A Royal Affair’s compelling writing and fine actors help set this based-on-a-true-story romantic period piece apart from its contemporaries. Queen Caroline of Denmark (Alicia Vikander) is married to the mentally ill King Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard), who has a penchant for acting. She falls in love with her physician (Mads Mikkelsen) and the two plot to start a revolution by persuading the king to approach his leadership as he would a part in a play, having him memorize the speeches they write. Naturally, the affair is revealed, and their brief romance starts to unravel.
Unlike recent royal-court dramas Young Victoria and The Other Boleyn Girl, A Royal Affair doesn’t rely too much on ostentatious camerawork and overly dramatic writing. Instead, director Nikolaj Arcel focuses on story and characters, garnering a true and deserved empathy for its players — especially Følsgaard’s enigmatic king, whose utter madness and disregard of reality don’t come across as exaggerated, but pathetic and innocent. It’s because of these nuanced performances and the film’s thoughtful writing that it manages to thrive despite an ending that starts to wear out its welcome.