Danish Game of Thrones slowed to a sodden pace
A late 17th-century historical drama with beautiful costumes, hot adultery, and a mad king offer all the makings of a can't-go-wrong film. But taking it to the plodding pace of a Clydesdale and dragging it twenty minutes past its expiration date leave the experience a bit sour.
A royal marriage is arranged between fifteen-year-old Caroline Mathilde, George III's sister, and the young Danish king, Christian VII. When the girl arrives in Denmark, her romantic visions are quickly shattered by a betrothed who is buffoonish, brutal, and child-like. When a progressive German doctor finds favor with the mad king, he is brought to court and eventually becomes allied with the queen—both in and out of bed. In true "end justifies the means" style, they manipulate the king to enact reforms (e.g., starting smallpox vaccines, ending torture, banning corporal punishment). Uproar results as those unhappy with these measures—and the king's allegiances—plot overthrow.
Mikkel Boe Følsgaard delivers a stellar performance as the barking-mad Christian, and manages to even make him at times sympathetic. Direction by Nicolaj Arcel, screenwriter for the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, begs the question if Mr. Arcel has left his core competency. He does have a minor screenwriting credit, but it and his presence as director are inadequate to fulfill the potential of A Royal Affair.