In 2007, when Nikolaj Arcel decided to do the Danish production A Royal Affair, he was in Hollywood buried under a load of 50-plus screenplays and “giving great meetings” about American genre films. In the end, he took the most difficult challenge of all: telling a story of real substance from Danish history.
The film took five years and enormous stubbornness to make – expensive costume dramas are a rare beast in Danish films. Though he never had avant-garde aspirations, the director-writer is still a major innovator in Danish cinema.
Arcel made his debut in 2004 with a blockbuster, the first-ever Danish political thriller King’s Game. He then breathed new life into Danish children’s and teen films in 2007 with the effect-laden Island of Lost Souls. While A Royal Affair was in preproduction, he even put out a witty, critically acclaimed generational comedy lampooning the film industry, Truth About Men (2010).
Arcel always writes his own scripts (with Rasmus Heisterberg). Always unconventional, he has continued working as a screenwriter alongside his directing career, penning Catch that Girl (2002; US remake, 2004) Fighter (2007), the massive mystery blockbuster The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013).
A Royal Affair
A Royal Affair is a lavishly produced historical drama populated with credibly conflicted characters that seem relevant today. Mads Mikkelsen stars as Struensee, the personal physician of King Christian, who becomes Denmark’s de facto ruler for a few remarkable years around 1770, introducing several progressive laws that are still in effect today.
At the same time, Struensee starts a passionate, illicit affair with the very young and very lovely Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), and the film becomes a tale of power, idealism, conspiracy, treason and madness played out for all to see at the Danish court. It is a tale told with a sure touch and an eye for tactical power games.
At the heart of the drama is Mikkelsen’s proud, steely Struensee, an idealist and a political pioneer who morphs into a power grabber. A victorious figure, he comes to a tragic end.
Danish Oscars over the years
For the third time in six years, a Danish feature film is nominated for an Oscar. In 2011 Susanne Bier went all the way and picked up an Oscar for In a Better World.
Best Foreign Language Film
In a Better World / Director Susanne Bier / Production Zentropa / 2011
Pelle the Conqueror/ Director Bille August / Production Holst / 1989
Babette’s Feast / Director Gabriel Axel / Production Nordisk/Panorama / 1988
Best Live Action Short Film
The New Tenants / Director Joachim Oscar Back / Production M&M Productions / 2010
This Charming Man / Director Martin Strange-Hansen / Production M&M Productions / 2003
Election Night / Director Anders Thomas Jensen / Production M&M Productions / 1999