At a glance, the submissions for nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category tout an impressive year of world cinema that will undoubtedly make it a category to watch going into the 85th Academy Awards. Of these submissions, Nikolaj Arcel's A Royal Affair, which has its New York Premiere on Monday at Film Society, is a contender to keep an eye on. It hails from Denmark, a nation famous for its compelling crime dramas, driven films, and exceptional filmmakers. With strong performances from a cast of diverse talents, and a gripping character-driven story that has attracted positive critical reception, Arcel delivers a period piece that balances intelligence and entertainment with contemporary bite.
Better known internationally for the works of filmmakers including Lars von Trier, Susanne Bier, and Nicolas Winding Refn, contemporary Danish cinema and television has demonstrated widespread appeal through various co-productions, remakes, and theatrical releases, particularly in the UK and the US. Lars von Trier, an executive producer of A Royal Affair, has become a Cannes regular with numerous nominations and wins, including his most recent film Melancholia (NYFF '11) being nominated for the Palme d’Or last year. Danish filmmakers are also no strangers to the Academy Awards as Susanne Bier’s In a Better World claimed the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards, while her After the Wedding was nominated in the same category in 2006. Bier’s Brothers was also remade into an American feature directed by Jim Sheridan and Danish television remakes have become something of a fad stateside. Examples include AMC's popular recreation of crime series The Killing; political drama Borgen, which was recently snapped up by NBC; and serial killer thriller The Bridge, a Swedish/Danish co-production slated to be remade for FX by Miss Bala (NYFF '11) director Gerardo Naranjo.
While A Royal Affair recounts a historical event perhaps better known to Danish audiences than American ones, the political intrigue, illicit passion, and play of power involved in the film’s 18th century scandal resonate with stories from Shakespeare to modern times. When Danish King Christian VII enlists the service of the German physician Johan Friedrich Struensee, his confidence in the charismatic doctor soon elevates Stuensee’s position to chief minister. With his idealism and spirit of Enlightenment, Stuensee not only brings ideas of progress and reform to the Danish court, but also becomes caught in a forbidden romance with Queen Caroline Mathilde, who shares his passionate views.
Period dramas are not a common genre in Danish cinema. Nevertheless, director Nikolaj Arcel has never shied away from taking risks, and has often been rewarded for his variety of projects. With screenwriting credits on the highly successful Swedish film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, award-winning children’s film Catch That Girl (also remade in the US), and animated feature Journey to Saturn, Arcel has also dominated Danish box office records as a writer-director with his debut political thriller King’s Game, attracting an audience that covered over a fifth of the Danish population.
The cast of A Royal Affair also boast backgrounds as diverse as Arcel’s. As a classically trained dancer and Stockholm Opera performer, Alicia Vikander plays Queen Caroline Mathilde after her breakthrough performance as Katarina in the Swedish drama Pure, for which she received the Guldbagge award as best female lead actress. Vikander will also be seen in the role of Kitty in the new adaptation of Anna Karenina, which will have an advance screening at Film Society on November 1 as part of "An Evening with Joe Wright." Newcomer Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, a Danish National School of Theatre student and television star, has also received critical acclaim for his role as the mad King Christian VII, with a Best Actor Prize at the Berlin Film Festival to commend his performance. Most recognizable in the ensemble cast is award-winning actor Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Johann Friedrich Struense. Breaking into the international scene as the 007 villian Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Mikkelsen has continued to appear in major roles including Valhalla Rising, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, Clash of the Titans, and The Three Muskateers.
While actor Mikkel Boe Folsgaard jokingly proffered the tagline “Big Emotions, Big Wigs,” A Royal Affair is a period piece that decidedly refuses to dwell on the material representations of an era. Instead, the film delves into the intricacies of political power, social change, and the high stakes of illicit romance through affecting performances and masterful direction. Needless to say, A Royal Affair is an Oscar submission that effortlessly catches attention.
See the New York Premiere of A Royal Affair on Monday, October 29 at 6:30pm with director Nikolaj Arcel, star Alicia Vikander, and co-writer Rasmus Heisterberg in person. Exclusive offer for Film Society members: Two tickets for the price of one! Not a member? Sign up today!