In 1766, aristocratic English girl Caroline (Vikander) is married off to the Danish King (Folsgaard) to preserve the dynasty. But his brutish rule turns her against him, and she seeks intellectual stimulation from the King's close advisor Johann (Mikkelsen). Eventually, this meeting of minds turns into a lusty affair, as the Queen and Johann plot to turn Denmark into a progressive, compassionate nation. Meanwhile, the King's stepmother (Dyrholm) is conniving to have him declared unfit so her son (Nielsen) can claim the throne.
Intense plot twists and deepening themes hold our interest, especially with the mix of suspicion, loyalty and camaraderie between the characters. And the stakes couldn't be higher, since Caroline and Johann launch into their dangerous affair just as hardliners stage a vicious coup to send their country back into the dark ages. But the film never exploits the story's emotional core, leaving us observing events without feeling like we're living through them.
Director-cowriter Arcel paints beautifully grubby, grey tone over the lavish period details. He also encourages the cast to give raw, naturalistic performances that quietly underline the complex issues and keep us engaged.
Mikkelsen is always adept at this kind of layering. It might be clear who the good and bad guys are, but everyone has some characteristic that undercuts our feelings about them.
The film is a fascinating portrait of a turbulent time in European history, when religion and superstition ruled "official" thought even as intellectual enlightenment was starting to show a fairer way forward. This mix of big ideas provides potent fuel to the swirl of plots and counterplots. Intriguingly, the old-school Danes see Caroline as a threat from the start, banning many of the books she brought with her. And she's immediately shocked by the filth and poverty of the Danish people in contrast to the opulence of the palace. Which adds a telling kick of resonance.
Run time: 137 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 29th March 2012
Box Office USA: $1.5M
Box Office Worldwide: 534
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Production compaines: Zentropa Entertainments, Film i Väst
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 89 Rotten: 11
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Producer: Meta Louise Foldager, Sisse Graum Jorgensen, Louise Vesth
Screenwriter: Rasmus Heisterberg, Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen as Johann Friedrich Struensee, David Dencik as Ove Høegh-Guldberg, Alicia Vikander as Caroline Mathilde, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as Christian VII, Trine Dyrholm as Juliane Marie, Thomas W. Gabrielsson as Schack Carl Rantzau, William Jøhnk Nielsen as Frederik VI, Cyron Bjørn Melville as Enevold Brandt, Laura Bro as Louise von Plessen
Those bright sparks at Pixar have done it again, taking a fiercely original approach to...
Slick direction and meaty performances may be enough for some viewers, but this boxing drama's...
Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered...
Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the...
An intriguing premise keeps the audience gripped for about 20 minutes before the movie runs...
The increasingly stale Marvel formula gets a blast of fresh air in this rollocking adventure...
An unusually inventive approach brings this story to life, as the filmmakers get into the...
Fans of the surprise 2012 hit Ted will find plenty to love in this sequel,...