I don’t know about you but when I hear “royal Danish” I think of pastry, or possibly those cookies that aren’t great but are hard to stop eating. So you can imagine my surprise to discover that Danish is a real country (or was once) that has real royalty (or had once)!
A Royal Affair is a Danish period piece centered around the story of the not-quite-stable King Christian VII, his neglected English wife, Caroline Mathilda (sister to George III), and the German doctor, Johann Fredrich Streunsee that ran Denmark and schtupped the queen for a while.
Basically, Christian VII is not much of a king, and his council is running the show, protecting all the necessary interests and downtroddening (new word!) all the peasants, until some courtly outsiders get the idea to bring in Streunsee as the royal doctor. Streunsee and Christian hit it off (throuh a shared love of Shakespeare, according to the film) and the German’s influence of the Dane grows slowly.
As does his attraction to the Queen, who is neglected in this film due to her not caring much for the King’s erratic ways (including his tendency to whore around in public), although (historically) rumors of his homosexuality also abounded. (Naturally. Are there any historical figures who aren’t gay?)
The Queen and the Doctor have a love for liberal philosophy. (Tragically, largely Rousseau.) The Danish council doesn’t have any interest in any of this reform nonsense, and blocks even the mildest sorts of reforms, like making it illegal to insulate the walls of your drafty old castle with peasant children.
The film is highly sympathetic to the Queen and to Streunsee, and their reforms and it’s a highly entertaining tale of—well, really, how thinking with one’s sexual organs can interfere with the noblest of agenda. So, I can recommend it on this basis. The Boy also liked.
That said, I couldn’t help but notice—help but wonder and dream—if only they had read more Smith instead of Rousseau. They enact ruling after ruling after ruling, changing the country dramatically overnight, or at least meaning to.
The ensuing chaos does not endear them much to The People, even if they quite like not being used as fiberglass. In fact, The People are all too happy to angrily mob it up at the service of the mean-old Council when it tries to get back in power. (Though the implication is that these are like those fake “grassroots protests" the unions are always putting on.)
I couldn’t help but notice, though, that all the money for their plans came from taxing the rich—which, if it were ever going to work, it would’ve been in the Enlightenment or earlier when the rich really did have all the money—and they were soon out of it.
They drained the coffers and made a lot of enemies. Soon, they had run out of other people’s money to spend. If they’d operated less from a viewpoint of condescension to the peasantry and more from a viewpoint of respect, a free market could have flourished—that they then could have taxed to fun their wacky schemes.
Well, as you can imagine, it all ends in tears, as these things always do. Everyone (everyone!) portrayed in this movie is dead now, letting it stand as a cautionary tale that no matter how good your intentions are, you will be dead 300 years from now.
Or maybe I missed the point. It happens.
(This film is Denmark’s submission to the Academy for best foreign language picture.)