A Royal Affair is based on a brief period in Danish history that has captured the imagination of Scandinavians and Germans in particular for 340 years. At a time when Denmark was a European power, Christian VII ascended to the nation’s throne. He was 16 years old and, although intelligent, was clearly mentally imbalanced. Princess Caroline Matilde, the 15-year-old younger sister of King George III of Great Britain, was sent to Denmark to marry Christian, not realizing that he was mentally ill. A Royal Affair tells the story from Caroline’s point-of-view.
Christian was enthusiastic about sexual pleasures… but not with his queen. After successfully fathering an heir, he left for an eight-month tour of Europe. When he returned to Copenhagen, he brought with him a German doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee, who became Christian’s official physician. Struensee and Caroline began a love affair, which adds spice to the story, but from an historical perspective, what the two of them did was to bring Voltaire-inspired reforms to Danish society. Taking advantage of Christian’s increasing isolation from the real world, they convinced him to stand up to the old court powers or at least to stand aside and let Struensee do so. Between December 1770 and January 1772, Struensee abolished torture and press censorship, banned the slave trade, fought against bribery, corruption and the privileges of the aristocracy, and gave land to the peasants.
The story of Christian, Caroline and Struensee has been the subject of at least six novels, most notably The Royal Physician’s Visit by Per Olof Enquist. A Royal Affair, which appears to be the fourth cinematic version of the tale, is a colorful and engaging historical drama. Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Struensee, starred in In a Better World, which won the Academy Award in 2011, as well as After the Wedding, which was nominated in 2007.