Nicolaj Arcel's Danish-language film, which he wrote with Rasmus Heisterberg, starts in 1766, with an English girl's fateful journey to Denmark. Caroline Mathilde, a sister of Britain's King George III, makes the trip to marry her cousin, the Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), and become his queen. She's only 15, but already cultivated and accomplished, and Alicia Vikander's performance spans the next nine years with lovely authority.
What Caroline doesn't know is that her husband-to-be is infantile, willful and insane. This is suggested in a piquant imagining of their first meeting, in a field; Christian isn't visible for a while because he's hiding behind a tree. (The film's inventions are so dramatic and entertaining that you're tempted to think of the whole thing as fiction, but the main elements of the script hew remarkably close to historical fact.) What Caroline can't imagine at this frightening juncture is that her life will be transformed by the royal physician, Johann Friederich Struensee, a man of the Enlightenment whose seductiveness extends far south of his brain, since he's played by the marvelous Mads Mikkelsen.
Mr. Mikkelsen's face is unmistakable, with its high cheekbones, brooding eyes and chiseled lips, and his character is the plot's fulcrum. For Caroline, Struensee opens up the world of learning, and of love. For Christian, the royal doctor is a constant companion who drinks with the king and whores with him but never judges him. What's more, Struensee turns the king into a progressive force in a struggle against the power brokers and connivers of the State Council who have kept Denmark poor and ignorant in the name of tradition and faith. Still, Struensee is an overreacher, as well as an adulterer. While hundreds of laws are being passed—enlightened laws that will open the country to the winds of change—the conditions of his downfall are inexorably coalescing. (Read entire article.)
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