Caught between the Age of Enlightenment and a cloistered world of entitlement, between duty and illicit love, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) is the young queen, imported from England, who shares the Danish throne with King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). In the sumptuous 18th-century drama A Royal Affair, she arrives in Copenhagen full of bright-eyed optimism, only to see that her new husband is, um, a twit.
A clownish despot with a nervous laugh who dotes on his dog (a Great Dane, of course), Christian is a suggestible monarch with a mad gleam in his eye. Although they share the same palace, Queen Caroline and King Christian live in separate quarters. And then Johann Friedrich Struensee (the charming, slightly sinister Mads Mikkelsen) is hired on as the king's personal doctor. He becomes the king's personal adviser, too, influencing the flighty royal with talk of Rousseau and Voltaire.
And then he becomes the king's wife's lover, sneaking into her bedroom, and sneaking her banned texts about freedom and liberty. Suddenly, she feels alive again, and important. He, likewise, falls in love. Complications - a pregnancy, political maneuvering by ministers and the dowager queen - ensue.
Beautifully staged and shot by writer/director Nikolaj Arcel (he wrote the original Swedish screenplay of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), A Royal Affair is historical drama of the highest order - teeming with big ideas, and anchored by the nicely nuanced performances of Vikander and Mikkelsen.