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Originally published Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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'A Royal Affair' is a tragic period love story, beautifully told

"A Royal Affair," directed by Nikolaj Arcel and starring Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, is a quiet period love story, beautifully told, writes Moira Macdonald in this review. It's playing at the Harvard Exit.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'A Royal Affair,' with Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard. Written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel. 135 minutes. Rated R for sexual content and some violent images. In Danish with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.

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One of two lavish period dramas opening this Thanksgiving week (both, coincidentally, featuring Swedish actress Alicia Vikander), "A Royal Affair" is quiet and subdued, in contrast to the vivid whirl of "Anna Karenina." But it's no less effective for that. Written and directed by Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel (best known for writing the fine Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), "A Royal Affair" shines a flickering light on a notorious story from late- 18th-century Danish history. Queen Caroline Mathilda (Vikander, who also plays Kitty in "Anna Karenina") is a young noblewoman brought from England to marry King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), but quickly realizes that her new husband is mentally ill. Lonely and distraught, she turns to Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) — her husband's physician, a forward thinker and a man who seems to quietly understand her hopes and dreams.

Though the film is visually lovely (particularly the outdoor scenes; you can almost smell the damp air), the three actors at its center make it an intimate, almost modern story; the costumes and trappings of the 1700s seem to fall away. Vikander, whose soft face looks right out of an 18th-century oil painting, looks terribly, vulnerably young as she meets her new husband; we watch her mature over the film's running time, gazing at Struensee as if she finds solace in him. Følsgaard, giggling madly like Tom Hulce in "Amadeus," makes something uncontrolled and wild of this puppet king, speaking as if he's perpetually surprised by what's coming out of his mouth. Mikkelsen (the sly banker villain from "Casino Royale"), quietly soulful, shows us a man unexpectedly falling in love and surprised by it, as if by sudden snow. It's an affair that we — and they — know to be doomed, but it's inevitable. The film, elegantly bookended by a letter Caroline writes to her children, ends sadly but with a note of hope; a tragic love story, beautifully told.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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