiful.  The sets are excellent;  Manon Rassmussen's costume design is actually much stronger than a couple of the current Oscar nominees.  But the best part about this film is that it is not flashy, but is highly effective.  It relies on story, characterization, and mostly understated drama to keep the viewer's attention.  It had mine.  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

Related Posts:  Cloudy Connections (Cloud Atlas review)

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