Inspired by a true story and directed by Nikolaj Arcel, A Royal Affair centers on the tangled love story of Caroline (Alicia Vikander), a princess living in the shackles of an arranged marriage who falls in love with her husband’s physician, and a love story borne from loneliness and pain that would change all of their lives forever.
Caroline, an English noblewoman, is engaged to be married to a man she has never met. She is destined to be Princess of a country she has never seen. While her heart yearns for the whimsical ideal of love, her marriage to Prince Christian (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) of Denmark is anything but romantic. While Christian uses Caroline in order to produce an heir to his throne, her dreams of a comfortable romance with her new husband are shattered when he casts her aside in favor of satiating his sexual desires with other women. As the scorned and forgotten wife of a conceited prince, Caroline shrouds her smoldering feelings beneath a mask of serenity until the veil is torn away, and her voice is finally able to be heard.
Prince Christian is a vile, narcissistic and insecure aristo-brat who cares more for pampering his own manly ego than finding love with his new bride. While he cruelly exploits Caroline to achieve his ambitions as a ruler, Christian lacks any semblance of respect for his new wife. Instead, he exults in casting the blame on Caroline by insulting her and shamelessly mocking his new bride with his unfaithfulness. His deeply rooted insecurities along with his presumed insanity also cause him to cast out his life-long physician in favor of Johanne Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a young idealist of the Enlightenment who wields his influence to guide the Prince in sparking the flame of Enlightenment in Denmark while secretly finding love with Christian’s forgotten wife. In spite of his severe faults, Christian is very much like a child. He possesses the title of monarch, but in his heart, he is a little boy who craves attention and reassurance in order to feel like a man.
Forgotten and alone, Caroline finds solace with Johanne Struensee, the Prince’s physician. While her marriage to Christian brought Caroline nothing but pain, her secret relationship with Struensee allowed Caroline to finally experience the love she had so long been denied. While initially she resists Struensee’s tender advances, Caroline’s heart is ultimately won by the fact that with him, she finds a small measure of joy in a life otherwise filled with anguish. In a moment of absolute darkness, he allows Catherine to be free. As the couple’s love grows, and with it, Christian’s aspirations under Struensee’s guidance to transform the country into a new creation, the flames of discontent begin to smolder around them. When the truth is brought to light, the smoldering flame of discontent explodes into a fire that will consume them all.
While initially I was uncertain how I felt about A Royal Affair, I can admit that by the end of the film, I was impressed. While the occasional predictability of the story made watching the film a bit tedious, I could appreciate the diverse relationships between the three characters, as well as the overall quality of the story. While the casting was exceptional, I was particularly impressed with Alicia Vikander, who shined in the role of Princess Catherine. If you enjoy an intriguing, foreign romance, then I would highly recommend this movie.