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In 1767, the British Princess Caroline is betrothed to the mad King Christian VII of Denmark, but her life with the erratic monarch in the oppressive country becomes an isolating misery. However, Christian soon gains a fast companion with the German Dr. Johann Struensee, a quietly idealistic man of the Enlightenment. As the only one who can influence the King, Struensee is able to begin sweeping enlightened reforms of Denmark through Christian even as Caroline falls for the doctor. However, their secret affair proves a tragic mistake that their conservative enemies use to their advantage in a conflict that threatens to claim more than just the lovers as their victims. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
In 1769, when Queen Caroline Mathilde is taking tea with the Dowager Queen Juliane Marie, they are clearly seen to be drinking from Danish Flora Danica cups. The Royal Danish Porcelain Factory was not established until 1775 and was the service was not put to use by the Danish Royal Family until 1803. See more »
You could dismiss this film as a Danish history lesson but it is more than that. It is a love story with an improbable background in a rather gloomy setting, the Danish Court of the late 18th century. Mad (or at least seriously disturbed) King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgaard - superbe) marries 16 year old English princess Caroline (Alicia Vikander) who happens to be George III's sister). He prefers the company of his dog and mistress to her. It is not surprising that Caroline falls for Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) who becomes the king's personal physician on the strength of his knowledge of Shakespeare (especially Hamlet). The king is, as they say, easily led, and for a year or so Sturensee, despite being German, has a fine time as de facto ruler enacting liberal measures such as the abolition of serfdom and the repeal of censorship laws, not to mention free smallpox inoculations. But the forces of reaction led by the king's stepmother gather. It was surprising to learn that 18th century Denmark was such a backward society.
Mads Mikkelsen gives a nuanced performance 'quiet intensity' in fact, and Alicia Vikander is equally intense. They are a serious couple imbued with the ideals of the 18th century Enlightenment but their passion is physical as well as intellectual. Unfortunately their ideals are a little advanced for Denmark of the 1770s despite support from writers such as Voltaire. The local book-burners led by Hoegh-Guldberg (David Dencik) are not swayed by argument of course.
The production is full of atmosphere. The castles are suitably gloomy and there's plenty of medieval squalor beyond the castle gate. Much of the action takes place in winter which adds to the chilly atmosphere. The aristocracy are suitably heartless and the peasants downtrodden. The king provides some zany (if not quite authentic) moments, appointing his Great Dane to his council and ordering Struensee to make Caroline a "fun queen".
This is quite a long movie at 140 minutes yet is enthralling from start to finish. Even though you can guess the ending you are swept along by the story and the performances. You can see why the audiences at Cannes loved it.
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