December 5, 2012 -- This dark historical drama works as both a forbidden romance and a grim battle in Denmark between the forces of the Enlightenment and the repression of the Dark Ages. It is based on a true story.
In 1768, a small-time doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee (played by Mads Mikkelsen) gained the trust of the King of Denmark, King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) and eventually becomes the king's personal physician. The oddball king seems to be mentally unhinged and not normal sexually. He does not care for his wife, the queen, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) who is also the king's cousin. Caroline, born in London, is also the daughter of the Prince of Wales.
The film starts with Caroline's life just before her marriage and her introduction to the strange king. Her life after marriage is unhappy. The king is more interested in the whores in Copenhagen than he is in his own wife. The queen and Johann Struensee are drawn together and eventually they have an affair. Caroline encourages Johann to use his influence with the king to enact sweeping reforms. Johann does just that, issuing over 1,000 orders, including a ban on torture, a ban on the slave trade in the colonies, an abolition of press censorship and many other reforms.
Johann's reforms and the reduction of privileges for the nobility, along with his affair with the queen, made him many enemies. Eventually, there was a coup, of sorts, led by the king's stepmother, Queen Dowager Juliane Marie (Trine Dyrholm) and a host of Johann's enemies. The king's marriage to Caroline was dissolved by divorce and Caroline was exiled from Denmark and her two children were taken from her.
It is pretty clear early on that things are not going to go well for Johann. Johann is advised early on by a friend that he is headed for disaster, but he doesn't seem able to avoid it. This all ends the way you would expect it to, even if you don't know the history, but there is an interesting twist at the end involving the royal children.
Looking at the portraits of the real people portrayed in the film, Johann and the king are fairly well represented in the film, but Alicia Vikander is a rare beauty, much better looking than the real Queen Caroline was. Her great beauty makes the king's indifference to her in the film that much harder to believe. According to history, though, the king may have been a homosexual, and the queen liked to dress up in men's clothing. The scandal of the queen appearing in public dressed as a man is one of the factors in her downfall. These things are not mentioned in the movie.
This whole affair was depressing, but the characters in the story are interesting, even if they are not quite as interesting as the historical people on which the characters in this film are based. This film does present some real history, though, and makes it pretty interesting. Three hundred years later, the war between the Enlightenment and Conservatives, played out in this film, is still being played out. Conservatives like the late evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer, who produced a series of films, “How Should We Then Live?” has influenced many people, including current politician Michele Bachmann. Schaeffer's followers oppose the effects of the Italian Renaissance and the Enlightenment and other forms of modernism. Some conservatives are attracted to the idea of conformity and obedience to religious authority found in the Middle Ages.
The war between those who think governments should be secular and those who favor religious rule still goes on. This is one of the key struggles in the movie, as Johann is shown angrily expelling a powerful religious leader from the halls of government, a man who became yet another of Johann's enemies. The acting is solid and the production values are high in this Danish film which has very little English in it. The language most spoken is Danish, with some German and French as well. This film rates a B.
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