‘A Royal Affair’ dramatizes Danish history
A wise doctor helps a king rule in retelling of a true story.
Denmark’s “A Royal Affair” tells an amazing real-life story from Danish history that has everything going for it — sex, love, terror, politics, violence. A beautiful young royal from England is brought to Denmark to marry King Christian VII, sight unseen. And then she meets him, and he’s borderline insane, lashing out at people without warning and masturbating around the clock. What a guy.
Mikkel Boe Folsgaard won the best actor prize at the Berlin Film Festival for his performance as the king, a terrifying weakling who, yet, has a soul. When a German doctor, Struensee (Mads Mik- kelsen), is brought in as the king’s personal physician, Christian gets a little better. He has a friend. And gradually, he starts taking Struensee’s advice on how to run the country — along more populist and liberal lines.
As played by Mikkelsen, Struensee is just so much more of a man than the king that everyone notices it, including the queen, who is young and love-starved. And so we have this pressure-cooker situation: As long as the king listens to Struensee, Denmark will get better. But if Struensee and the queen consummate their understandable attraction — they’re the best-looking and most sane people in the country — they risk everything.
If Christian VII is the film’s flashiest character and the queen its most sympathetic, Struensee is the most fascinating, a man of relaxed demeanor and fierce ambition, unusual perception and tin-eared cluelessness. Mikkelsen has the aura of a man who can never make a mistake, until you realize that he can.
“A Royal Affair” is an engaging and entertaining film, one that might have been great, if only the history were different. Danish history collaborates with the filmmakers for about three-quarters of the running time, but so long as the film is committed to presenting a version of the truth — as it should be in a movie like this — the last quarter was bound to disappoint. “A Royal Affair” is magnificent when it plays just like a movie, and less so when it becomes like real life.
They figured that was the end of it. The guys went their separate ways before joining up again in their 20s in Los Angeles. Zala began a successful career in the video game industry, and Strompolos chased the dream of a music career.
The two drifted apart again as Zala moved to Florida and Strompolos battled his drug demons before finding clarity and love. Then, in 2003, they received an email that would change their lives. It was genre filmmaker Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever.”) A copy of the adaptation had landed in his hands through six degrees of separation from one of Zala’s New York University classmates. Roth loved the movie and brought it to Austin in 2002, where he screened a portion of the film at Knowles’ annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon at the Alamo before the unofficial world premiere of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” The audience loved it. The Leagues loved it.
And Roth had even bigger news for Zala. Spielberg loved it. The legendary filmmaker eventually sent a letter to the guys saying how impressed he was with their “very loving and detailed tribute.” The two would meet their filmmaking hero in 2006.
“It was everything you’d want it to be in meeting your boyhood idol,” Strompolos said of the almost hour-long talk with Spielberg.
Knowles and the Leagues invited Strompolos and Zala (and their third partner, cinematographer and makeup artist Jayson Lamb) to the Alamo in the spring of 2003. After the sold-out shows in Austin, the guys took the film on the road and have screened it at about 100 venues across the country and overseas.
After the Vanity Fair article, a literary agent contacted the guys, who chose to work with Eisenstock on the nonfiction book that reads like a novel. “Raiders!” should have strong appeal not just to fans of the film, but those new to the story of Strompolos and Zala. It is a tale of adventure and imagination. But at its heart, the book, part “Wonder Years” and part “Stand by Me,” is a story about friendship and perseverance. Two kids conquering setbacks and fall-outs to create something they never imagined would endure.
“We just made the movie for ourselves and never dreamed it would turn out to be the Cinderella story that it has been,” Zala said.
Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander in “A Royal Affair.”