Keswick Film Club - Reviews - A Royal Affair

Reviews - A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair

Reviewed By John Stakes

A Royal Affair
A Royal Affair
What a magnificent start to the new season last Sunday! Nikolaj Arcel’s late eighteenth century Danish royal court drama was arguably the most polished and involving period drama shown at the Alhambra in the last decade.

The clarity of digitalisation (a wise and greatly appreciated investment by cinema manager Tom Rennie) captured not only the breathtaking sweeping grandeur of the Danish hinterland, but also revealed the beautifully intricate design of the ravishing costumes, the details of the stately architecture, and every last nuance of expression in the occasionally ravaged and frequently duplicitous faces of the protagonists.

The story resonated not merely as a doomed romantic love story played out against the little-known tipping point politics of the Danish nation back in the 1770s, but its issues can clearly be seen today in the struggle for greater democratisation in the Middle East and with echoes of Britain’s own past in the eventual separation of church from state power.

Arcel’s film was refreshingly as far removed from the overly-acted, bodice-ripped, caricature-laden costume dramas so beloved by English Sunday night audiences as could be hoped for. At the film’s core lies the failed arranged marriage of English teenager Caroline to the mentally unstable Danish King Christian VII and the burgeoning relationship between Caroline and German born doctor Johann Struensee drafted in to be the king’s personal physician. Christian is manipulated by both sides of the political divide but it is the combination of Struensee’s desire for Caroline and his political naivety which drive the drama to its inevitable tragic denouement.

Rarely has this reviewer seen a film which so cleverly blends and balances the contributions of the several component parts to the successful realisation of any film project. The acting was natural, restrained and flawless. The astute and fluid camera-work captured both the sweeping spectacle and moments of clandestine intimacy to perfection enabling the development of character and plot to proceed simultaneously and seemingly effortlessly with crystal clarity.

The film could almost have played out as a silent movie and Arcel wisely eschewed lengthy oratory in favour of brevity of eloquence which both illuminated character and maintained the flow of the historical events over their seven years’ turbulent span. Delicate directorial flourishes abounded, highlighted by the ball-room sequence between Caroline and Johann, and Johann’s realisation of the size of the crowd to witness his beheading as he reached the top of the gallows’ steps.

The cinematography proved spellbinding throughout assisted by some wonderful lighting effects to the interiors. Never has the finery of a royal court gathering been better displayed as, thanks to the wardrobe department every character appeared to inhabit rather than merely wear his or her costume. The musical score conveyed the full tapestry of feeling in the film’s political scheming and emotional range without being in the least bit intrusive.

It was rather like watching the cinematic equivalent of the British Olympic indoor cycling team in full flow: poetry in picture motion. Arcel’s work here has been rewarded with Best Screenplay and Actor awards at the 2012 Berlin Festival. It more than rebuts the growing presumption that Danish cinema can only deliver the likes of Wallander and The Killing to our screens. The film was only released recently in the UK and deserves the widest possible audience. A truly remarkable two hours’ opener to the season enjoyed by a near full house gripped from its optimistic start to heartbreaking finish (and satisfying postscript).

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

Since then, the club has won Film Society Of The Year and awards for Best Programme four times and Best Website twice.

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